The Brooklyn Renaissance (Part 1)
“You see, I was born in the slums, that was before the ghetto. The ghetto was kind of refined; the slums was right there on the ground.” - Della Reese
I got a call through the phone one afternoon during me and Princess’s transition period from music to missions. It was from a woman named Rebecca - she told me she was connected to my family somehow, I wasn’t really paying attention - but anyway she suggested me and Princess come to her community, in Brooklyn, New York, after seeing reports of us across the pop culture media finally noticing our community work and love for charity. I told her, “Sure, why not!”
I didn’t see Princess until I got to the studio since she stayed with a family overnight for certain 'spiritual reasons'. I'm not really sure what it was. Either way, they drove her to the studio early that morning where she’d be practicing her vocals. She was testing out a new style of rasp resonance, where she’d purposely let her voice sound very rasp and crisp as she sang softer, in more of a whispering tone. I arrived with my backpack and everything, getting ready to tell Princess the news.
“Sup Princess, I got news,” I reported.
“Hey Dante~” she greeted. “You’re not even going to ask me how my night went?” she puckered her face, teasing like she does.
I sighed, “Sorry, Princess. Do tell, how was your night?”
“Fine.” Pause. “Okay, what’s your news?”
“We’re going to New York for missions work. A person I know recommended us,” I informed her, pointing to my backpack over my shoulder.
“Oooh, fun! Just you and me?” she wondered.
“Let me in on this one,” Mike said, from behind the studio curtains after packing up his instruments and looking ready to leave.
“Mike? I didn’t know you liked charity work all that much,” I commented, scratching my head a little.
“Eh, who says I can't give back to the community from time to time,” Mike shrugged his arms. “So? The three of us?”
Me and Princess exchanged some glances, but in the end we smiled as she answered, “Sure!”
So, we packed our stuff together and departed to Brooklyn, New York, the big apple.
We packed together some things, like our toiletries and clothes, put our instruments in their cases, ran some errands like getting school supplies for donations, or getting bags and storage items to carry open donations and give to those on the streets.
We went to ATM’s and withdrew a lot of money to use as “give-away” cash.
In the meantime, Rebecca, the woman who invited us, went to see her soon-to-be husband Mitch for a little while, telling him that 'The Revolutionaries' were about to come to Brooklyn for missions. They visited their church and let everyone know. The ministers there left to open up food pantries, shoe-box donations, soup kitchens, and got together for conferences. They were hyped for some sort of transformation in that community of theirs, hoping our caliber of missions work would be just enough to really make a sort of a change that was deeply needed for the heart of Brooklyn.
I drove us up there in my car, with everybody pitching in for gas money. Mike probably should’ve driven, but I think I know the way to Brooklyn better than he does. Though, I do hate the turnpike...
We arrived in the City in the afternoon and came out to the fresh autumn welcoming smell of New York at both it’s finest and it’s worst. The Brooklyn...ghetto.
Rebecca, who was by the way expecting, talked a lot with her nearby family. Her mom’s sister lived right in the same block as she did, with her kid too, Rebecca's cousin. Her kid's name was Leanne, about the same age as me and Princess, but still younger than Rebecca. All of us were relatively young in our own right. And Leanne was the one who just wasn’t having it.
“I can’t have this right now! Why you bringing these famous people into our neighborhood? It’s gon mess everybody up!” she pouted again and again.
“I ain’t bringing no random celebrities here. You’ll like these people when you meet them. They different, but a good kind a different,” Rebecca thought highly of us.
“Whateva but I really jus wanna be left alone while they're here. I gotta lot to deal with and I’m hoping to clear some shit up with my boyfriend, okay?” Leanne pouted all the more.
“That’s fine, but I at least want you to meet them. You’ll like ’em.”
I tried looking for the best parking spot I could. Once I did, I called Rebecca for directions and all and apparently if we “jus kept goin’ straight” we’d make it there. The three of us got out of my car and walked along the blocks of the residence area.
Princess straddled along before us, almost skipping as she embraced stranger to stranger going past classic New York shops and age-old apartments alike, run-down, robust, and grimy like I remember them, but always feeling like home.
“She’s clueless,” I commented over to Mike who kept pace walking with me.
“Clueless but cute honestly,” he shrugged. “Long as nobody robs her.”
“Look I know New York’s got the crime city stigma, but no thief’s coming out in broad daylight and tackling us, y’know? I mean we’re both Philly boys, we know this,” I replied, as we both started chuckling and just admiring the urban lives between both New York City and Philadelphia.
