Mawuli K. Hormeku: ‘The most important thing is the community’
Eye on Real Estate: Contemplating the future of Our Lady of Loreto
In Mawuli K. Hormeku’s tribe, it is customary for the first-born son to take up his father’s line of work.
That is why Hormeku is a community organizer in Brownsville.
That is why he returned to the neighborhood after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Boston College and a master’s degree at Columbia, while his siblings moved elsewhere after college.
“I came back to my community to transform it,” he told Eye on Real Estate.
His father, Kofi Hormeku, was one of the first homeowners in the Nehemiah Houses, affordable homes built in the 1980s on empty Brownsville lots without the Federal government’s help.
Kofi Hormeku, an immigrant from Ghana, created Nehemiah Park. His nonprofit, Nehemiah Economic Development, has set up a college scholarship fund for neighborhood students. He was stabbed on two different occasions in Brownsville because of his organizing efforts but did not abandon the area.
“To walk in his shoes is almost impossible. He’s a man who sacrificed a tremendous amount for his children, his family and his community,” the son said of his father.
Mawuli K. Hormeku has taken on a leadership role in the campaign to get a cultural center built at the site of Our Lady of Loreto, a shut-down Catholic church building at 124 Sackman St.
In September, he met with a rep from Catholic Charities Brooklyn and Queens, which has a 53-year lease on the property with an option to extend it to a 99-year term.
“I’m doing this for my community,” Hormeku told Eye on Real Estate. “My community needs cultural capital.
“If saving the church — or not saving the church — brings cultural capital to the community, I’m for it,” said the educator and former adjunct professor, who sits on the boards of the Brownsville Nehemiah Homeowners Association and Community Board 16 and volunteers as a tutor at Brownsville’s Stone Avenue Library.
‘I don’t want to play a tug-of-war with the church’
Hormeku would support the construction of a cultural center at the Sackman Street site whether it’s on the first floor of new affordable housing, or has a new building all for itself, or is inside the repurposed church building — with one important condition.
“I want it to benefit my community,” he said.
“I’m here to make sure the advocacy groups, the diocese and the politicians who govern this particular district can work together,” Hormeku said.
“I don’t like bickering and fighting. Let’s win. Let’s work together. Let’s make sure Brownsville has a place where the kids can go and perform and display their talents.
“Let’s make sure Brownsville has a place with SAT prep courses and college readiness courses for kids.
“I don’t want to play a tug-of-war with the church.
“The outside structure of Our Lady of Loreto is beautiful, and from what I heard, the fresco painting inside is the best on this side of the Atlantic,” he said. “But that doesn’t supersede the children in my community. If you’ve got to take [the church] down to build something for the children in our community, then do so.
“The Catholic Church has for many years been instrumental in helping the Brownsville community. We want to work with them towards a common goal,” he said.
“If there’s anything built in my community, I want it to benefit the children of Brownsville. I think that Catholic Charities were very open and very responsive to that.
“I want to make sure throughout this whole negotiation that the children of Brownsville don’t get slighted and the community itself doesn’t get slighted.
“I feel the diocese is working with me to make sure that they don’t slight the community.
“The most important thing is the community.”
‘In America, there’s nothing for free’
Hormeku has traveled extensively to broaden his education. While on a visit to Milan, he saw frescoes for the first time. He had never seen the fresco paintings in his own neighborhood, inside Our Lady of Loreto.
“I was 29 years old. I was awestruck,” he said.
His first encounters with ballet and opera also took place overseas.
“I don’t want that for the children in my community,” he said. “I want them to digest the beauty, starting right here at home.”
He said the Brownsville Cultural Coalition, which is campaigning for the adaptive reuse of the historic church building as a cultural center, “needs a plan, a blueprint and a credible financing source.”
He elaborated: “The bottom line is, in America, there’s nothing for free.
“You have to have a legitimate plan — and the money. That’s what separates the real players from the people who just like to fight,” he said.
“Brownsville has been plagued with corrupt politicians and unqualified politicians that has led to a lack of resources for the community. Like the Boylands. Sampson. Mealy. The Barrons.
“We’re just having a changing of the guard right now,” Hormeku said.
“We need new blood to understand the cause, to understand the mission, to understand the balance between affordable housing and preservation. And I’m here personally to make sure we have that balance. But I want to put the community first.”
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