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 'Growing & Making'

(While Surviving & Defending)

The sample real life story (a.k.a. memoir) and companion essay on this page highlight the importance of learning, trying new endeavors, and creating out of what you have.   We can make gardens where there was trash.    

"Creativity involves breaking out of expected patterns in order to look at things in a different way." 

-- Edward de Bono

“It’s infuriating that yesterday, my father had to pull all my younger cousins into a room and tell them to be more careful.  He had to explain that in some cases, their brown skin convicts  them before an offense is even committed.”
― Janelle Gray, Echoes of the Struggle

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“It’s infuriating that yesterday, my father had to pull

all my younger cousins into a room and tell them

to be more careful.    He had to explain that

in some cases, their brown skin convicts them

before an offense is even committed.”
― Janelle Gray, Echoes of the Struggle

'62 & 64'

 THEME:  Faith & Determination


"To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow."  

- Audrey Hepburn  

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Not only do trees grow in Fort Greene Brooklyn,

but at 62 & 64 my front yard gardens grow too! 



"You'd have to go blocks and blocks to find another garden (not counting potted plants) in front of a residential building.   Every front yard has been paved over, except where there is a tree encased in a small square of dirt.  Many of these buildings use to be well-to-do single family homes (now split into small apartments).  The homeowners would put their time and resources into hidden-from-the-street elaborate backyard garden retreats (and they still do).

When I moved into 62 in '98, the two front yard areas were high weeds and rubble, and on the block there was not even one potted plant on display!   


I had been living in Park Slope and started my first-ever little garden in front of the duplex I shared with roommates.  I was a transplant to NYC from my last home, Oakland California, and I missed walking off into the hills at sunset, so I decided to put my hands into dirt.   I found out that squeezing a bare hand full of fertilizer (cow manure) gave me like-a-little-electric-shock; I could feel it was about life. 


When the landlord of the duplex announced he was selling, I went walking in Fort Greene, talking to whoever I met on the street.  It was the postman (TIP! they know where all the empty apartments are!), who pointed me to 62 & 64 (same landlord).    When I saw there was junked over dirt-in-the-ground, I made an offer to the Super to clean up both 62 & 64, and bring my plants to start a garden in front of 62, the building I moved into.   


Over the years, occasionally a resident would taking on doing a garden at 64, but it was inconsistent.  Ten years ago I took responsibility for cultivating both 62 & 64 gardens.   In the hottest weather, that means four trips from my bathtub with two (2) gallon watering jugs, down from the second floor to the lobby and out to the street. 

When Spring arrived this year the joy of its potential was tampered by living under the New York coronavirus quarantine since March 20th. (NYC  would not start the Phase 1 reopening until June 8th). 


I was fortunate that  three blocks from me  Gardel's Garden   was open, and I could support one of the few remaining black businesses  in Fort Greene not wiped out by gentrification.

Working out front in the gardens has given me that baby-dog-like-permission to start up conversations with strangers passing by and they with me.   Seeing the gardens among hot concrete has made passersby especially happy this year.   


I put out the fun-to-read signs I made for each garden aimed at the young children who walk by with their parents.  Many kids are not use to seeing an in-the-dirt front yard garden in front of a house.   I hand painted the sign In front of 62:  'Not 4 Sale -- then two peace symbols and a heart -- For Sharing' (#2 in above photo).   In front of 64 (#3 in photo) the sign says, 'MY GARDEN (Read Aloud)'.

Only last Summer did I learn something about the history of 62 & 64's two patches of front yard dirt.   I was working in the garden and a woman stopped to tell me how happy she was to finally meet me and thank me for the gardens.    She had taught down the block at Brooklyn Technical High School for thirty years, and remembered her amazement twenty years ago when she saw the trash gone and a garden in its place.   


Then the teacher shared what had always been a mystery to her.  When she started at Tech the 62 and 64 lots had indeed been paved over!   Then one day she walked by and the concrete had been torn up and dirt filled in, and she became excited to see what would come next.  But nothing happened after all that work.   A garden was never put in; the yards became weeds and rubble.     


My gardens are now surrounded with mystery!   Who tore up the concrete and put in the dirt?    What happened?  If you believe in fairy tales, obviously a good witch created the yards, and then the evil one cast a junk-pile spell over them!  They were waiting for me and my dedication to turn them into what they were meant to be!    From rubble to joy. "   -   Trayce


Now on the block,

here and there,

a neighbor

has started

to grow

(in a pot!)


New stories for this Story Category will be posted above the sample story. 



          Story Category Essay



The sample memoir above is followed

below by an essay about the Story Category.


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(While Surviving & Defending)


Those of us who come from communities where most people work for wages -- rather than a salary or a dreamed-about career -- we usually don't talk about how to develop ourselves as doers, creators, thinkers, and confident risk-takers who regularly try new experiences (not counting rollercoasters and video games).     We work towards goals for what we know.  (Though if you have children, you push for their exposure to new worlds!) 