We were approaching one of the many bridges that often intersected with the Brooklyn hood. I found it odd since I figured we would have been close to her place by now. As I reached for my phone to try calling Rebecca again, I hear a loud cry from about a good 4 stories above me, shouting “Hi Dante!”
I look straight up as my eyes are met with Rebecca’s, who’s sticking half her body out the window of her apartment, probably just waiting for us to show. “Hang on! I’ll come down!” she calls again. I didn’t expect her to be the peppy type like Princess became after meeting me, however...My guess is that she’s just excited that we’re here more than anything.
“Where are we staying?” Mike bothered to ask me, carrying luggage in his arms still.
“Relax, I’m working on it,” I say, holding out my phone. Finally, Rebecca emerged from the edifice, excited as you could tell by her eyes, but still composed by her complexion and demeanor. She walked up to us slowly without saying too much, just smiling with bright eyes.
“Thank you so much for coming. You’re definitely welcome to stay at our apartment,” she showed us good hospitality. We all exchanged glances and shrugged; departing with Rebecca up the stairs of the apartment complex.
“DeAndre~!” Leanne was calling her boyfriend into her bedroom in the meantime, eager to talk over the issues that have been surrounding them lately. This tatted up, bulky, young buhl comes walking into the room, with the calmest of expressions on his face.
“Hey baby,” he said, sitting down next to her.
“We gotta talk...about those men after you,” Leanne told him, concerned, stroking his body.
“I’ll be safe, girl. Just let me do my thing,” DeAndre told her. Commotion stirred outside from people who claimed to see us walking around and it got on Leanne’s nerves once she figured out our reputation was distracting her private life. We were a nuisance from the start.
“My cousin brought over these extravagant missionary people over to our hood so now we got them stirrin’ a crowd,” Leanne waved it off, like she didn’t want any involvement with it despite Rebecca wanted her to.
The three of us dropped our stuff off in Rebecca’s cramped 2-bedroom apartment. “You sure you can fit all of us?” Mike asked, dropping his duffel bag.
“Well, I actually only thought Dante and Princess were coming. Three is good though, I don’t think my fiancé will mind it,” Rebecca said, clearing space now.
“I call the floor!” Princess said, already laying down. Mike laughed, and I sighed.
Some firetrucks were heard going down the road, high speeds as usual. Classic New York as I remember it.
“So as you know, I talked with my church and so they just want you to work with our food pantry right now and hand it out to people in the shelter. That okay?” she said to us.
“Sounds great!” Princess said, cross-legged on the floor this time. She was messing with her hair a little bit, straightening out the natural curls it sometimes busted out.
“Fine by me. Let’s serve the community,” I put my hands to my hips. We were settled in quickly and left shortly after to assemble by the food pantry, all four of us together where we met her favorite minister that instructed us what to do.
DeAndre left Leanne’s apartment around this same time and went back to his retail store job which he was using to help afford his own place. Him and Leanne wanted to live together, but they were too poor so he’s raising money. A gang on the north end has been stopping him from getting enough money, and hate his guts for some long-terms grudges he holds with some of them, among them are his former friends.
To keep himself safe off the streets, he has to go through all sorts of transportation issues and job circulation to keep himself away from their territory, which is always changing.
“LEANNE!” Leanne’s mom came running down the steps screaming her name after seeing DeAndre leaving their place, never even knowing he came there.
“WHAT, MOM?” she shouted back. Neither of them seemed to be in a good mood.
“I saw DeAndre just walk out from the window! You know what I told you about that boy! He’s involved in way too much trouble and you could get hurt!” her mom nagged and nagged.
“I can’t just leave him alone, he’s hurting so much right now and never shows it. I’m the only one who can be with him!” she yelled back.
“Don’t speak back to me!” she yelled again, and put her hands over her head, stressed.
“Why can’t you let us try to find our way...? We can be happy together...” Leanne finally spoke softer.
“How this boy gon make you happy when we always stressed and yellin’ at each other...?” now the mother spoke softly, responding almost automatically to her feelings.
“Well, he has dreams,” Leanne went on to say.
“Dreams are for boys, Leanne. What you need is a man,” her mom replied.
“What I mean is, he envisions this life the two of us can have where things are so much better than they are now, because he thinks we can get out of this city and live on the beaches or the islands, and start anew-”
“Of course he say that, but he say that because he wants to believe things will be that way. This boy can’t actually do it.”
”He doesn’t have to. We can, together.” Leanne emphasized. Her mother left, and yet another argument was left unfinished by a simple difference of opinion.