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Stoop-pendous: How one Brooklyn woman is uniting her community right from her own stoop

September 28, 2017 By Jenny Powers Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Eagle photos by Liliana Bernal

It’s 7:30 am Thursday morning in Clinton Hill and the neighborhood is alive and buzzing with activity. Some people are sneaking in a quick jog before heading to the office, while others are already dressed, briefcase in hand, making their way to the train.  Dogs bark at one another, motorcycles whiz by, skateboards thud against the cracked sidewalks and the urban sounds of car alarms and cabbies honking all dull the sound of the birds chirping in nearby trees. 

A noisy garbage truck comes to a screeching halt in front of 453 Washington Ave. and a sanitation worker jumps off the back, ready to collect the trashcans and dump their crude contents into the mouth of the compactor. Suddenly, his partner, who is behind the wheel, begins silently but energetically waving at him, beckoning him toward the cab of the truck. The driver presses his finger to his lips, shushing the man librarian-style, motioning him to get back on the truck and abandon the task at hand. The man, a bit confused, stops in mid-action and then turns around to see 21 people sitting silently with their eyes closed on a wide brownstone stoop just a few feet in front of him. He abruptly turns and tiptoes backward to the truck, the way someone might leave a sleeping baby’s room so as not to wake it. He leaves the trash behind to pick up later.

“Thank you, guys. Have a good morning,” sings out resident Danielle Fazzolari, who is sitting, posture-perfect on a brown, vintage suitcase, guiding a morning meditation on the front stoop of the building she’s called home for nearly two years.

The stoop is laden with colorful fabric runners and is book-ended with the recent arrival of new, handmade wooden benches sourced from Craig’s List. The group on this stoop is what New York is all about — diversity. Black, white, Asian, young and young at heart, gay, straight, married, single, corporate types, retirees, entrepreneurs and educators; yet despite all their differences, it’s what they have in common that draws them together on Thursday mornings. They all live on the same block and they all come to Fazzolari’s weekly meditation to add a bit of Zen to their morning.

Among the group is Ava, the spunky preschooler who admits it’s hard to keep still sometimes, and her real estate broker mom Betty, who live right across the street; there’s Jenny and John Longo, the owners of the local bar/restaurant Dean Street, with their fifth-grader Sophia and her friend; there’s Miguel Pena, former architecture student-turned creative fashion director who recently moved from the block to Williamsburg, but still carves out time to join his former neighbors on the stoop when he can with his lapdog Chewie. There’s longtime couple Sonja Jackson and Evelyn Whitaker, the block matriarchs who have lived here since the ’90s and are now both enjoying retired life from their executive positions at CUNY. 

Although a city stoop is probably the last place you’d think to sit and meditate, Fazzolari, a certified mediation teacher at MNDFL, says it makes perfect sense.

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“It was really important to make it accessible and not intimidating in any way. I didn’t want there to be any walls, any doors, just an open space for people to just walk up to and decide to join us if they wanted. The sessions are free, no RSVPS are needed, everyone is welcome and no experience is necessary.”

It all began on an unseasonably warm November day when Fazzolari left MNDFL in Williamsburg, where she was training at the time, and slowly rode home on her hybrid bike. Savoring the 67-degree weather, she made her way to her Clinton Hill walk-up, reflecting on how grateful she was to be alive to witness a woman get elected to the highest office in the nation for the first time in America’s history. 

She dropped her bike at home and rushed over to Dean Street restaurant to watch the election coverage and celebrate.

“I was so sure that Hillary was going to win,” she recalls. But as the evening passed, it was becoming more and more clear that Donald Trump was going to become the 45th president of the U.S. 

“I remember sitting on my bar stool and closing my eyes, amongst a packed and loud restaurant and silently sending Metta, loving kindness phrases, out into the world. When it was official, and Trump won, my heart sunk and I was just in disbelief. I was silent, and felt a wave of sadness come over me. My heart ached,” shares Fazzolari. 

The next morning, like those before it, Fazzolari woke up and watched the sunrise. “It was the same sun, but it looked and felt completely different that day. I sat there, feeling alone and confused, but I quickly got up, got dressed and went to Primrose, our local coffee shop, to work from there for the day. I just needed to get out of the house and be around people.

“I couldn’t work though, it was impossible to concentrate. As I sat there I thought, ‘What could I do for people? What part can I play in bringing the community together?’ I was in the middle of my five-month meditation teacher training and so I decided I would host a free-guided meditation class on my stoop. Anyone and everyone was welcome,” Fazzolari says. 

The next day she took action and sent off an email to the 70 members of the Wa-Greene Avenue Block Association that she belonged to that read:

 

To My Dear Neighbors: 

I woke up yesterday feeling like I was in a different country. The air and the energy were unrecognizable.  I had no words, and just two questions… “How did this happen?” and “What now?”

I don’t have the answers, but I strongly believe in unity and togetherness. So, let’s regroup together, find some quiet space in our hearts…and give ourselves what we need to move forward. This happened, and it’s real, so now we have a choice — on how to show up for ourselves, and for each other.

I will be hosting a free short 20-minute guided meditation (no experience required, all are welcome) on my stoop tomorrow morning. (Friday, 11/10) at 7:30am.

The next morning was so cold, Fazzolari figured no one would show up, but she set up little portable heaters on the stoop just in case anyone was brave enough. Seven people came to her surprise, and bundled in hats, scarves and gloves, together they meditated.

“It was one of the most joyful times in my life, just being with my neighbors and coming together in such a difficult time. The act was simple, but the feelings were powerful. We all talked afterward and someone said, ‘Can we do this again?’ This was originally a one-time thing, but that’s when I realized the incredible beauty and power in the combination of community and mindfulness. So that Friday morning turned out to be the beginning of this movement, and the founding of what we now refer to as Stoop Meditation.” 

Weekly sessions continued on the stoop, but as temperatures dipped down and Fazzolari’s tiny space heaters were no longer doing the trick, she realized it was time to go on hiatus until summer. 

The new season kicked off June 1, and classes will continue for as long as the weather permits. 

“We’re a close-knit block, and on a daily basis we just look out for one another, that’s what we really do. Whether someone’s basement floods, or someone’s sick or needs something from the store, we’re all there to help each other. It’s also such a blast, walking outside of your apartment every day and knowing everyone who’s passing by. In this day and age, your family usually lives far away, so it’s your neighbors that can really become an extension of your family.  

“The stoop has really become the central meeting point recently, from Stoop Meditation, to weekly drinks, to having breakfast out there. There’s something so simple and beautiful about getting to know your neighbors, it can really change your life; it has for me. It’s feels like the purest kind of joy. This community initiative exists for the community. 

“That’s what Stoop Meditation is all about — welcoming everyone and anyone,” Fazzolari says, beaming. 

Stoop Meditation is offered every Thursday at 7:30 a.m., except in cases of rain, and all are welcome to join. For updates, visit http://bit.ly/2wP631W.

 

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