We missed our city while we’ve been sheltering at home: we missed all the different neighborhoods, cuisines, languages and histories of the five boroughs. We’re starting to peek out the door a bit, we still can’t experience our city in full. So we’re going to take our followers on a tour of 10 NYC neighborhoods where we’ve built. We’ll feature our projects, the history and culture of the neighborhood, and some fun facts along the way.
Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

Lace up your kicks because today we have a real treat. We will be learning about one of Brooklyn’s most storied neighborhoods – Bed-Stuy! Bed-Stuy is filled with history, music, Habitat NYC homes and, of course, food!

So first things first. Bed-Stuy is the shortened name of the neighborhood, which is officially Bedford Stuyvesant. The name is a combination of the Village of Bedford and Stuyvesant Heights. Weeksville, one of the first communities of free Blacks in the country, was established in the 1830’s.Learn more about Weeksville’s absolutely fascinating history at the Weeksville Heritage Center.

Batter up! Bed-Stuy is the site of one of the first professional baseball fields in the country. Built in 1863, the Capitoline Grounds was home to the Brooklyn Atlantics (World Champions, 1859, 1860 and 1861!). The field took up the block boarded by Nostrand Avenue, Halsey Street, Marcy Avenue, and Putnam Avenue. Capitoline Grounds saw baseball history made – the first curveball and the first slide were displayed at Capitoline Grounds!

Today, we know Bed-Stuy as one of the centers of Black life in the city. As with Brownsville and other Black communities, the Great Migration of the early 1900’s brought migrants from the American South and immigrants from the Caribbean to the city. The nearby Brooklyn Navy Yard was a particular draw for Black people to move to Bed-Stuy, as the Navy hired Black tradesmen beginning in 1941. By the 1960’s, Black workers made up 20% of the Navy Yard’s employees.

As the white population fled for Queens or Long Island, Bed-Stuy’s Black population skyrocketed. In 1950, Black families comprised 55% of the neighborhood’s population. By 1960, it was 85%. The political and racial tensions that gripped the nation in the 60’s were prominent on the streets of Bed-Stuy. The neighborhood had a high unemployment rate, a disproportionate amount of drug-related arrests, segregated housing and congressional districts and, despite this, received no aid from the federal government.

The neighborhood erupted in 1964 with one of the nation’s first urban riots of the Civil Rights Era. More riots followed in 1967 and 1968. The community would not stop fighting for equality and equity. In 1968, Shirley Chisolm was elected to the newly formed 12th Congressional District, becoming the first Black woman to serve in Congress. Her campaign slogan was, “Unbought and unbossed.”

In Congress, Chisolm fought for her constituents – expanding the Food Stamps program and helping to create the WIC program. She opposed the draft and the Vietnam War and tried to increase funding for childcare and early childhood education. Chisolm is a truly inspirational New Yorker – she represented Bed-Stuy for 14 years, and became the first Black woman to run for a major party’s nomination for President, and the first woman to run for the Democratic party’s nomination.

Chisolm passed away in 2005, leaving behind a decades-long legacy of service. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. In 2019, Shirley Chisolm State Park opened, filled with art featuring some of her quotes. She will also soon be one of only five other women to have a statue honoring her in NYC. (There’s nearly 150 men…)  The monument will be at the entrance to Prospect Park.

One of Congresswoman Chisolm’s most lasting legacies is inspiring other Black women to run for office, including Assemblymember (and former Habitat NYC Leadership Council member) Rodneyse Bichotte, who founded the Shirley Chisolm Democratic Club! Another legacy of the neighborhood? Black homeownership – Bedford Stuyvsant Restoration Corporation, the first Community Development Corporation in the US, was founded in 1967 and has promoted ownership for decades.

Habitat NYC has worked in the neighborhood, building and preserving homeownership opportunities across Central Brooklyn. One of our most notable projects are the sixteen homes that make up the Hart-Lafayette project, which we began in 2009 and completed in 2011.More than 2,500 volunteers gave their time and talent to the project, including Susan Sarandon and one of Bed-Stuy’s most famous residents, Spike Lee! And of course, responsible adult volunteers deserve a nice cocktail after a hard day’s work, which is why ABSOLUT Vodka paired up with Spike Lee to launch their Brooklyn vodka on the site!

Not to be outdone, another one of our Bed-Stuy projects on Monroe Street brought the star power for our first Broadway Builds event in 2013! Actors Emily Berg, Laura Linney, Celia and Andrew Keenan-Bolger and even the great Sir Patrick Stewart joined us for an afternoon of hard work.

The Hart-Lafayette project also put the heart in Hart Street – we hosted a special Valentine’s Day build at the site in 2010!

Our work on Hart Street is not limited to building homes… sort of like how our BWK program isn’t limited to painting! In 2010, BWK volunteers worked in the Hart to Hart Community Garden, building planters and other work.  Our amazing BWK volunteers have given Bed-Stuy a fresh coat of paint, though. Just last year, we worked to paint the lobby and hallways of a 41-unit HDFC on MacDonough Street as part of our Housing Preservation Program.

By giving these public spaces a make-over, we can make sure that the building residents were charged an affordable price for quality work, which allows them to keep the building not only affordable, but beautiful!

Speaking of paint, Bed-Stuy boasts dozens of beautiful and powerful murals and a thriving graffiti arts scene. Many of the murals feature famous Black leaders and musicians from the area, including Jay-Z, Mos Def, Biggie Smalls and ODB (whose name we will keep abbreviated. This is a family-friendly tour!)

You know who is a fan of both Biggie and of affordable homeownership? Congressman Hakeen Jeffries, who represents Bed-Stuy in Congress, who has visited our sites and who quoted Biggie on the House floor. No, it’s not all a dream. It’s a CSPAN clip!

No trip to Bed-Stuy (virtual or otherwise) would be complete without something to eat! The neighborhood is full of amazing Black owned restaurants, featuring cuisine that reflects the community. Peaches (on Lewis Ave) has served Bed-Stuy since 2008, and has grown into a four-restaurant group, serving up Southern-style food – from low-country shrimp to Nashville hot chicken. A&A Bake and Doubles Shop (Fulton St.) is a James Beard Foundation awarded counter-service spot. A&A is famous for doubles, a Trinidadian street food consisting of pieces of fried bread around a spiced chickpea center, served with chutney.

Habitat NYC has many of our most supportive faith partners from Bed-Stuy. Congregations from Concord Baptist Church, Cornerstone Baptist Church and Emmanual Baptist Church have supported our work. Volunteers from Bridge Street AWME would even cook for our construction volunteers! Two special faith partners from Bed-Stuy are Rev. Zidde Hamatheite from Wayside Baptist Church and Rev. Gwen Dingle from the Pentacostal House of Prayer.

Pastor Zidde is on Habitat NYC’s Leadership Council and recently joined us for a conversation about the intersection of Faith, Race and Housing with our partners at Thrivent. Check it out!

Rev. Dingle was a beloved member of her community and a passionate advocate for Bed-Stuy. Sadly, Rev. Dingle passed away this year from COVID-19. We send our prayers to her family and congregation. We’d like to share Rev. Dingle’s favorite Bible passage: Psalm 133:1 “Behold, How good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”

Bed-Stuy is a beautiful, historic neighborhood. We are honored to have been part of the community’s story, and if you keep an eye out, you may just see us back in Bed-Stuy, building new homes for hard-working families.