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Lynette Lewis-Rogers, 60Current Owner, Retired Housing Authority Manager
My parents were from St. Vincent, but they met and married in Aruba. My father came first and then sent for the rest of us. When we came here, in 1959, my father had purchased this house. I was about 6. My mother and father became like the matriarch and patriarch for pretty much all the family that came here. When you came to New York, you went to stay with Uncle Leon and Auntie Carmen. Who came here? Who didn’t come here? Family! Cousins. They became teachers, doctors, dentists, nurses, engineers. This is where they came and stayed and went to school. It’s kind of standard among West Indians. Someone’s coming, they’re gonna write to you. I look back and I’m like, Where did we all sleep? We were all over the place. But nobody was inconvenienced. It just was the way things were.
When we arrived, I remember a smattering of Caucasian families that were still here — Irish families. There was one who was a very good friend of mine, Eileen Shea, who lived with her family down the block. We were both Catholic, and I would go to Eileen’s church when they had a bazaar, and she would come to mine. The white families moved out over time. I remember Eileen and I crying together about her leaving, because I didn’t want her to go. But as people’s kids grew up, they moved out. I think that they thought the neighborhood was changing, and not necessarily for the better. People felt less comfortable. I guess if you start to see less of yourself …
At that time, there was a plethora of activities for children on the block. The community center at the corner was built, and I remember taking speech classes and dance classes and the drum and bugle corps. We had the MacDonough Street Ambassadors. We fundraised for uniforms, and we marched in parades. Our colors were brown and gold. I carried a rifle, as a matter of fact. We used to proudly march down this block to practice in the park. We used to have competitions with other blocks. There were the Carter Cadets. They wore blue and white, and they were our biggest rivals.
It’s funny now, you watch the progression on the train. If you’re on the C local, Lafayette and Clinton-Washington was for many, many years the cutoff. You didn’t expect white people to come any further than that. Then it was Franklin: Well, now, that’s odd. Nostrand? Kingston Throop?! Utica?!?! Now it’s Ralph Avenue. And that’s like, Really? I did not expect that at all.
It’s one thing for someone to buy a home and raise their family and come outside and play, and you’re building a sense of community. And it’s another thing when a developer takes over, and you don’t know who or what is moving in.
There also has to be something said about who can afford what and who’s living next to who. I have great pride in my home, in my block. I fix things and modernize and all the rest of that. And I can do that bit by bit. As opposed to the person who starts out at $1.8 million and then can afford to invest another $1 million in it. It feels different. It puts us on different levels.
Some people think of it as a home, other people think of it as an investment only. The Brownstoners house tour came out of the flight from Bed-Stuy in the ’60s. It was a time when black people didn’t think that it was a valuable place to live. We struggle now with maintaining a fair balance to keep that notion afloat, because we’ll easier get a white person who wants to show their home on tour than we do a black person. We have lots of million-dollar homes that want to be on tour. There’s more of these white homeowners now, and they want to show their beautiful homes, which is understandable. But we don’t want to lose the reason that started this tour in the first place.