The idea for writing a book on "Brownsville" came about as a result
of a chance meeting of two individuals who never knew each other,
although they are close in age, went to the same junior high school
and high school, and lived only blocks away from each other.
As grownups, they live in the same apartment building in New York
City, But, like most New Yorkers in similar circumstances, didn't
have occasion to communicate with each other. It took a recent incident,
whose origins lay in Brownsville, to bring them together: the death
of a mutual mentor and friend, their ex junior high school science
teacher, Adolph Dembo. Adolph had been a friend and mentor to both
individuals, as well as to hundreds of others who grew up in the same
neighborhood. It was at that funeral that Jerry and Bernard recognized
each other as living in the same building, and where they formally
introduced themselves to each other.
Jerry had maintained a friendship with Adolph over the years, until
Adolph passed away. Bernard was a teacher in the same Brownsville
junior high school in which Adolph served as science teacher and assistant-to-principal,
until he, Adolph, left to assume the role of principal and eventually
community superintendent of District 16, in Bedford Stuyvesant.
Adolph was such an outstanding role model for so many Brooklyn kids,
that even forty years after graduation, Jerry and several other organizers
were able to gather abut twenty of his former students to honor Adolph
at a local restaurant (owned by another ex-Brownsvillite) on Manhattan's
East Side. At that gathering, Jerry observed the unusual success rate
of the attendees, which included two dentists, a psychologist, three
engineers, a financial planner, several attorneys, several teachers,
several businessmen, a graphic artist, and others. This was the germ
of the idea that developed into the current effort to record a history,
oral and written, of the place we fondly refer to as Brownsville back
Chance encounters and conversations that the two subsequently had
with each other revealed an opportunity to combine their two unique
gifts: Jerry's uncanny memory for names, places, events, especially
as they relate to the "old neighborhood," and Bernard's recent experience
in collaborating on a memoir with Adolph Dembo, presented an opportunity
for another collaboration.
Jerry spread his germ to Bernard, and Bernard was smitten. After several
meetings between "the collaborators" a questionnaire evolved which
attempted to capture the essence of the nurturing aspects of growing
up in their beloved Brownsville/East New York. Over 50 questionnaires
have been sent out to people who have heard about the project through
newsletters and word of mouth, and there is currently a 70% rate of
return. Topics touched upon by respondees have included the nurturing
and mentor roles of parents, teachers, community leaders, and friends.
An unexpected bonus has been the forwarding to us of photographs and
other memorabilia that would never have made their way into print
for the rest of us to share and enjoy.
We hope that by sharing positive experiences in growing up in a materially
deprived, but culturally rich "ghetto," we will encourage others,
in similar circumstances, to "reach for the stars!"