A Sunday in Brower Park
Brooklyn’s parks are the closest most neighborhoods get to a town square, a refuge for all across class and culture. Coming to you not from the fields of Prospect Park, but the smaller spots across the borough, “A Sunday in…” spotlights residents who turn to the commons — and asks what’s on their mind.
In the early ’70s, The New York Times wrote a story about a spike in shootings around Crown Heights’ Brower Park, which cops attributed to Rastafarians. “Some Rastafarians smoke marijuana,” the Times — always ahead of the curve — noted.
“Brower Park … is in an area that has seen the influx of many thousands of blacks and Puerto Ricans in recent years,” the 1971 article noted.
Brower Park is located in the middle of Crown Heights between Kingston Avenue and Brooklyn Avenue from east to west, and St. Mark’s Place to Park Place from south to north, next to the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. The park was named after George Vanderhoof Brower, Brooklyn’s parks commissioner of the late 1800s, when he died in 1929.
It’s changed a lot since 1971. On Sunday, longtime residents told the Brooklyn Eagle that the neighborhood is now changing again.
Jimmy Lee moved to Crown Heights around 1990. He has lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Park Slope, Bushwick and other areas in Brooklyn since he moved here from Alabama. Though he’s retired, Lee still does work for his landlord.
He comes to Brower Park on the weekends. “A lot of people I know who came to this park are dead and gone,” Lee said. “Peoplewise, it’s different. Look around you. Weren’t no white people, weren’t no Jews. It was a black people park.”
He said the park is less dangerous than it used to be in the 90s. “Now it’s beautiful. Peace and quiet,” he said, though the neighborhood still has its troubles.
“Somebody got killed down there a couple weeks ago. So it’s hot down there with cops. The guys still running who did it.”
Lee said he was stopped by a cop yesterday after high-fiving his friend. The cop asked Lee what his friend gave him when they high-fived. “He didn’t give me anything, though.”
“In the last 10 years the park has come up a lot,” said Melvina Williams, who was picnicking with her friend’s children Sunday afternoon. “Now they have more activities for the kids. It’s good for the neighborhood. A nice little park with nice people.”
Her favorite thing about Brooklyn? “It’s the flavor. It’s so diversified; everyone can talk to each other”
Lahney Preston, a medievalist professor at Adelphi University, walked her dog in Brower Park Sunday while her kids were off at birthday parties. “I come here probably four days a week. I’ve lived in Crown Heights for nine years, and before that in Park Slope for a very long time. We were renting and we couldn’t afford anything in Park Slope. The minute we moved here, it’s just so much friendlier than it ever was in Park Slope.”
Rika and Etty
Rika has lived in Crown Heights for 16 years, though she spent the last year in Israel. “It’s very different there, talking from a Jewish perspective. You feel like they’re all your family.”
Though Rika likes Crown Heights, she prefers rural areas to cities. That’s why she comes to the park. “I like seeing how people work as a community. It’s becoming more recreational here.”
“We’re doing community service,” said Rhea Lopez, who lives in Poughkeepsie but comes to New York City every weekend to attend church at the Members Church of God International. “One of the advocacies of our preacher is to do good. So we’re doing community service.”
Lopez said she had never been to Crown Heights before, and didn’t know the name of the neighborhood. “It’s our first time here and it feels good to help out and also protect our nature.”
Brenton, who’s going into ninth grade, lives in NYCHA’s Albany Houses. He doesn’t have any big summer plans. “I might go to Virginia because the rest of my family lives there,” he said.
“I’m one year closer to getting out of school. I don’t like it because the subjects aren’t hard and it’s not a real challenge.”
Brenton, whose mom and sister are nurses, wants to be a surgeon.
“I’m just relaxing, starting my new job Monday, doing interior design,” said Anton Bashkaev. “I’m looking forward to my new job, very much so. I worked for an architecture firm until this Friday, so I get two days to recuperate,” he said. When he has free time, he likes to come play basketball at Brower Park.
Oscar Miller lives in Crown Heights during the warm parts of the year, and when it gets cold, he heads back to Jamaica, where he was born, so that his arthritis in his back doesn’t act up.
“Working conditions and living conditions is better [here] than Jamaica. When you’re here and you’re working, it’s good. Most people can’t get a job in Jamaica.
Miller lives with his daughter since he and his wife got divorced. They used to live in Canarsie, but Miller moved out. “I wasn’t happy, but for peace’s sake, I left the house.”
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