A Brownstone in Brooklyn: a prism of the sixties and a reflection of today!
In 2019 we are living through rhetoric that is nasty, divisive and results in random acts of violence. In the sixties we faced similar situations with racially charged language and haphazard acts of violence.
After fifty years we are still battling some of the same negative circumstances. Time it seems has not healed these festering racial sores. Instead, racial issues have developed a foul stench of ugly and life-threatening behavior.
Twenty years ago, I published my first novel, A Brownstone in Brooklyn, about the “Turbulent Sixties.” I am re-reading the novel and preparing for the upcoming twenty-year anniversary of the books’ publication.
When I reached page fifty-six, I stopped in my tracks! I was reading about what was happening in the middle of the sixties, but coming alive again in the nightly cable news alerts.
Now, I want you to meet and experience three characters, Hiram Henry Mario and Andy.
Hiram Henry and Mario are inside the steel fence, helping shutdown the City College of New York, in an anti-Vietnam War and anti-racial protest. Henry is speaking to the crowd and Mario is a supporter inside with the protesters. Andy is outside barricade talking to his friends.
From A Brownstone in Brooklyn, page 56,
CCNY Campus Shutdown!
While Mario and Andy were talking, one of the leaders, Henry, who helped the radicals take over the CCNY campus, speaks to the crowd.
Andy reached through the fence and gives Mario, a close friend, a black-power handshake. They both turned to listen to Henry.
“Brothers are you with us?”
Andy didn’t respond, but waited a moment, “We’re fighting the battle out here.” Andy spoke up so Henry could hear him.
Mario moved inside the barricade toward Finley Hall. A group of students were listening to Henry’s voice. Mario spoke to Andy.
“You know we made our demands many months ago and there wasn’t a peep heard from the administration. We, we took over the campus. We did it because we were ignored! Guess what, we got their attention.”
“We, Black and Puerto Ricans, were noticed as a result of our taking over the campus in a non-violent way. Dr. King was right, when you demonstrate peacefully your opponent can’t handle it. In my eyes, it was good this happened, maybe not the rioting, burning and looting, but this is the result of frustration of being held down for so long.”
Mario, left the crowd, listening to Henry and came over to the fence closer to Andy. Andy was preparing to leave the campus for Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.
“Mario, in Bed-Stuy something is brewing, I can feel it,” Andy moved closer to the iron gate, “if something isn’t done soon, my neighborhood will explode.”
“Hey, the south Bronx isn’t far behind. It’s just a sign of these times. People are afraid of change and when it happens there will be violence. Emotions are frozen in anger mode and can’t be changed.”
“Yeah, I hope these changes we’re fighting for today will make Black people, White people and Brown people, in the future, learn from these mistakes so this will never happen again.”
If I could talk to these characters in 2019, I would tell them that people never seem to learn from the past and as the saying goes: History repeats itself!
In the turbulence of 2019, we are facing situations that seem so very similar to events from the sixties. It is eerie and scary at the same time.
Yet, at the end of A Brownstone in Brooklyn we see hope. Maybe, just maybe, that hope can translate to today!