When the need for ongoing self-development has not been introduced to working adults, it's hard -- in the rush of daily survival -- to find the time and mental focus to try something totally new and not already present in your everyday life.   Easier to fill up on celebrity news and the latest releases.   Especially if some people in your life don't know how to be supportive of your trying something new (maybe because they're not doing anything new). Or you are daunted, knowing you have so much to learn about that something new and you don't know where to start -- so you don't.


When you get a job in the NYC catering industry, suddenly out of the blue, diverse cultural information and new pathways are being delivered to you -- as you wait in line for serve-out!   If serve-out has already been delayed for ten minutes as speeches go on, you find yourself listening in on the other servers standing in front of you.  You become interested.   Though never before have you spoken with them, you ask a question.      With- out-a-blink, they turn their conversation into explaining to you what they’re talking about, and where you can go to learn more.


Co-workers in catering often have a generosity that is harder to come by in restaurant jobs.  Workers in restaurants often work the same weekly schedule with the same co-workers.    The fatigue of a regular job can build more easily, and cliques more easily form as well as competition for tips (in catering it’s a set hourly wage).     


In catering we’re used to working with someone on one job, and never seeing them again.  Or the opposite, we start seeing them every third job.   You learn to enjoy a good conversation with whoever is around (if you try and it doesn’t click, that doesn’t discourage you from reaching out to the next new co-worker).   And it's good for business!  These intense brief exchanges break up what can be the monotony of service, and helps the worker be refreshed when returning to the guests.  These human interactions also help to bind workers together as a supportive team.


Working in the NYC catering industry inspires working people to be open and interested in new information and ideas coming at us from all directions.    Our co-workers offer an endless amount of stories and recommendations for growing and making, plus tips on how to start.


If in communities our more affluent neighbors, after having passed us regularly on the street,  would care to stop and introduce themselves and share a  story and ask for a story, there'd would be a whole lot more 'growing and making'.





If you are an affluent new neighbor in a gentrified neighborhood (still with plenty of rent stabilized,  Section 8, and public housing neighbors),  and you have regularly passed someone on the street,  instead of not seeing them, stop and introduce yourself:  "Hi, my name is ___.  I've passed you many times..."  and share a  Story and ask for a Story. 

If you have someone working for or with you who has had far less opportunities than you, find a quick moment (or take lunch together) and tell them a Story about something you do.   Invite them to ask questions of you, as you ask questions of them.

As individuals, you have the power to help increase 10x the 'growing and making' in Black, Latinx, and immigrant communities just by taking time out to share Stories.

"If you want to play piano,

but you're bad at playing piano,

you practice and you get better.   

If you want to support Black people,

but you're bad at supporting Black people, practice and get better."  Akilah Hughes


If you are isolating, not out working in the pandemic and you are economically stable  for now, daily you might be faced with the challenge of how to maintain your sanity and freshness.      Take advantage!     This is an once (hopefully) in a lifetime things-are-soooo-slow-and-its-my-time-time.  

And if you have been out working in the quarantine all this time -- June 17 it will be 3 months! --  you might especially need little doses of 'growing and making' to really relax in your few hours in-between (rather than more hours of heavy sleep or the extra beers).


Discover how to motivate yourself to take on small new projects / studies / hobbies / rituals in your everyday life. 


Learn how very simple acts of kid-like creativity and doing -- for fun,  for the experience of doing -- can lead to

your own personal growth and

increase your sense of self-worth.


When we are creative using our hands, minds, and energy doing something we enjoy, it reduces our stress levels, and we start to value our own company more (and our children's).   

No right.    No wrong.   No Judging.

Just do.  Anything. 


Start with something really small. 

Call it your seed.   

Water it regularly.

Be patient.  

Watch it grow.





Do IT for even 5 minutes

(that's right 5 minutes!) 

But commit to 

5 minutes for 5 days!   



Whatever you want to do, check out if there is a YouTube beginners video, and watch just long enough to get to the first interesting thought or bite of new info.



Now spend time thinking about / remembering / repeating what you learned.  Next session pick up your watching.  Stop again when you get a solid bite to digest.   


Digest before filling

your mouth

with more to chew!


You won't necessarily enjoy or understand the first tastes of something new.  Especially if you're figuring out the mechanics of how to get started (from new apps to terminology to tools to environments) 

Before the shoes can fit,

you have to break-in the leather

so it fits to you. 


If after 5x, you haven't started to enjoy, pick another activity. 


It’s the trying

that counts at 1st! 

Not what you achieve.   

Whatever you try, sharing the story of your doing  can inspire others to see that trying is growing.  Share Your Story about what or how you are growing or making, alone, with your children, with collaborators, or what you observe watching someone else grow or make!   



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