Sherley Davilmar and the Flatbush Community: “How Desensitized Are We?”

by Marie Antoine, HCX Fundraising Intern.

As a Lakou Nou artist-in-residence in the Flatbush community, Sherley Dalvimar organized a three-part workshop series created to raise awareness of social issues faced in the black community including gentrification, wellness and the assault on black bodies as it manifests in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn.

Part One:

Part one of the series dealt with beauty, health and wellness in an interactive workshop that included a zumba, yoga and Haitian dance session as well as a panel discussion and hair styling demonstration. Children and adults alike learned to make their own hair and skin care products from natural sources they can find in their own cupboard. Attendees left the workshop with a wealth of information and resources to holistically address their beauty and wellness needs.

Part Two:

The following week Sherley invited a group of panelists who are activists and organizers in the Flatbush community to speak on gentrification in the neighborhood. The panelists included Imani of Equality4Flatbush, Mark Griffith, Executive Director of Brooklyn Movement Center, David Etiennne, an upcoming filmmaker, and Alicia Boyd, leader of Movement To Protect The People. Prior to this workshop, I was unaware of the complexities of gentrification in affected communities. I left with a comprehensive definition and illustration of this issue and became more aware of how it affects residents especially in Flatbush. The following are some of the causes leading to the displacement of native residents in a gentrified neighborhood:

  • Harassment by landlords- In one testimony during the event one landlord turned off a tenants’ gas “ They go a year without giving you gas” said Imani going on to explain how they blame it on other entities — `it’s the city’s fault its not our fault` you’ve got no gas of course you’re going to move, how could you live without gas” he continued.
  • Unreasonable rent hikes- Though many Flatbush residents live in rent stabilized apartments landlords still raise tenant’s rents. In these cases its important for tenants to know their rights. According to Boyd, if you live in a rent stabilized building in order to ensure you get a rent freeze choose a one year instead of a two year lease. Also residents have four years to dispute unlawful rent prices. For more information or for support in this process email Imani at info@equalityforflatbush.org
  • An increase of policing in their neighborhood – Adam Kritzer Director of “Good Funk Film” retells his experience with increasing police patrosl in his neighborhood “ you start to feel suspicious, even though you haven’t done anything wrong” he said. It is not only the residents that get harassed it is also local vendors and small business owners who experience hefty fines.
  • Surging prices in new businesses – One of the first signs noted by residents when a neighborhood is being gentrified is a the opening of a Starbucks in the area, but higher coffee prices isn’t the only thing residents have to deal with, attendees at the workshop mention that more expansive grocery and health food stores replace local affordable businesses.

These situations lead to an intimidating and unmanageable climate in the neighborhoods often forcing residents out of their homes and communities. Although this was a challenging topic to tackle, residents of the community learned many avenues to get involved. The activists brought in concrete examples of ways that their movement has been successful in pushing against gentrification and empowering residents of Flatbush to sustain their community.

Part Three:

“Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees” –Billie Holiday (excerpt from Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday)

The closing event of Davilmar’s residency was profoundly poetic.  It was an essential anecdote after the previous workshop. The introductory presentation dove right in to the subject with a reading of “Strange Fruit” a poem written by Abel Meeropol and was famously sung by Billie Holiday in 1939. It was the perfect manner to start the conversation on the topic of Black Bodies a timely subject in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, which protests against police brutality, and the unjust killing of Blacks in America and around the world. The event proceeded with a powerful workshop by Veroneque Ignace, founder of Resist.Restore, where she directed participants through a series of movements both individually and in partnerships in order to guide participants to tune in to the body and to use it to express one’s pain and joy.

The panel discussion that followed, helped the audience to reflect on ways we can reclaim our Black bodies by understanding the nature of trauma through learning how it is stored in the body and how it manifests outwardly; by learning ways to address trauma in order to stand steadfastly and empowered in a society that consistently feeds us images of broken and lifeless Black bodies. Lastly the discussion encouraged the audience to think of and speak on the many ways we endure and charge forward each day; we walk, we drum, we exercise, we dance, we show up everyday in our Black bodies charging forward towards positive change and constructive evolution. The last part of the workshop was a powerful Nago Dance performance by La Troupe Zetwal, confirming that we are warriors, we are healers, we are here and we are triumphant.

I thank Ms. Davilmar for taking us through this three-part journey where she chose talented, knowledgeable and compassionate panelists and presenters and consequently produced workshops that left participants feeling informed and empowered.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 26th, 2016 at 12:10 pm and is filed under Archive, Events, HCX Programs, Lakou NOU. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.