Music program brings Bed-Stuy NYCHA development together
What was still a basketball court in disrepair just over two months ago was transformed Tuesday night and drew a crowd of dozens. Fresh paint, renovated bleachers and a stage equipped with a sound system turned the Bedford-Stuyvesant Tompkins Houses into an impromptu hip-hop concert for the development’s youth.
The Tompkins Houses was one of 15 public housing developments citywide that were targeted by the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety in 2014 where public safety increases have been slower than throughout the rest of the city. A group of Tompkins residents, known as the development’s NeighborhoodSTAT team, proposed renovating the dilapidated basketball court and creating From Blocks to Beats, a program that teaches youth how to make and perform music.
The program celebrated its first graduation Tuesday night, filled with powerful performances before a cheering audience.
“You first transformed how people think about the space, and then you transform the space, and now you’ve created an opportunity for something new in the community,” said Ifeoma Ebo, director of strategic design initiatives at the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.
The Tompkins Houses have seen a drop in crime, but gang violence still persists. There were 27 major crimes reported between January 2018 and August 2018 in the 22 NYCHA developments that make up Police Service Area 3, which includes Tompkins. Those resulted in 15 arrests, mostly of residents between the ages of 16 and 24, according to the development’s action plan.
To steer youth off of that path, the Tompkins NSTAT team created the 6-month music program that included 10 graduates creating their own beats and rhymes.
“We want them to know that we care about them, we love them, we acknowledge them as artists, as human beings, as everything they are and everything they are going to be,” said Kenesha Traynham-Cooper of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety.
At the program’s graduation Tuesday night, participants performed their own songs and awards were given out in 11 categories. Najaee Scott, 24, smiled as she walked up to the stage to accept the award for Best Female Hip Hop Artist.
“This project, we don’t really do stuff like this and it’ll bring everybody together instead of people being apart,” Scott told the Brooklyn Eagle. “I’m surprised there was no fights but that’s because we bring good energy. When you bring good energy, good energy comes back.”
While Scott performed her three-minute song, “Money Bag,” her classmates and other members of the crowd stormed to the front of the stage to record her performance through smoke and flashing lights.
The night also brought out lifelong community members who have lived through the changing reality at the Tompkins Houses.
“I’m so happy and proud right now I have tears in my eyes,” said Shneaqua Purvis, a Tompkins resident and member of anti-gun violence group Save Our Streets. “You don’t even understand. I grew up and I was raised here. We tried for years to have stuff like this…please keep up the good work.”
Brooklyn accounts for the majority of the city’s developments targeted by the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety, followed by the Bronx. The Bushwick, Boulevard, Van Dyke, Red Hook, Ingersoll and Brownsville houses join Tompkins on the list, each with their own NSTAT teams and priority initiatives.
The plan centers on the theory that crime can be prevented through environmental design, transforming spaces to promote safety.
It was From Blocks to Beats’ first year, but the members understood the necessity of the program.
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be here,” said Jaequon Scott, who won Best New Artist. “For real, this is a great opportunity; you don’t get a lot of chances like this.”
Joseph Hinds, 21, who took home Best Male Hip Hop Artist and Beat Maker of the Year, stressed the importance of building a connection with the community.
“You neighbor is your best friend,” Hinds said. “We’re only for community, this is us, we’re Tompkins.”