Park Slope/Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, New York

You're not from here

Mikal Lee June 1, 2016

As a transplant, my relation to gentrification is complicated. What I mean by this is, without birthright I still claim specifically Brooklyn as *home*. I've made the borough my home for the past sixteen years, but this particular interaction occurred about five years after I'd first moved (I've lived several places inside Brooklyn since...). 

As everyone knows, NYC is expensive. You are constantly shuffling roommates or moving, and when rent is due (or overdue) you make good sometimes with who comes through your door. Enter "Calvin" (names changed to product the disgusting and guilty) who moved from Rochester.  Calvin for whatever reason decided that moving to the big city was a great idea. One problem. He was scared of brown and black folk. In the early 2000's Park Slope below 5th ave was primarily a neighborhood of central/south American and middle eastern families. In the mid to late nineties, the block was 'hot' but in a post 9/11 real estate/forest ratner land grab, the middle-class chic on seventh avenue had begun to filter down to the block and infect the neighborhood. I remember sitting on my stoop watching the local teenagers play basketball on the makeshift hoop attached to the fence of the junkyard across the street. Boomboxes would blast all types of music from open first-floor shotgun apartments, while various sistahs and brothas of all walks of life, would sip their beverage (both alcohol and non-alcohol) of choice.  I fell in love with the slope right away. As an emcee, Brooklyn *is the* borough, and all of the energy and flavors of it I'm always going to be about. 

Not "Calvin". Calvin was more into eight balls, PBR's, and sheepishly walking around as if he was about to be mugged any second. One of the first things I did when I moved in, introduced myself to all of my neighbors on the floor I lived. Letting them know, if they needed anything to feel free to knock on my door. After several years, we'd invited one another into each other's homes. I'd share a brew or three on hot days with my homie Mike who lived across the hall. I knew all the teens and sometimes hooped a little with them. The thing so many transplants miss is that, where people live is a home, it's not "territory" and it's not a place you "pioneer". More importantly, it's THEIR neighborhood, you should BE A PART not TAKE IT APART. If I wasn't the only person on the lease and sinking in a sea of debt at the time, I wouldn't of spit on the ground Calvin just walked. Desperate times.... 

Calvin was everything that is wrong with people who have moved to NYC, they are entitled, they are oblivious, they are apathetic and lack empathy. One of my final straws with Calvin was when one of the younger kids, she maybe had just turned thirteen at the time, walked out of the front door of the building headed somewhere. She was decked out in a red Derrick Rose Jersey, some Air Jordans and a red doo-rag (with a yankee fitted, that was *blue*... which is important). He immediately jumps aside, and has this look of terror on his face. I kind of stare at him, like "what is the problem...". I say hi to her, I knew she was headed to the courts because she played on her school's team. 

Calvin literally eyes her down the block, and when it seemed for him she was out of earshot he turns to me and says "She's in a gang!" At this point Calvin had been in the apartment about three months, and this young girl was the granddaughter of the super. He saw her *literally every day*. So I inquired... "what makes you say that", knowing full well he was stupid and racist as fuck for even insinuating. His reason? She was wearing "all red" and had a "doo-rag" on.  I literally just started laughing at his stupidity, at his unfounded fear, and had a tinge of pity for how lost this brotha was (yes... he also, was black... in skin tone only...). But the reality was, Calvin had already called the cops on the block, as had a bunch of other new transplants. When the music was too loud, I went across the hall, said what's up, asked for them to turn it down. IF people were on the stoop too late, heads would just peep out the window... or *close their window*. No one was so afraid, or so impersonal they couldn't just *speak to their neighbor*. Calvin was becoming the norm, though. Self righteous, and wishing to get the vermin that was ruining his lovely Lena Dunham gritty fairytale of the "tough city". If the lack of paying his portion of the rent on time, him almost burning the whole place down the first week or him basically being all around creepy didn't have me lose respect for him, that exchange of him falsely criminalizing a young woman who was going to play ball was pretty much it. Thankfully, I got him out of the apartment and stayed at the address for another few years before the landlord increased the rent by 75 percent to get us out, so they could make it into condos. Ce La Vi. 

- Mikal Amin Lee 
"Brooklyn Vs. Everybody" 

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