by Dr. Denise R. Ames
I just visited Brooklyn New York. My adorable three grandchildren live in Brooklyn and I love to visit as much as possible. Although I spend most of my time with my grandchildren, Brooklyn and the surrounding area is also a source for interesting blog material.
While my daughter was at a meeting, I was tasked with picking up my four-year old twin grandchildren—a boy and girl—from their pre-K school. Since their school, Jesse Owens, is located at the corner of Lafayette and Malcolm X, I decided to take a leisurely stroll from Decatur Street along Malcolm X to Lafayette Street. I found it to be a fascinating experience that I would like to share with you.
Since Malcolm X Street is a conglomeration of many different sights and people, I had to decide what I would take pictures of and what I would highlight. Would I highlight the row of well-maintained brownstones stretching along one tree-lined block or the deserted homeless encampment littering the corner just off Malcolm X. To me, the street represented both—and everything in-between.
The street named for Malcolm X is located in the Bedford Stuyvesant or Bed-Stuy neighborhood in Brooklyn. Malcom X lived here before his death in 1964. First a word about Malcolm X before delving into the street scene.
Malcolm X was an African-American Muslim minister and human rights activist who was a popular and controversial figure during the 1960s civil rights movement. He is best known for his time spent as a vocal spokesman for the Nation of Islam. He condemned whites, whom he referred to as the “white devil,” for the historical oppression of Blacks. He argued for Black power, Black self-defense and Black economic autonomy, and encouraged racial pride.
It was a beautiful spring day with clear blue skies as I strolled along Malcom X. A slight breeze made it cool enough for a sweatshirt, but warm enough to feel comfortable. The weather and the fact I would shortly see my grandchildren put me in a happy frame of mind. I was happy and everyone around me seemed to replicate my mood.
One of Malcom X’s major teachings was that Blacks should have their own businesses in their own neighborhood, and not frequent white owned businesses. This philosophy was counter to the Martin Luther King’s philosophy that Blacks should be treated as equal and integrate into white society without discrimination.
One thing I observed along the street is that the number of Black owned or operated businesses seemed to be few and far between. As I peeked into different businesses, I didn’t see many that seemed to be Black owned, mostly Hispanic or other minorities were the personnel in the stores. However, my daughter said that there were many Black owned businesses in Bed-Stuy. Also, the city crews doing maintenance work were largely Hispanic men, I wondered why Black people were not working in the construction crews.
One of my favorite businesses is a Black-owned restaurant called Peaches (actually on Lewis St. 2 blocks from Malcolm X). Peaches doles out modern American fare with a focus on Southern specialties like shrimp and grits and fried catfish. I love going to this lively restaurant since it reminds me of the ubiquitous cuisine served while I was living in Mississippi and Georgia for a few years.
I continued my stroll along Malcolm X until I reached Jessie Owens School. The crossing guard happily escorted me to the right entrance, and the security personnel graciously made sure I got to the right room to pick up my enthusiastic charges. The twins gleefully showed me their sprawling classroom and I chatted with their teacher, a delightful young woman. They were eager to pose for me on the cute love seat custom made for youngsters.
We made our way out of the bustling school and into the sunlight. I fondly glanced down a stretch of Malcolm X but decided to forego another stroll down the teeming street, choosing instead, a less busy street for our trek home. Taking their little hands in mine, we crossed Malcolm X and started to make our way home.
I wonder what Malcolm X would have thought seeing a middle-class grandmother walking her white grandchildren across a street named after him, in his old neighborhood, and making their way to a partially-renovated, comfortable brownstone on a nearby, integrated street. Probably, integration would not be at the top of his list for ways to “improve” his community.
But never mind what I imagined Malcom X thoughts to be, I was in heaven walking with my grandchildren along tree-shaded streets. The twins were in heaven as well, hugging flowering bushes, tottering on iron fences pretending they were make-believe balance beams, and marveling at four Hispanic construction workers climbing a ladder to the roof of a three-story brownstone. This, to me, was a neighborhood of diverse people, that we fondly read about, and, for the moment, everyone we encountered seemed happy to be alive, including me.
About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames
Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.
Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.
Dr. Ames has written 9 books for the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books