Bed-Stuy Block Party Back On

Neighbors had stopped the annual tradition on the block after a shooting death 11 years ago.

NBC Bay Area

Finally, after 11 years, Bedford Stuyvesant will have its first block party this Saturday, a tradition that stopped after the shooting death of a man at one of the outdoor parties in 1998.

“We’re taking back the block,” Isis Sapp-Grant, director of the Youth Empowerment Mission Inc., a Bed-Stuy nonprofit for neighborhood teens, told the Daily News.

The party will be held between Marcy and Tompkins Avenues on MacDonough Street on October 24th.

“We're dealing with neighbors who are powerless and feel fearful," said Sapp-Grant, 38, who has an office on MacDonough Street. "But if we get people out and have something to remind them of a better time, they'll be willing to come out more."

The area used to be known for drug dealing, gang fights and other crimes, residents told the News.

Trevor Graham, 27, remembers the events of that fateful night in Aug. 1998 when William Ranson, 34, was shot to death -- a crime that ended the block party tradition for 11 years out of concern such violence could happen again.

"A couple guys started dancing with some older females ... some one pushed him and started beating him and one guy shot him in the head," Graham told the News.

The block association split up. Crime skyrocketed over the next few years and residents made sure they were home before the sun set.

"We had shootings, stabbings, lots of drugs being sold," Nathan Clark, 53, a 13-year- resident of the block, told the News.

“It’s much better now,” Clark, an auto mechanic, said. He cites that crime rates declined due to more police presence, flood lights, gentrifications and building cameras.

Sapp-Grant and Brooklyn Community Roots, a gang intervention program, began planning the event last month, but that proved to be extremely difficult.

"Since there was no block association, [Community Board 3] made us get signatures," Sapp-Grant told the News, referring to permit request requirements for the block party.

Volunteers knocked on doors on the block and collected 50 signatures in support of the resurgence of the block party.

"Most people said, 'This is great, we haven't had one in so long,'" one volunteer told the News. "Others were kind of nervous because they know the environment and were skeptical."

Neighbors will cook their favorite dishes at the Saturday party and entertainment will include a double-dutch contest, a pie bakeoff and an open mic competition. There will also be lots of dancing, music and body painters.

But there will also be outreach programs for neighborhood youths. Ex-gang members will be there to talk about their life of crime and how they gave it up. Teen mentors, GED tutors and job skills training will also be available there to help steer youngsters the right way.

Residents can feel safe with heavy police presence.

"Instead of people talking about this being a "hot" block," said Sapp-Grant, "it will be known ... for members caring enough to get involved.”  

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