Listen to some of the stories we've recorded...

7:00 - 8:30 pm on Wednesday, June 9th
LaunchPad - 721 Franklin Avenue
(Between Park Place and Sterling Place)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Final Event Photos

Monday, May 17, 2010

Eunice Oden's First Subway Ride

Recently, I had to do an interview all by myself. I was unsure about how this conversation would go, but I left all of my insecurity at the door and went into Eunice Oden's house with confidence. This conversation lasted for about forty-five minutes and I got to ask all the questions I wanted to. I learned a lot about Crown Heights and about many other things that I was curious about.

Eunice Oden was born in North Carolina and moved to New York City at 19 years-old. She told me about the first time she took the subway and how scared she was. She could not wait to get out of the train! We talked about what city life was like when compared to living on a farm. She said that she would greet everyone that passed her way in the city, but would hardly get a response.

Eunice Oden and Treverlyn DeHaarte

Eunice told me that when she first moved here, her and her sister could not get a certain apartment because they were Black. She also said that a few years after moving here hospitals and other businesses were starting to close early because people weren’t utilizing them.

She told me that she thinks there is so much crime today because children aren’t been trained the right way parents. She said, "This generation of parents is trying to be their child's friend and that they should be their parents first." She told me about how some of the streets used to be 2 ways, like Nostrand Avenue. We talked about how the police system has improved a lot from when she first moved here. She now knows most of the police officers by name!

I learned a lot from her about Crown Heights and about everyday life. She told me not to ever start my day without thanking God and I plan not to. I enjoyed this conversation a lot .

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Handmade History

Frank Esquilin at the Franklin Avenue Flea Market
Photo courtesy of: Nostrand Park website

On April 26th, we interviewed Frank Esquilin. He moved from Harlem to Ozone Park and then, 16 years ago, he moved to our own beloved Crown Heights. Frank is funny, adventurous and such an inspiration; he’s actually one of many people in this project (so far) who have taught us how to be free, fight for our dreams, and enjoy life while it lasts.

He’s a huge contributor to the flea market on Franklin Ave. As a child growing up, Frank always found work for his idle hands. His mom had a sewing machine that he used to experiment with. Luckily, by doing that he found his talent and started making wallets. At first he had doubts about whether people would want to by his little wallets made by his experimenter’s hands, but on his first sale Frank overcame all doubts and moved on to other options like making book covers.

Floyya, Frank and Treverlyn at LaunchPad

With his gifted hands, he’s helping to develop and contribute to Crown Heights history. Frank is now retired and is touring the world. His journey is never ending, but in the end Crown Heights is “Home” for him.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Girl Who Grew Up With Her Neighborhood

Our crew with Jannel (center in green shirt)

On Wednesday, April 25th, we interviewed our friend Jannel Corney at Paul Robeson High School. (Her last name doesn't say anything about who she is.) Jannel is the youngest of our storytellers. This interview was quite different from our previous interviews. Jannel is one of our friends which spiced up the interview. She is crazy, but I don't mean that literally, I mean it in the sense that she is fun to be around. This interview was under my control and I had lots of fun doing it.

Jannel was born and raised in Crown Heights. She has been living in the neighborhood for sixteen years and she is sixteen years old. She loves the neighborhood. She says, "I feel like the neighborhood is growing up with me." She says one change she has seen over the years is that there are not as many people in the park anymore.

Ebbets Field - 55 Sullivan Place in Brooklyn, NY
Photograph Source:

Jannel lives in one of the apartment buildings near where Ebbets Field used to be. She told us about the history of the area. Even though she was not around in 1960 when Ebbets Field was torn apart to build housing, she knows the history of where she lives. She told us that Ebbets Field used to be the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ms. Rosella's House

On Monday April 19th, we went over to Rosella LaFontaine's house on Park Place to interview her. She lives in a huge house. The house is so beautiful. She has been living in Crown Heights and the house for 60 years. She was the first person we have interviewed that has been living in Crown Heights for 60 years.

While interviewing her, she talked about the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. She said they were about to close the museum in the neighborhood. Some people (herself included) didn’t want to close the museum so they protested the closing to keep the museum open. Their wish came true and the museum still stands in Crown Heights on 145 Brooklyn Avenue. The Brooklyn Children's Museum was founded in 1899. It used to be in two large mansions. It was the first museum created just for kids in the United States. Its success inspired the creation of similar museums in other places.

