Before I moved to New York about 75% of the people I spoke to mentioned gentrification. How disheartening and depressing it is. How being black in Brooklyn can be stressful as fuck because you feel your very way of life is like sand going through an hourglass and you don’t know when that last grain is going to fall. Still my decision to leave Chicago and move to Brooklyn was calculated — gentrification and all — because despite the migration (and forced push) of black people out of Brooklyn, the borough still has some serious numbers when it comes to black population.

I spent my first year in Brooklyn in Fort Greene. Which, I’m told, used to be an artistic black mecca. Erykah Badu used to live there. Chris Rock. And there are still a few black notables. My ex spotted Malik Yoba in the grocery store and, on a separate occasion, riding his bike. Spike Lee is never hard to find (his production company is here, although he lives in Manhattan now, I’m told.) But for the most part, Fort Greene has hit a gentrification tipping point — it’s not a black neighborhood anymore. Just a few days after I rode into town with all my belongings crammed into a Penske truck, an African store that had been on Myrtle Avenue for years was shutting down and moving east for cheaper pastures.

And I did the same when my lease was up, heading east to Bed Stuy. This is the neighborhood that raised Jay Z, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. And, in the spots that aren’t being gentrified, there is a concentrated blackness like I’ve never seen before. Rastafarianism is still recognized and practiced as a religion here. On any given Sunday you can see women in suits and white gloves walking to church. And in the summer time there are waves of block parties, blasting music deep into the night. Some with DJs, contests and even public performances.

One block north of me there are no less than 5 new multi-unit developments that have gone up, I’m told, just in the past 3 or 4 years. On my own block there are 3, with another one currently in development. This makes for a bizarre, oil and water mix of young white professionals looking for reasonable rent by a train, and not-at-all affluent black folks who have lived here for years, consider the block home and do NOT want to be pushed out. And I am somewhere in the middle — with the means to afford the rising rent, but no desire to see the fabric of the neighborhood change.

On a warm Saturday in late August, it was our turn to have a block party. I only knew this because a black man, cupping his hands like a megaphone, walked up and down the block at dawn yelling, ‘Block Party todaaaaaayyyy!’ The police set up blockades at both ends of the street and a few people set up tables outside, as pedestrians and cyclists meandered down our empty block.

Around 4 pm the music started — reggae, Afropop, hip hop and R&B blasting from man-sized speakers. A woman set up a makeshift store in front of her building, selling clothes from her closet. A few guys started a pickup game of basketball. And — thrilled at the once-a-year treat of having the entire street all to themselves — kids rode their bikes, skateboards and scooters up and down the street.

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=1869627196398377&id=100000533438904&pnref=story

My kids having an absolute blast!

Most of the gentrification on my block has happened on the eastern half, where I live. And as I stepped out onto the street it was like a ghost town. I looked up at the buildings around me. A few people peeked out of their windows, with a mix of curiosity and annoyance, before pulling the curtains.

I walked down to the non-gentrified western half of my block, where longtime neighbors were dancing and greeting each other.

A woman running for local office stopped by and shook hands. Old folks pulled chairs in front of their apartment buildings to take in the festivities.

And half of the block stayed quiet, save a few white people who ventured out to meet their neighbors.

A couple hours into the party a young white woman left her apartment and signaled a truck at the end of the block. The driver of the truck moved the blockade and began backing up, a few yards from where children were riding scooters.

A gaggle of older black folks leapt into action, flagging the driver and telling him to stop.

“You can’t do this. There are babies playing in the street,” an old man explained to the woman.
“I know, but I was supposed to have a couch delivered today,” she replied.

After a few moments of discussion, a couple black men carefully guided the truck to the apartment building, waited while it was unloaded, then led it back out past the blockade. One shook his head as he passed me. “They just don’t understand,” he sighed.

A couple hours later I gathered my kids and headed home. As we walked, my kids still wired off the music and fun, I wondered what the block party would look like next year. Would it continue to be poorly attended by half of the community it was designed to engage? Would it be smaller scale? Would it be ‘Columbused’ and become this hip thing featured on Vice and Buzzfeed? All the scenarios seemed depressing — and very likely.

