In a series I'm calling Know Thy Neighbor, I'm embarking on an experiment to get to know y'all better. The rules are simple: to be profiled, you must live or work in the greater North Flatbush area. The boundaries are somewhat malleable, but for sake of simplicity let's say Empire to the North, New York to the East, Church to the South, and Parade Grounds or PP Park to the West. Some might ask why I feel the need to include such a large swath of territory, but to those who've come to call this neck of the woods home, I think you'll see the logic. If not...start your own damn blog! Each person I profile will suggest another profilee, so I don't end up profiling ONLY people I know or meet myself. Sound fair? Let's go!
Yesterday I spent the better part of the afternoon with a fascinating woman named Celeste Lacy Davis. Celeste owns one of the glorious limestone townhouses along Ocean Avenue. She and her neighbors recently won landmark status for their homes - the Ocean on the Park District. It's made up of the 9 remaining houses; had it not been for their work, the area might soon have been a giant construction site a la the apartment building going up to their north.
Say hello to Celeste, pictured here this afternoon in front of her gorgeous home:
Her story has more twists and turns than the Cyclone, but as one hears the narrative of her life unfold, there's a certain circuitous logic to it all. A lifelong New Yorker, Celeste's mother was a guiding force in her budding activism. She's tells a great story of how her misbehaving led to being dragged by her mom to the 1964 Democratic Convention, and she joined the Civil Rights struggle in earnest from that day forward. She took another "left" turn while at Syracuse University and by the early 70's, she was running with the colorful and charismatic characters of the day. She and her husband had a wonderful baby girl named Njemile, and in many ways Celeste's activist life tracked the great convulsions of late 20th Century world politics. As she put it, those were heady times.
A bit of disillusionment later, Celeste found herself looking at an odd advertisement from The New School that said "How to Become a Lawyer in 6 Sessions - $35." Apparently the course was well taught, because within a few years she had graduated CUNY Law -- public interest law of course. Doors opened wide for her in litigation, advocacy and academia. Among her proudest achievements was her work for Planned Parenthood preparing the fabled PP vs. Casey, which narrowly saved the gist of Roe v Wade before a decidedly conservative Supreme Court. She met and worked with many of her heroes through the years. Perhaps inevitably though, she found that many people don't live up to standards of their ideals, including people dedicated to social justice. That tough lesson hardly deters her from her deeply held convictions in the power of people to create change through solidarity.
From 1988 she's been a proud resident of PLG. She shares the unease of some longtime residents regarding changes in the neighborhood, but she knows that she too was once the newcomer. We both commiserated on how some new folks don't want to engage with their neighbors. Eye contact, anyone? Nothing wrong with saying howdy; the worst that can happen is puzzled indifference. And she emphasizes that the story of PLG is NOT equivalent to the story of Lefferts Manor. While she harbors no ill will to the Manor, she feels its important to recognize that the neighborhood should be and feel more inclusive than just the "Lefferts Covenant" area designated by the City. My feeling is, if the Q at Parkside is your hometrain, you're my neighbor, neighbor. And for the sake of togetherness, even you Lincoln Roadsters feel like extended family! (Don't forget to send holiday cards this year.)
Beyond her leadership roles at non-profits, Celeste started a gallery out of her home called the Imarisha Art House that hosted a number of highly regarded shows in the late '90's early 00's. In fact her beautiful parlor floor, a doctor's office once, is still set up as a gallery. As we spoke in the back of that floor you could hear the rumble of our beloved Q/B behind her house. There have been some rough spots in her life lately, but some very cool stuff is on the horizon. Stay tuned. Celeste Lacy Davis is just getting started, y'all.
The Q at Parkside
News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.