Ms. Lillian Pelham and Ms. Rosella LaFontaine

Ms. Lillian Pelham stopped by for a visit during our interview with Rosella. She has been living in Crown Heights for 45 years and is also one of Rosella's best friends. She was a nurse and then she was a teacher at Samuel J. Tilden High school. She told us about her book called Wisdom in the Air, Wisdom Everywhere. She was inspired to write the book because she wanted to pass on wisdom to teenagers. In addition, she bakes chocolates and they are delicious. We are going to interview her too so she can tell us her history.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Crown Heights History From A Long Time Ago

Wilhelmena, Quanaisha and Treverlyn

I was in charge of the interview that Treverlyn and I did, but was a big help when I couldn't think of a question to ask next. There is nothing like a little team work. Wilhelmena Rhodes Kelly talked about her childhood and her experience in Crown Heights.

She is the author of a book called Crown Heights and Weeksville that has some amazing photographs of this area from many years ago. She wrote the book because she did not know much about the history of the neighborhood and wanted to learn more. She even showed us where Crow Hill is really located on a map from 1842. She told us about the Crown Heights of the 1660s when the Dutch used to live there. If you want more information just open up her book about Crown Heights. It was very interesting to hear her own story about Crown Heights and the story of a larger history of Crown Heights. Thanks, Wilhelmena.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Zetta Elliott Tells Us Her Stories

On Wednesday March 24th, we met with Zetta Elliott. She is (so far) the youngest person we have interviewed. Zetta was born in Canada and first came to the United States when she was a little girl. She fell in love with Eastern Parkway when she first visited. She describes it as "the most beautiful road [she] had ever seen." She came to New York three times and left before she decided to maintain permanent residency here.

She has a very interesting background. Although she hasn't been living in Crown Heights for over fifteen years, her family has a history here. She has beautiful memories of staying with her cousin Lil when she was in the neighborhood to visit. Zetta also told us about her rich family history. Her mother is descended from African American slaves who "bought their freedom in 1820 and moved to Canada to be free."

Zetta, Monica, Treverlyn and Ansie

Zetta is a famous writer. She wrote over five published books and brought 2 of them for us to have: Bird (a children story) and A Wish After Midnight (a young adult novel). Zetta recreates her favorite fairy tales right here in New York in her stories. She is also teaches poetry to elementary school students.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Social Worker and A Health Food Store Owner

On March 23rd, Floyya, Quanaisha and I met one of the coolest individuals ever.

The first interview we had was more like a conversation. I felt very comfortable talking to Mr. Louis Burns and I learned a lot from him. He has been living in Crown Heights for most of his life and he told us what it was like growing up here. He told us about all the games he would play as a kid. He told us that he remembers when he was younger he didn’t know about crime and violence.

He never knew about locking his door. He told us about how he and his friends would just walk into each others’ houses and they would be treated as a part of the family. He told us about how he always liked to listen and how he always liked to solve problems so he became a social worker. I am thinking about being a social worker one day myself.

Our crew in front of Imhotep's on Nostrand Avenue

We went on the road for the second interview. If we couldn’t get the historians to come to us then we were going go to the historians. We went to Mr. Tonde Lumba’s vegetarian restaurant and store called Imhotep’s Health and Living Foods on Nostrand Avenue. He is from the Caribbean and told us what it was like moving to another country and about the first time he opened his business. He also told us about his vegan way of life that he has maintained for over 25 years and why we shouldn’t eat meat. I don’t know if any of us are going to give up meat yet though…
The project has been going very well we have met a lot of very interesting people. We looking forward to meeting more. If YOU want us to talk about you in our blog, you need to give us a call at 718-228-7928 to set up a time to be interviewed!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Ms. Bernadine's Advice

Linda Mark, Quanaisha and Floyya

On March 13th, my girl Floyya and I interviewed two people in one day. We rocked the conversations.

The first conversation we had was Linda Mark who lived in Crown Heights for 20 years and worked in the Postal Service. She talked about learning how to read at the Eastern Parkway Library Learning Center.

The second woman we interviewed was Melina Bernadine. She answered questions about the neighborhood that I didn’t even know I had to begin with. She also gave us some interesting and memorable advice. She said, "Get involved in your community. Get to know who your politicians are. Ask questions. And - The most important thing of all is to love yourself and love where you come from."

Melina Bernadine fills out paperwork after being interviewed

She was so interesting that I remember her full name and I usually don't remember peoples’ names. I had a great time listening to her voice (she had a great storyteller’s voice) and her stories.

These were my very first interviews so it was very exciting and I look forward to what is next.

Monica, Melina Bernadine, Ansie, Quanaisha and Floyya

Desmond and The Kingston Lounge

Treverlyn and Floyya interview Desmond Atkins

Desmond Atkins is 59 years-old and has lived in Crown Heights for most of his life. He knew a lot about the history of the neighborhood and enthusiastically shared his knowledge with us at LaunchPad.

