A personal narrative from a Black femme in Bed-Stuy documenting their immigrant families struggle to stay in their home. Please help donate to the emergency gentrification resistance fund as the author and their family are currently facing displacement again. Paypal donations can also be sent to: negesti.cantave@gmail.com

I was born in Brooklyn and have been living in Bed-Stuy basically my whole life. 

My parents both grew up in their home countries, one on Haiti and the other Jamaica. Both of their families immigrated to Brooklyn where they lived in Crown heights & Bushwick in the late 70’s early 80’s–– back when Brooklyn wasn’t seen as cool or edgy but rather as “undesirable” ––a perfectly fine place for Black people and immigrants to live. The elders in my family were building homes and a life for us here in Brooklyn while synthetic hard drugs like crack cocaine and heroin were being forced on young people like myself as a result of the cities neglect to our neighborhoods and the American government's programs to deliberately suppress Black Power by attacking and working to destroy and dispossess our communities. This was also at a time when the most hated and feared group of immigrants were Haitians.  

One of my parents told me story after story of the ways Bed-Stuy was fighting back during this time, it was alive and swelling full of Pan African social activism. Marches `with multiple respected civil rights leaders could be seen shutting down Fulton St. and places like the historic and iconic Slave Theater (which was acquired by developers for $18.5 million two winters ago despite protests) ran nightly cultural and social education programs and was a powerful hub of resistance and community empowerment. Community Block associations formed not only to fight racism but to unify the community against the “crimes” of survival and desperation that addicts were driven to participate in. It is in this climate, at this time, and into this city that I was born.

I grew up from playing with friends on our block, to biking up Nostrand to get my Tofutti from Imhotep's Health & Living Store (now also closed), to house parties with friends as a high school student. Like many other young people, as a teen I dreamed of moving out and being independent. Unfortunately, that was also around the time that the gentrification of Fort Greene began rapidly spilling over into my neighborhood. I remember things like one summer when the NYPD set up a mobile command unit (an NYPD RV) and cops began patrolling the neighborhood in groups spreading terror through our communities.

This is when my family first became directly impacted by gentrification; the landlord of our home of almost a decade at that time began voraciously trying to evict us from our rent regulated apartment using all sorts of tactics to try to force us to move out. They refused to do repairs we were entitled to; for years we lived with dangerous exposed live electrical wires, poor heating systems ––anything to make us miserable and compromise our safety. They used the Housing Court to tie us up with endless appearances and drawn out battles and even reported my family to ACS ––the Administration for Children's Services–– with false accusations. All of this was done with the intent to get me and my family out. Eventually the exhaustion and violence of it all became became just too much for us to be able to take anymore and after a painful decision we left our home feeling that we would never find relief by trying to maintain our family in the home that raised us. This began a 7 year period for us as a family of living with chronic housing instability.

I spent that time hopping from place to place in Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights doing whatever I could to fight for space for myself and the right to exist and live within the community I had grew up in. About 3 years ago I was able to struggle my way into a rent regulated apartment through intense researching, meticulous planning and by having someone else and their parent become the holders of the lease to avoid credit checks and other roadblocks. Since then I have had a string of roommates ––including having to house gentrifiers moving in from other cities in order to make rent. I was steadily and diligently working hard towards helping my family get to a place where we could afford the apartment on our own and get back to creating a home for my younger siblings to thrive in and experience housing stability. As a tenant I have ensured that the rent is always paid on time and have been the textbook example of what a reasonable landlord in a non-gentrifying neighborhood would see as a “good tenant”. In 2016 I was able to secure employment that helped me to be able to pay a larger portion of my rent and finally be able to move my younger siblings in with me. Prior to that they had been traveling all the way from Long Island into the city for school and extracurricular activities. It was around this time ––when we were finally beginning to make progress towards creating home again–– that I began to experience harassment from my current landlord.

It started with complaints about me having roommates –something that she had griped about once or twice in the past but I was able to stave her off to leave me alone by clearly and consistently communicating several times that as a rent regulated tenant I have the legal right to a roommate. In November while I was also dealing with the death of a family matriarch, my landlord sent a man unknown to me and without notice to “watch” my apartment. After demanding to see identification from my father who was coming to visit me this man lied outright to our faces claiming he was the new “door man”. Both he and his wife were verbally aggressive to both me, my roommates, and my parent actually threatening us with physical violence and yelling and insisting that my landlord is going to get me out of the apartment one way or another.  Now this abusive landlord is leveraging false accusations against me in order to force me into housing court to ultimately evict me and my family.  Due to all of the chaos and harassment my roommates have decided to move out by the end of this month.

Although my family is working extra hard to be able to afford the whole apartment we just are not there yet. We are hoping that in the next 2 months we will be able to be in a position to finally make it happen. In the meantime I still need to pay my rent for February and March. I am actively looking for roommates but it’s been difficult as our home isn’t really the traditional roommate set up because my siblings who are young teenagers also call my apartment their home. I also feel worried and nervous about bringing another person into this tenuous legal situation.

Due to the fact that this matter is currently undergoing litigation and I am probably going to have to end up representing myself as a non lawyer, I can not attach my name to this fundraiser publicly because of the very real possibility that it could negatively impact my case if discovered.  What I will say is that I am a Black femme who has been speaking out and organizing against gentrification since I first learned what that word meant and realized it expressed what I was feeling and experiencing at the age of 17. I am deeply committed to anti-colonial struggle and liberation for the African Diaspora. For these reasons and many others my family and I are desperately trying to stay in our home and in our community.

If you are in a position to be able to do so ––especially if you are part of one of the waves of gentrification in Brooklyn–– please, I am asking you to donate whatever you can towards my rent and an emergency displacement fund for me and my family. We are living with a lot of uncertainty and having funds to pay the rent in full will help to create the best possible conditions for me to go head to head with my landlord in the courts or to relocate if we are forced out.

Thank you so much for your concern and support!