- Commuters Freaking Out After F Trains Skip Carroll, Bergen
The Brooklyn Paper reports that bottlenecks this week during rush hour at the Carroll and Bergen stops along the F train provided a scary preview of what might be the new normal if the Transit Authority moves ahead with having some F trains skip those stops and some others regularly in order to run express […]
- Italian Treats at Court Pastry
Italian shop owned by Zerillis for 68 years.
- Some Want More Inmates at Boerum Hill Jail
Mayor Bill de Blasio is nixing a proposal to shutter Rikers Island after so many reports of the toxic environment there, but a Brooklyn activist says putting more inmates near home — such as in the Brooklyn House of Detention on Atlantic Avenue, which holds about 600 inmates at a time who are awaiting trial […]
- History, Photos, Contemplation: Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal
Curbed.com has published an interesting feature on the Gowanus Canal, “The Fascinating, Murky History of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal.” The photo essay by Nathan Kensinger follows author Joseph Alexiou, who’s book, Gowanus: Brooklyn Curious Canal, was recently released.
- Gowanus Canal Condos Nearly Complete
A 720-unit condo building is nearing completion on the banks of the fetid Gowanus Canal, at 365 Bond Street. The controversial Lightstone Group development will feature studios and one-bedroom apartments. Neighbors are up in arms about the big building and the floods it’ll bring: flood of cars that’ll compete for parking; flood of kids who’ll compete for […]
- City Announces Plan to Try to Integrate NYC Schools
NYC Chancellor Farina and Mayor Bill de Blasio announce a plan to try to integrate seven city elementary schools, including the Children’s school in Brooklyn.
- NYC Ed Dept Drops Plan to Balance Race in UWS School
Due to overcrowding in upper income neighborhoods at sought-after public schools, like P.S. 58 in Carroll Gardens, the Department of Education under Mayor de Blasio is attempting to ease the crowding, and tackle school segregation, by shifting school zones to better balance school populations, such as they are doing at P.S. 8, the popular elementary […]
- Gothamist: Video: Man Catches 3-Eyed Fish in Gowanus
Well we certainly have a new urban legend on our hands. Gothamist published a video that appears to show a man in a red flannel shirt who caught what appears to be a three-eyed catfish — apparently having used cheese bread for bait — from the Gowanus Canal. Many news outlets are running with the […]
- Read the Great Cobble Hill Travel Writer Wendy Simmons
She’s a columnist on Huffington Post, a regular at Bar Tabac on Smith, and she’ll keep you entertained for hours.
- Rikers Teens Join Gangs and Fuel BKLYN Shootings; Very Sad
DNA Info website has a sad report about how teenagers who get thrown into Rikers prison often join gangs for their safety, and now are fueling the increase in Brooklyn shootings this year: https://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20150927/bed-stuy/rikers-hardened-youth-gangs-blame-for-brooklyn-shootings-police-say
Tony Newman, a Carroll Gardens dad and director of media relations at the Drug Policy Alliance, recently wrote for the Huffington Post about reading the classic children’s tale, Charlotte’s Web, as an activist.
Here’s the piece:
One of my earliest memories is sitting on the couch with my mom as she read Charlotte’s Web to me and my sister. Thinking back on the book, I don’t remember all of the details, but I do remember that Charlotte (the spider) was helping save her friend Wilbur (the pig) from being killed. I remembered there was a mischievous rat named Templeton that I thought was cool. I also remember me and my sister crying as my mom read us the end of the book.
I now have a four-year-old girl named Eva and was nostalgic and excited to introduce her to Charlotte’s Web.
While sitting on the couch with Eva, watching the movie Charlotte’s Web 35 years after reading the book, I realized that in addition to being a great storyteller, the author E.B. White was also a visionary and an activist. Watching the movie as an activist who does media work for the Drug Policy Alliance, I now have a whole new lens to look at Charlotte and her strategy to save her dear friend Wilbur.
