Thursday, February 16, 2012

Black History Month: 'Our Communities Shape Us'

Photo credit: Casbah Design

Embassy employee Fitz Robinson writes about his home community in Brooklyn, NY.

As a Jamaican-American giving thought to Black History month, it gives me reason to reflect on how our communities help shape us as individuals. 

I feel fortunate to have lived in several cities within and outside the United States. It is my opinion that Brooklyn, New York is one of the most culturally diverse, ethnically mixed and intellectually provoking communities I have lived in.  Based on the 2010 census, there are approximately 2.5 million people living in Brooklyn, NY, 33% of whom identify themselves as African-American and live in highly concentrated “black” neighborhoods.  Roughly 17% of Brooklyn’s African-Americans claim Caribbean roots. For several years, I lived in Flatbush, where a large population of Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Haitians and splinters of other races and ethnicities all lived together.  I also lived in Crown Heights, where a large population of Caribbean Americans, an even larger population of Orthodox Jews, and a “mixed bag” of other races and ethnic groups called home.

Growing up, I was exposed to this fusion of cultures, but more importantly, I was exposed to good role models and leaders within the community.  These were people who cared about the community. Mamadu, a single mother of Haitian descent, raised five boys by herself, all of whom turned out to become highly successful professionals.  Besides encouraging them to live their life potential, she encouraged them to give back to their community.  Today, they all live blocks away from the home in which they were raised and are strong members of their community.

I guess it is fair to say that the areas of Brooklyn where I grew up were a bit impoverished and lacked any sense of affluence. However, these places had an identity.  They had integrity.  It didn’t matter that most of the people I interacted with were blue collared, because we all looked out for each other and we called Brooklyn home. Furthermore, there is a certain expectation from someone who claims Brooklyn roots.  You are expected to have a can-do- attitude even when others see non-negotiable obstacles.  It was this vibrant community that helped shape me into the person I am today. 

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