Were you to wander one shoppe north of Tafari Tribe on the Flabenue, with the frustratingly tantalizing name Tafari Cafe (where's the Ethiopian coffee we were promised?) above the entrance, you might peer in at a wildly eclectic collection of handmade crafts, jewelry and clothing and wonder what it's all about. Well I'm here to tell you - this is a store you simply must experience, because the breadth of goods and gifts is staggering. It's a (hopefully) longterm Pop-Up shop known as Brooklyn Flair and it deserves your patronage.
Why you ask? Because the shop shares the wares of six wholly unique and experienced female entrepreneurs. Zenobia Marion, Enkunish Hailu, Saidah Haye, Naeemah Senghor, Sequoia David and Brenda Edwards-Gueye, with the marketing panache of their charismatic impresario, design consultant Blane Charles. The wonders within? Nu Ade Nourishing Hair Oils, exquisite artisinal African molded silver jewelry, hand crocheted items, handmade soaps and outlandish used clothing...if you've ever searched for a gift or special treat for yourself or home, this is a must visit. With the brilliant Tafari Tribe next door, you could spend hours and hundreds of dollars without leaving your neighborhood. I know that sounds like it might be a BAD thing, but in this case, BAD most definitely means good.
Skip right to the pictures below, or stop on in and meet these ladies in person, rather than read on as the Q muses about just why such a shop is a local treasure, and the people behind it deserve the true title Local Gentry.
Something happened when the world went digital that is hard to express, and a writer with much greater facility than the Q has certainly given it a go. Oh, I could find and read such an essay, but I have time only to write, not read, so here goes.
In the past, most humans lived their lives in relative obscurity to everyone but family and friends and co-workers and tribe, until, oh, about 1995, at which time we started showing up in search engines, engaged in the business of life and the life of business, doing things both boring and silly and cute and perverse. Once your lifestyle involved any dot-coms, even for hobby or sex, your every public (and sometimes NON public) activity was part of the permanent record we call The Cloud, or Web, or some other equally inadequate metaphor, since clouds and webs aren't nearly so categorized, stored and sorted by ones and zeroes.
Something I found when I started working with older-generation folks in our neighborhood was that it wasn't so easy to "google" their accomplishments and affiliations. Was this because of race and culture? Sort of. But have you ever tried to google your own mom or grandpa, and found nary a trace? Unless of course they had some sort of celebrity - say an artist or politician or captain of industry. The history of the world up until 1995 was primarily told by newspapers and historians, who were always waxing subjective about their subjects. And their subjects were rarely middle managers, aspiring this-or-thats, teachers, community leaders, clergy etc.
It is clear to anyone who walks into Brooklyn Flair that the six vivacious figures selling their wares are the sorts of women who really should have their own Wikipedia entries with lots of footnotes. (Have you ever googled someone and thought "well she seems to be very accomplished" and then realized you've merely seen a bunch of reiterations of the same tired copy that accompanies their website or press release? As in, it doesn't take much to "appear accomplished" on the latenight web search. And the aforementioned Sir Charles aside, beware the word "consultant." It might more accurately be phrased "under-employed." Not that there's anything wrong with that, mind you. Many of my best friends could thusly be described.)
The Q stopped in on the coldest day of the year just to shoot a picture and determine what PLGNA's Brenda Edwards-Gueye had latched herself onto. What I found was a bunch of long-time residents with stories to tell and histories to recount, about a neighborhood often called "in-transition," but in-transition from what exactly? The newcomers tend to come with google-able attributes and careers. The older generation not so much. But their stories would bore a hole in your noggin.
Brenda was telling me that despite being a schoolteacher herself, she like many others in the '70s, sent their kids to private cooperative schools with names you've likely never heard of. While white hippies were inventing any number of counter-cultural education options, Afro-centric Americans were also dropping out of the mainstream to re-contextualize the American experience outside the typical canon of "white men, their wars, language and art." Whole academies and schools of thought and fashion and music and art and literature grew from the minds of newly radicalized imaginations. Much of that idea is familiar to middle class-and-up whites, the stories told by their older generation or memorialized in books, movies and memorabilia. But another story existed right alongside, a black world, a black neighborhood, a black REALITY. And as is also true of contemporary Brooklyn, it existed right alongside the other realities, rarely crossing the others in any meaningful ways, except on the subway or at the bodega.
Perhaps the one place where the Q's lily-white world collided with this black consciousness was in music. Once I discovered (in high school in Ames, IA at the public library) Funkadelic, Miles Davis, the Ohio Players and later the early rap of Grandmaster Five and the beatbox music of Afrika Bambaataa and his Zulu Nation, the books Malcolm X and Roots by Alex Haley, poetry-essays-art then in college, it became clear that two very distinct versions of America were being expressed and explored.
Sometimes the two WOULD connect - the younger of you will probably never fully appreciate what a nation-wide moment was the telecast of Roots. (Actually, the idea of a "telecast" is probably meaningless to begin with. This is before videotape and DVDs, or even Cable TV). With Roots, for the first time (perhaps not the BEST time), the story of slavery was told from the black point of view. It was required viewing. As in REQUIRED. Our history teacher made us write and report on each episode. Nearly 40 million people tuned in to Roots' final episode on ABC. This at a time when the population of the country was around 200 million. And yet, soon after its airing, the "conversation" turned to the hostages in Iran. Remember that? The revolution that's still burning? From that came Nightline with Ted Koppel, and soon the downfall of Jimmy Carter. Ronald Reagan arrived. Coincidence that America's black consciousness seemed to ebb thereafter? By 1982 the Reagan Revolution had essentially declared war on the inner cities and its lawlessness and drugs. Any gains in race relations were, in my view, set back a generation. By the late '80s, Crack and Black were synonymous. The Central Park Rape case, that horrible twisted modern lynching, took control of the tabloids. Riots in Crown Heights, in Los Angeles. The rise of Gangsta Rap, much more a response than a cause, gave rise to even uglier depictions of young black men as being unreachable, unrepentant and unemployable. We were suckered into believing that the great hope of MLK had been a mirage, except for the reality of fully assimilated black folks, one of whom would one day become President. And even as we celebrated MLK's legacy, we ignored its deepest messages, that the deepest legacy of slavery itslef was not in the character of the freed blacks and their grandchildren and great-great-great grandchildren. The deepest legacy was in the hearts and minds of the descendants of slave owners, still in power, but unable to escape the prison of their own minds and fears.
Back to the real business of America though...SHOPPING!!! Pictures below...