So what’s a black person who just moved to Brooklyn to do? Enjoy it while you can, I suppose.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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23 Comments on "I Went to a Block Party in a Gentrified Part of Brooklyn and it’s as Depressing as it Sounds"

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Lani
I understand the point you are making here, it’s frustrating to see people pushed out of there home because of rising rent. But, im curious to know if you include yourself as contributing to the gentrification of the area as you said, “And I am somewhere in the middle — with the means to afford the rising rent, but no desire to see the fabric of the neighborhood change.” Doesn’t that financially make you the same as the “white professionals” coming into the area? There are people moving because as they raise the rent the poor can’t afford it, while… Read more »
Lois Anita Bailey

I was born and raised in Brooklyn (Fort Greene). I loved my neighborhood and the diverse cultures there. There was so much to do and see. I now live in GA. and miss Brooklyn terribly (having four sister’s still living there). Everything has changed so much. Even Atlantic Antic wasn’t the same. It’s sad how our neighborhood has changed. I’m all for improvement and making things better. But when you kill the soul’s of a community you have nothing left but buildings. No life at all.

Gilan

THE same thing is happening here in california. Crenshaw, Compton, Inglewood so many people who have lived there for years are being pushed out because of price increases and no rent control. Its really sad.

AliciaFiasco

Gentrification is ugly everywhere and it’s really telling how certain people move into our communities and then act like they’re too good to speak to us. Makes it easier for them to continue dehumanizing us. Nothing but colonizers. They ruin every community with whitewashing.

TWA4now
Wow, I am NOT surprised! Interesting article. I haven’t attended a black party in years over 20! I see this all the time…others have moved in and don’t get the culture. A lot of them rarely speak and are mainly college kids coming and going. My family member’s in CHANGING so much too. There are very few places to eat real soul food….they jusy dont make it right. The newer housing is being built at an alarming rate….pushing us into the subs to live vice the city. People should live where they want but not at the price of forcing… Read more »
Relle

The same is happening over here in London as well. Very sad state of affairs.

Starsenal

There is a reason why Chinatown is not gentrified and Harlem is. Too many black folks not uniting. There are external forces pushing gentrification but they couldn’t be successful if black folks united and made a good faith effort to resist.

AliciaFiasco

And the reason is generational wealth. Spare us your anti-Black sentiments and stop creating false equivalents. Clearly the people are united enough to even have a block party. Gentrification is about pricing people out. Again, it takes more than unity to fight your home being bought out from under you when you have no wealth.

Kymala Alujia

I completely understand I was in Bed-Stuy in April and was dumbfounded by how much Brooklyn has changed I had been back there since 2011. I was overwhelmed by the gentrification. It didn’t not even feel like Brooklyn anymore. I use to spend my summers in Brookyln growing up and “they” will never understand how disheartening it is to see and feel the culture change, it is like being robbed. I understand, you don’t need to explain to them. I wouldn’t.

Erik
You wrote, ” it was our turn to have a block party. I only knew this because a black man, cupping his hands like a megaphone, walked up and down the block at dawn yelling, ‘Block Party todaaaaaayyyy!’” Why are you angry because a white woman scheduled her furniture delivery that day, when she had no more of a heads up about the block party than you did? If a black person had a delivery truck scheduled that day, would you treat them differently? I’m from Chicago, I see gentrification as much as the next person, but this example is… Read more »
AliciaFiasco

This is such a great example of white people gaslighting anyone for pointing out their inconsiderate, problematic behavior. Were you there? How can you say it’s blown out of proportion? Lol! How arrogant of you. Instead you’re just defensive because you’re probably just as self-centered as this woman who endangered those kids’ safety for a couch! It’s beyond time to evolve!

Cosita
I guess you missed the whole part about them taking it upon themselves to move police barricades and drive into an area where children are playing. Where I live driving around police barricades is actually ILLEGAL. She could have at the very least gone out there and had a discussion with the neighbors about needing to come in with her truck. Actually once the situation was explained, they were very accommodating. Plus, I’m sure they had to get a permit from the city in order for the police to close the street. Most cities publish street closings in the paper,… Read more »
Jaz Q

Where in this article did she state that she was “angry” at the woman? Please explain where you saw that because it seems like you are the one “blowing things out of proportion.”

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