Photograph taken by Richard Nickel, Jr. at

Desmond told us about the live music scene at Kingston Lounge, a now abandoned bar and grill on Kingston and Bergen. Desmond remembers listening to musicians play the songs of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Lloyd Kitchener. Jazz, rock n' roll, blues and calypso music played to large audiences from 1944 until the establishment was closed down in the 1980s after being cited for health code violations. "If you go by there you can still see some of its original splendor," said Desmond. He talked about the fluorescent lighting with great nostalgia. "But now," he said, "the place is pretty much a shell of its original self."

Photograph taken by Richard Nickel, Jr. at

"A dance [at Kingston Lounge] was typically a family affair," Desmond told us. "You'd have everyone from Grandma and Grandpa to a baby in the stroller. People would typically bring their food and they would sit there and eat together. That had a lot to do with keeping the family together - through socializing."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Our First Interview

From Left: Monica, Treverlyn, Ms. Porter and Floyya

On Wednesday, March 3rd, we recorded our first interview! Evangeline Porter. We have talked to Ms. Porter before, but this time she gave us more facts and details about things we were curious about. Ms. Porter was born in North Carolina in 1937. She lived with her grandmother and her mother. In 1973 she moved to Crown Heights and got married. Ms Porter stated her earliest memories of this neighborhood. She said it was a different place and people were afraid to walk after dark.

Ms. Porter made a comparison for us, showing us what Crown Heights has now that it didn’t have then - things like drugs stores, medical offices and other health businesses, for example, are in abundance now. “The community had very little to survive on back then,” she said.

Many people who lived in the Crown Heights area didn’t care much unless crime directly affected them. But, Ms. Porter cared, because it affected her. She was mugged and robbed twice, but as the strong fighter she was she still wasn’t afraid and wasn’t going to give up. “I had a lot of faith in God,” Ms. Porter said.

A final word of wisdom from Ms. Porter: “Within the next 10-15 years from now, if people don’t get more involved in what is going on in this community, it is going to go back to the way it was.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Interviewing and Chicken Wings

On Monday March 1st 2010, we met at our recording space. We went over questions for the interview. We learned how to conduct a good interview such as welcoming participants and good eye contact. We learned how to ask open and closed questions. An open question is a question that people will most likely have a longer answer to. For example, “What was your childhood like?” A closed question is a question that can be answered with a short phrase or a single word. For example, “How old are you?”

In addition, we took turns acting like the person telling the stories and like the interviewer. We learned our weaknesses and strengths. We came up with ways to improve our interviewing skills. We worked really hard and I can’t wait until my first interview. I have a good feeling about it.

Finally, we ate some chicken wings from Super Wings nearby. The wings were delicious. There were four kinds of different wings. My favorite ones were the Chili Cilantro and the Island Barbecue. They were the best wings I ever tasted.

Chicken wings from Super Wings NY

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Ansie and Monica

On Monday February 22 Ansie and I went out on Franklin Avenue to recruit people for interviews. Ansie is our newest member and a friend of our crew. We went to different businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, and laundromats. The business owners were really nice; they let us put up our signs inside their business and agreed to give our business cards to their customers. The two men from The Pulp and The Bean were exceptionally nice.

After we recruited people, we returned to our recording space. Michael Kunitzky is letting us use LaunchPad - an 800 square foot storefront on 721 Franklin Avenue to record our conversations.

Ansie, Monica and Laurel

Laurel Brown from the blog Nostrand Park came by to talk to us about her interest in Crown Heights. She has lived in Crown Heights for 3 years. She studies law, but she is doing a documentary on gentrification in the neighborhood. She is a really cool person. One can never be bored talking to her; she is full of life and a very good listener. 
 She gave us advice on how to reach out to people for our project and gave us names of people who can help us achieve our goals.

She makes me think about why I was interested in this project in the first place: To uncover new things about the history of our neighborhood that many people don't know about, and to give the "behind-the-scenes" heroes and historians of our neighborhood a chance to shine.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Making It Public

Monday, February 8th was a great night. We had pizza at A Slice of Brooklyn and then we made a presentation at the 77th Precinct Community Council meeting. There were a lot of people – probably over 50. I was a little nervous because I have never done a presentation outside of school before. But, come to find out it was great and me and the other students did well.

Floyya Richardson Speaks

In the presentation, we each said one reason why we are doing this project – our personal mission statements. Here is what we each said:

Treverlyn: “My main goal for this project is to learn more about the community, I would like to know what life was like back then, how people could live without cell phones or without internet.”

Me: “I have never done anything like this before, and although I haven’t, I am going to make this a great memory and learn a lot from it.”

