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City Limits is in the midst of a month-long reporting project in Bushwick, revisiting a neighborhood on which we did an in-depth report 10 years ago. If you have a comment, critique or idea, please email us.
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I spoke with City Limits magazine in 2009 for a story about Bushwick. One of the questions presented to me was to “describe a perfect day in Bushwick.”
My answer to that was something like this, “It’s a summer day. Kids are playing on the street. A johnny pump has been opened for people to cool down. The ice cream truck on the corner. Music is blaring from every car that passes by. Little girls are playing jump rope. I have enough money to go to the corner bodega with friends to buy frozen ices. The streets are alive and bustling. Neighbors are looking out the window to keep an eye on the kids playing outside. At the end of the day, I am beckoned home to Cooper street, exhausted from a good day of play.”
I am Bushwick born and raised, but no longer live there. For reasons beyond my power, the property that my father owned in Bushwick could not be retained by my family. I still have deep ties to family and friends in Bushwick. When I hear stories of people leaving Bushwick they seem to be variations on the theme; some leaving voluntarily, some through subtle coercion, some by force.
How do you reconcile 30 years of change within the Bushwick community? How do you make sense of development and the subsequent displacement that occurs? How do you mindfully observe the clashes, disconnects and in some cases, injustices, between the old and new Bushwick populations. How do you honor the community members, past and present, who have been on the front lines during it all?
The answers to these questions are encapsulated into “Bushwick Homecomings- The Record” [BHTR] a 90-minute documentary film. “Bushwick Homecoings” is a film that I first produced in 2006 and now an updated version of the film, “Bushwick Homecomings- The Record” [BHTR] integrates a summary of the last 10 years of change in Bushwick since the film debuted.
It looks at the change in Bushwick through the lens of community members who lived in Bushwick during the period of peak crime and record low [essential] community services. (In connecting with Bushwick community members, past and present in the creation of the film, the film’s Facebook page has emerged as a visual and social representation of this era of Bushwick residents and community.) BHTR looks at the change in Bushwick through the lens of community members who lived in Bushwick during the period of peak crime and record low community services.
The original film project was born out of my Master’s thesis in social research that I completed at City College NYC in 2005. Using the same sociological lens to find answers to these questions led to a new film journey that includes author of “The Great Inversion” Alan Ehrenhalt and his research on gentrification in areas like Bushwick and beyond, Robert Elmes, Founder of the former Galapagos space in Brooklyn, now in Detroit, photography of Meryl Meisler and features with three prominent Bushwick born artists, Vanessa Martir, Danielle DeJesus and musician DJ Evil Dee.
In my interviews and interactions with Bushwick residents, past and present, I have yet to hear anyone who longs for the old days of rampant crime and the dangerous conditions of my youth (although these are conditions that indoctrinated many of us during our formative years and have contributed to who we are today, somewhat like “war stories” and in some cases, “war casualties”). In my encounters on this project, the vast majority of residents believe that the improvements in the neighborhood are welcome and long overdue.
However, there is a consistent sentiment and understanding that these improvements have come at a price; overt and subtle displacement of some good and hardworking Bushwick residents. Most Bushwick lifelong residents welcome newcomers to the neighborhood, but like with any community in transition, a mindfulness of respecting and acknowledging the existing community is extremely important.
The story and history of Bushwick is being written. With this film, I hope to ensure that my generation of Bushwick is not written off as a footnote of the downtrodden years of Bushwick. This film makes the declaration, “See us. We are here. This is our story.”
Stefanie Joshua is a native New Yorker, mindful social activist, yogi, educator and Bushwick lover. Bushwick Homecomings- The Record will screen at part of the 2019 Hip Hop Film Festival in NYC on August 3, 2019. Details see: www.bushwickhomecomings.com