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James “Brother” Spears, 50Current Owner, Carpenter
Lives with: His father and a tenant, Daniel “June” Farquhar.
I was born on this block. I was on this block when it was old whale-tail cars. I remember when they had the concrete with the glass in it. Even the ice-cream truck: I’ll call him, he’ll come right now. That’s how long I’ve been here.
I’m part of the originals. There are about five or six more original people who was here since I was little. We out here playing as kids, everybody was your mother. Most of the originals passed. And what they did was leave their kids the houses. So the kids either rent the houses out or they’re selling them. They sell it for one-point-four, one-point-five, and you figure you’re going to get you a nice home for three or four hundred thousand, bank the rest, and live good. That’s what they’re doing. They’re leaving New York; they going to Virginia, the Carolinas. A lot of people come from the South and they go back. I got love everywhere I go.
I’m maintaining, taking care of my father — he’s 90 years old. I think I’ll be here for good. And I’ll pass it on to my kids.
Now this block’s very different. Everybody stays to themselves. Before we had more unity. It was more everybody communicating with one another, helping each other out. It’s not like that no more. But I’m still that way, ’cause I was raised that way. Anything I can do, I’ll help you. Nothing happen on this block because of me, anyway. I even got an award one time. I was out here taking out the garbage, and I see somebody breaking into a house. It was about three or four o’clock in the morning. I called my cousin — he lived down the block, we was about 15 — he came over, and we held them until the police came. And they gave us an award for doing that.
You have new neighbors and, you know, they’re nice people, but they gotta feel you out first. They come over to me. People can tell friendly people. You’ll get a vibe from somebody. So they move on the block, everybody hear about me.
Daniel “June” Farquhar, 49Current Tenant
Lives with: Brother Spears.
Moved from: Antigua
History: He and his family moved to the block in 1972.
Every kid on this block, I gave them their nicknames. And they stuck by them. Gotta new neighbor here. I done named the baby and everything. I called her Baby Spanky ’cause she looked like Spanky from The Little Rascals. She’s new on the block, so she had to get christened. I came up with some good ones: There’s Snacks; I got my nephew — he older now; and Boogey. Some of them are raised and gone, but they still got their nicknames.
As the values of the houses are increasing, the taxes are increasing. The average African-American can’t afford it. You got to remember, they bought these houses for like $25,000, $35,000. Nobody wanted these houses. Bed-Stuy was considered a slum. All of the sudden now, these houses are selling for $1.6 million. Do you know how much land I could get down South for $1.6 million? I could have a house from one corner of this block to the other corner, with horses in the back — I could have a plantation and all that shit.
Everyone says, “Oh, it’s a beautiful neighborhood.” But you gotta see what’s going on in the neighborhood. Everyone wants to make money, but it’s like we’re getting pushed out. Could you afford $3,200 a month? That’s what the shit is going for. Sandwiches went from $2 on a roll to $4.50—not even that, this shit is going up to $7. Who the fuck can afford that?
And they’re putting in stores, which is a good thing, but who’s it for? Who can afford to go in there? I get really hyper when I start talking about this shit. I feel it to my bones because I grew up here.
The cops try to make you not want to live here. They give you a lot of bullshit where you’re going to say, “You know what? Let me pack my kids up and get the fuck out of here.” We did our own test: When Brooke and Matt moved in, I said, “Matt, you stand in the doorway for a second.” We out here, we drinking. The cops pull up, they want to see ID. But we were inside the gate, and so I said, “Yo, you can’t come in the gate. This is private property.” They left. I told Matt to come outside, I told him to stand on the sidewalk with a beer in his hands. The same fucking cops drove through and didn’t even fucking stop. What the fuck is that? It’s because Matt’s got the complexion for protection.
We experience that bullshit every fucking day. Do you know how it feels when you’re walking with your fucking daughter or your son and they look at you as a proud man and you get pulled over and the cops degrade you? The shit we go through, and still white people walk by and we say, “Hey, how you doing?” Black people are the most forgiving fucking people.
Gregory “Doc” Walker, 51Former Owner, Paralegal; now unemployed
Now lives: Around the corner on Decatur Avenue.
Moved from: Born on the block.
History: Grew up in two different homes on the block and has spent his whole life in the neighborhood. Moved around the corner to Decatur Avenue with his mother, Connie Walker, when her daughter sold her house in 2007.
There was a time I knew everybody in every house on the block — both sides of the street. Right now, it’s like 30 percent of the block that I know. I was on the phone over here, and a lady over there told me, “Oh, this is private property. I can hear you in my house. Be quiet.” I was on the sidewalk. But I’m a gentleman, so I apologized. I said, “I’m sorry if I was talking too loud on my phone, but I want to introduce myself. My name is Gregory, and I’ve lived on the block for over 50 years.”
“Okay, just don’t talk too loud.” She didn’t introduce herself. For real, for real, that’s no good. I can’t come outside and have people acting like I’m not supposed to be here. I’ve been here my whole Goddamn life. It hurts me sometimes, but sometimes I say it’s better. It’s not really better for us, but it’s better for the community: The value of the houses is going up, and they’re building nicer stores. But it’s not for us.
There was a time, I was about 8 years old, from Fulton Street to Broadway, everything was black-owned — every store. I don’t know no black person who has a grocery store now or a corner store. It’s all either Arab or Puerto Rican. I’m not prejudiced — I’m just saying we lost everything. Things change, and we did it to ourselves, man.