Wilbur is the cute little pig who finds out from his fellow farm animals that he is going to be killed and eaten, because that is what happens to pigs. Wilbur can’t believe that they are going to kill him. Wilbur turns to the wise spider Charlotte and asks if it is true. Charlotte promises Wilbur that she will protect him and that he won’t be killed.
Wow! Hearing this story as a parent, I now see that this is a pretty intense, scary story! I have to admit that realizing that Wilbur is going to be killed because we eat bacon is kinda of a wake-up call that gets me thinking…
Anyways, how is Charlotte going to protect and save her friend? Charlotte ends up spinning a web that says “Some Pig”. The family who owns the farm is blown away by the “message” in the web and calls the neighbors. Soon the town is buzzing. After a couple of months the news wears off and Charlotte again spins a web that says “Terrific”. The family calls the local newspaper. The next thing there is a photo of Wilbur under the “Terrific” web on the front page of the paper. The crowds come, the family decides Wilbur is special and Wilbur is saved.
Charlotte (and E.B. White) realized that the only way to save Wilbur’s life was to make people care about Wilbur. If someone is nameless, we can kill them, stuff them in a jail cell or do other terrible things to them. If we hear someone’s story, hear about their dreams, their histories, their families, it moves us and we care.
While watching Charlotte’s Web, I couldn’t help but think of my friend and colleague Anthony Papa. Anthony Papa is a New Yorker who was sentenced to 15 years for a first time, non-violent drug offense. Papa’s life was ruined when a “friend” convinced him to pass an envelope of 4 ounces of cocaine for which he was to make $500.
While in prison Papa found his passion for art and became a painter. Papa’s greatest piece is a haunting self-portrait of himself looking into a mirror. You look into his eyes and feel the agony and despair from a man who realizes he is going to spend the best years of his life in a cage. Papa’s self-portrait ends up showing in the Whitney Museum. Papa (like Charlotte) realizes that the way he is going to free himself is by telling his story and having people see more than just a number.
Papa sits at his typewriter, writes his story and sends it into the local Westchester Journal. Papa then uses this humanizing piece to get other stories and before long there is a major feature in The New York Times. The story builds and builds until Governor Pataki grants him clemency. After spending 12 years in jail, Papa was literally able to paint his way to freedom.
That is only the first half of the inspiring story. When most people get out of jail, they want to put the nightmare behind them and never want think about jail again. Instead, Papa ends up starting a group with activist, comedian Randy Credico called Mothers of the New York Disappeared. They understood (like Charlotte) that to change the way New Yorkers looked at people behind bars, people had to see a whole picture of these people, not only their jail numbers. They organized families of people behind bars. They would organize vigils and actions with family members holding up photos of their loved ones. While the “nameless” were considered drug dealers, they became real people when their families told their stories. These weren’t “kingpins” or queenpins”; these were moms and dads, brothers and sisters, who loved their kids and families and were rotting away in jail because they had a substance abuse problem or were desperate to make money and because New York had draconian mandatory minimum sentences under the Rockefeller drug laws.
After years of sharing people’s stories, generating moving TV segments and feature stories, New Yorkers changed the way they looked at people behind bars for drug-related offenses. Watching a personal piece about a mom being locked up for 15 years, away from her family, because of a mistake she made or because she has a drug problem moved hearts more than any statistics or policy papers. In 2008, after 35 years, the inhumane, ineffective and racist drug laws were finally reformed.
There is a picture in my office of Anthony Papa giving Governor Paterson a hug at the Rockefeller Reform bill signing. It makes me emotional to think about Anthony Papa’s story. Papa spent 12 years in a cage because of one mistake and because of the way our society treats people who use drugs. He lost his family and freedom. He was able to regain his freedom through his art, activism and brains. He then used his freedom to help free some of the people he left behind.
I am moved by Anthony Papa. I think E.B. White would be moved by Anthony Papa’s story too.
Follow Tony Newman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TonyNewmanDPA