Meet the Residents of MacDonough Street

Do I get offers? Oh my goodness. Let’s not talk about that.

—Cheslyn Lorde

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Cheslyn Lorde, 56Current Owner

Lives with: Her son, Tristan Lorde-Carter

Moved from: Bed-Stuy

History: Born in Barbados; moved to an apartment on Halsey Street with her parents at age 17

When I came from Barbados, it took me so long to get used to being in America. I thought, What happened to our nice weather? The beach? We were all constantly shut up in the house. We weren’t used to that.

We were bused to Fort Hamilton High School. In that time they were busing black kids to white schools, so that’s why we ended up going. That was three trains and a bus. The funny thing was that the white kids gravitated toward us. I think mostly they were interested in our accent. They would say, “You have something like a British accent!” I’m like, “No, I do not!” They said, “Yes, you do!” I don’t know. I cannot hear it.

Back in 2000, my son was growing and I felt I needed more room for him. I was about to go look at a house on Stuyvesant, when I heard that I was outbid. They offered the owner double what I was going to pay. It was a white couple that outbid me — this was around the time that white people were discovering Bed-Stuy. Then I came to look at this house. By the time I turned the corner, I said, “I’m in love with this block!” I loved the tree-lined streets, and the homes looked so stately.

Growing up in Barbados, I don’t feel that we had the same prejudice as a lot of Americans here. My best friend Christopher was a white guy. [The idea of racism] never dawned on me. I felt it when I got here. In both directions, and even against West Indians, from black people who were born here: We came to take their jobs and blah, blah, blah. I think Winslow [her tenant] was the first [white person] on the block. Winslow’s a sweetheart — and I thought she was smart to get all that space! The change is a good thing. We all should be able to live among each other and get along. And there’s a lot of restaurants, bars popping up. I’m not gonna complain. Why? People have the right to live wherever they want to. If you have the money, come on! I’m not selling, but …

Do I get offers? Oh my goodness. Let’s not talk about that. One evening I was coming home, and this gentleman was driving by. He was looking left and right, and he smiled at me. And I smiled back. I guess he figured, “Ooh, ooh!” So he went ’round the block, and by the time he came back, I was going up my steps. And he says, “Excuse me, excuse me.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Is that your house?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you want to sell?” So I looked to see if there was a for sale sign on it. And I said to myself, “Okay, I’ll play your game.” And I said, “Yes.” He said, “How much do you want for it.” I said, “Four million dollars.” He said, “Four million!? Why do you think your house is worth four million dollars?” I said, “Because, I have it. And you want it.” He looked at me. And he left. I guess he’ll never ask me that again.

Sometimes I’m standing outside and people just walking the block will say, “Is this house for sale?” I say, “Does it have a for sale sign on it?” I got a phone call. Somebody said they would like to buy my house. So I said, “Okay, let me get this straight. I’m sitting in my house. I don’t know who you are. And you just call me to buy my house. So where am I gonna go?” He said, “Oh, don’t worry. I’m gonna find you an apartment.” I said, “Okay, you are gonna find me an apartment. Because my house is not good enough for me?” I told him not to call my house again. You know, you get a card saying, “Me and my wife, we’re looking for a house, we live at this particular place. And we have the cash, and if not, our parents will help us.” But I google the address. And of course it’s a Realtor. I find it very annoying. If I wanted to sell, I’d find a Realtor. Why do you have to come and ask me if I want to sell? I know if I want to sell or not. I couldn’t care less how much the houses are going for. I might leave this neighborhood, but I’m still not selling. The house will go to my son.

Winslow Corbett, 30sTenant Since 2001, Actress

Moved from: Portland, Oregon

History: Tenant since 2001, paying “less than $1,000” to Cheslyn Lorde for a one-bedroom.

I found this listing for an upstairs apartment online in the Village Voice ads. I didn’t know anything about the neighborhood, and I was the only white girl on this block for years. I had nicknames — and these were all just walking from my house to the subway. It’d be like, “What’s up, snowflake?” White Chocolate. Britney. Madonna. I once had a white umbrella and some guy that I passed on the street said, “Mmmm, white on white.” Another guy once asked, “You want some chocolate sauce for that vanilla ice cream?” It used to feel pretty aggressive, especially in the summer. More recently, an African-American woman in a minivan said to me: “Go back to your own neighborhood.” And I was like, “I’ve lived here since …” But whatever. I get it.

At the beginning, I felt scared and out of place — totally. But what made me go, “That’s fine, I still want to live here”? The beauty of the neighborhood — the trees and the architecture, the fact that it was quiet. And there was something about the feel of my apartment. I just had an instinct that it was a good place for me. There was a lot of light. And I liked my landlady, Cheslyn. She was a single mom. She had a son who was about 10 when I moved in, and she was very particular about who she would show the apartment to. I grew up with a single mom, and I could tell she was a caring person. And she sure is. She’s been really good to me.

But the neighborhood in 2001 was pretty much a 180 from where it is now. There were no grocery stores that I wanted to shop in, that sell the hippie food I like to eat. I would have to travel to Brooklyn Heights or into the West Village. My apartment was robbed when I wasn’t there, and I was robbed in the street — someone grabbed my purse one December night in Stuyvesant Park, which is right off the subway.

It was kind of an eye-opening experience, because I know that if I had been black, I wouldn’t have had the same treatment from the police. I was treated with kid gloves. They took all my information down, and then they took me to the station. They had me look at books of mugshots. And then they took me to canvas the neighborhood in the back of their car. They had these enormous floodlights, and they went down to one of the projects near the subway. They were literally shining the light in guys’ faces, going, “Is this him? Is this him?” I couldn’t recognize anyone. [The mugger] had a hoodie on and it was dark. But I remember feeling really embarrassed. It felt ineffective. It felt like they were trying to make me feel safe, but that wasn’t going to find whoever did it. It was like the movie version of “Don’t worry, ma’am. We’re here for you.”

By 2011, the tide had really shifted. There were all sorts of white people on this block. I didn’t stand out anymore at all.

I’m proud of having been here when it was dangerous, and that I continued to live here. I get a lot of assumptions. People think that I just moved here last year. And I always like debunking them. But I also always felt like people looked out for each other on this block. Those guys hanging out across the street are there all day every day, and they see everything. I always know there’s someone watching. And I love that. I always knew that if something really awful went down, I could run across the street and they would be there for me. Gregory calls me his sister. They’re the mayors of the block — although there are a lot of self-proclaimed mayors around here. I remember once, one of them was interviewed for a “This American Life” piece about open-container quotas. I said to myself, “I know that guy!” Because I hear him, talking and laughing, all day long.