Work brought me to Brownsville, Brooklyn, today, where I met several life-long residents who shared stories about the neighborhood, past, present and future.
Among the people I met was a grandmother, who talked about learning to swim and sew at the Brownsville Recreation Center and playing games and going to dances at the various community centers in the local housing projects. In those days, anyone could go to any of the community centers, but today, many of the community centers have closed, and those that remain offer fewer activities. Worst of all, the projects where they are housed are divided by rivalries, so that it’s no longer safe for “outsiders” (i.e., someone from another housing project) to walk through them. Projects have their own gangs, or “teams” as one person called them, which zealously guard their territories.
Only a few places are considered neutral, like the Recreation Center and the Brownsville Community Justice Center, which many hope is in the process of inspiring change. The Justice Center has created innovative programs for youth, including art and design workshops, a peer-led youth court and job preparation. The Justice Center is actively trying to change the narrative of Brownsville from the one fueled by media, which habitually portrays the neighborhood as a place of high crime, high poverty, and dense public housing, to one that emphasizes its strengths, like its large, supportive family networks, its many citizens who care deeply about its future, and the vast potential of the its young people, who eagerly grab onto any positive social or learning activity whenever it is offered.
The mural above is the result of one of those activities. Located at the Brownsville Student Farm Project, the mural was created jointly by young people under the supervision of the Groundswell Community Mural Project and Brownsville Community Justice Center. It's one of several murals they've helped young people bring to fruition throughout the community.