Floyya: “I would like to do this project to teach others in our community and make it possible for other people our age to do something similar.”

Monica: “I want to get involved in my community, because I think our community affects us just as much as we affect it.”

Our Team Waiting For the 77th Precinct Community Council Meeting

The people we presented to were a great audience and I will soon learn how to be a good audience member myself but until then I'll try my best. Bottom line is: Our presentation got people to sign up and we are closer to our goal of 60 people. It’s time to work.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Space and A Plan

Eastern Parkway Brooklyn Public Library

Photo taken from Brooklyn Public Library website

On February 1st, 2010 we finally got our own place where we could meet to discuss plans for our oral history project. We are currently located at the Brooklyn Public Library on Eastern Parkway between Utica Avenue and Schenectady Avenue. The room is very spacious and it has everything we might possibly need: Chairs, table space, a chalkboard and silence.

We talked about the goals we would like to achieve in order to make this project a success. We worked backwards, writing down our end result (the community listening event) first. We made a flow chart and on this chart we wrote down all our up and coming events me might need to attend. We came to the conclusion that interviewing 60 people is going to take a lot of work, but we are ready for it. In order to do so we have to recruit people to tell us their stories.

Quanaisha and Treverlyn Planning in Our New Space

Our recruitment plan: We plan on making flyers to distribute to inform people in Crown Heights what we are doing and also invite them to come tell us their story. This coming Monday we will also be speaking at the Precinct 77 Community Council Meeting. It will be our first presentation as a group. I see this project being very successful and we are paving the way for other kids our age to do what we are doing.

Our group with Sandra Sutton of Eastern Parkway Brooklyn Public Library

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Reading About The Riot

Monica reads interview transcripts about the August 1991 Crown Heights Riot

On Thursday, February 28th we went to the Brooklyn Historical Society to experience firsthand what an oral history collection was like. Sady Sullivan gave us a tour and shared some interesting information.

The Brooklyn Historical Society was founded in 1863. The museum has many exhibits. It has an exhibit just for veterans from the Vietnam War, an exhibit just for the work of high school students and many more exhibits.

The museum has a library that was built in 1881. The library is on the second floor and it is two floors itself. The library is a research library, which means nothing leaves the library. They have rules that are different then a public library: You cannot have a purse that is bigger than the size of half a piece of computer paper and you cannot use pens in the library, only pencils.

Brooklyn Historical Society Research Library

Their collection goes back to the 1600s. They used to draw instead of record their stories. In 1973, they started to record their stories on cassettes tapes. Some of the first recordings at the museum were interviews from people who moved from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn. People shared their stories. In 1993 they started to interview people from Crown Heights about the 1991 riot that took place there. We sat together to read transcripts about the riot. Each of us read the words of very different people who had a different perspective on what life was like after the riot took place.

From Left: Quanaisha, Floyya, Treverlyn, Monica

A Visit From Evangeline

On Thursday, January 21, we met Evangeline Porter, President and Founder of Crow Hill Community Association. Evangeline has lived in Crown Heights for over 40 years. Crow Hill Community Association was started as a block association 25 years ago. Only three of the 22 members are still alive.

Evangeline Porter talks to us about neighborhood history

Evangeline told us that over 25 years ago, on Franklin Avenue, the banks and small businesses were continuously being robbed so they were forced to close and relocate themselves to a safer environment. People were scared to leave their houses and restaurants started to close early because of drug dealers and violence. Over three short years, the Crow Hill neighborhood went from bad to worse. Out of 66 stores in the area, 35 were forced to close because of constant violence.

A map of the Crow Hill neighborhood
Photo from Crow Hill Community Association website

The residents knew it was time to create change. Evangeline and her group introduced a powerful community clean-up day. These were simple yet smart steps that were taken to help improve the neighborhood and make it a much better place.

Evangeline attended Howard University and graduated from the College of New Rochelle School of New Resources in Brooklyn, NY. She later moved on to work at the school that her children attended. Evangeline also worked as a toll collector at Hudson River Crossings and was among the first group of women toll collectors, because only men were in tolls until 1956. She was also a paraprofessional at Paul Robeson High School (which was called Alexander Hamilton at the time) for a little while. She even worked at the World Trade Center when the 1st building was being built, as a guide for builders. She is a woman of many trades! Her story about almost getting hit by a streetcar on Albany Avenue made us all realize how many changes the area we go to school in has been through!

From left: Quanaisha, Treverlyn, Evangeline, Floyya, Monica

She was very serious when she said that the safety of Crown Heights has improved, but there are still more problems to be solved by community members. She said, “the economy is low, yet the rents are getting very high.” Evangeline’s passion for changing her community for the better was inspiring to all of us.