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Dorothy Bembry-Guet

Oral history interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu

May 17, 2017

Call number: 2016.027.1.11

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OKECHUKWU: OK. So this is Amaka Okechukwu, interviewing Ms. Dorothy Bembry-Guet. Is that how you say your name?


OKECHUKWU: It is May 17, 2017, and we are in Crown Heights at her apartment. So to begin, can we just-- Can you just-- Oh, sorry. This is for the Voices of Crown Heights Project. So to begin, can you just state your name, your birthdate, and where you were born?

BEMBRY-GUET: My name is Dorothy Jean Bembry-Guet. My birthdate is [date redacted for privacy], 1942. And I was born in Hawkinsville, Georgia, Pulaski County.

OKECHUKWU: So can you tell me, to move to New York since our interview is focused on New York, can you tell me some of your first memories of Brooklyn, coming to Brooklyn?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, originally, when I came to New York, I of course lived in Manhattan. That's wh-- that's the only New York I knew about. And unfortunately, there was a fire and the entire building was destroyed, so I was 1:00looking for an apartment. And a close friend said to me that, "There's an apartment in my building." And I said, "But you live in Brooklyn." You know, that's like a foreign country. So, that was my thinking. She said, "Well, beggars can't be choosers." So we looked at the apartment, and when I walked into the apartment with the real estate agent, it was a sunken living room and facing the street. And I didn't even ask how much it cost. I said, "I want it." And I can't imagine ever living in Manhattan again.

OKECHUKWU: So where was that in Brooklyn?

BEMBRY-GUET: It was at 210 Park Place in what is now Prospect Heights, between Flatbush and Vanderbilt. That was my first apartment in Brooklyn.

OKECHUKWU: What do you remember about the surrounding neighborhood, at the time when you first visited?


BEMBRY-GUET: Well, you know, I moved. I didn't check the neighborhood out immediately, because, you know, I had the apartment. And, but I liked it. It reminded me a bit of home, because it was a neighborhood and not hustle-and-bustle like the city. You know, there was a block association where everybody was friendly and exchanged phone numbers, so that they could move the cars for alternate parking. So it was a very trusting community. So, you know, I didn't think I was in a foreign country any longer.

OKECHUKWU: How did it compare to your previous neighborhood in Manhattan?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, I was on the Lower East Side, so it was a lot of young, poor people. So we were nice to each other, and we shared. So, you know, it wasn't like Midtown, busy or touristy. But it was, it was a lot-- I was with a lot-- I was single, and there was a lot of single people that I was moving around with and spending time, going from the East Village to the-- It was the Lower East 3:00Side then, not the East Village or SoHo. It was, you know, we'd go over to Greenwich Village, you know, to have parties or whatever. But I liked it better, I guess maybe because it was feeling like I was closer to home. But, you know, in the city, too.

OKECHUKWU: What was the original reason why you came from down South to New York?

BEMBRY-GUET: Economics; I grew up on a farm. It's very, very hard work and no benefit. I mean, there are benefits to growing up on a farm as a youngster, but there's no money. You work very hard, very hard work, with no compensation. Even though I was on my family's farm, you know, we had, we were rich in food and land. But there were no fancy dresses. So, I wanted to get off the farm.


OKECHUKWU: Did you come by yourself, or did you come --


OKECHUKWU: How old were you?


OKECHUKWU: So what was that like? I mean, was it-- Did you feel, like, culture shock or homesickness? What do you remember about first, you know, coming and adjusting to New York?

BEMBRY-GUET: I wasn't homesick. You know, I wanted something different. And I think, fortunately, that, you know, I met nice people. And, you know, people shared with me, took me places, introduced me to foods that I had never heard of or even read about. And so, you know, I was just-- It was a lot of new things for me to experience. So it was a very good experience for me.

OKECHUKWU: So when you moved to, I guess, what they call Prospect Heights-- Did they call it Prospect Heights back then?


OKECHUKWU: They did?

BEMBRY-GUET: I don't even know what they called it then. I don't know if they had those dividing lines at that time. So I'm not sure when we started these 5:00lines, because I don't think we had community boards at that time, either. So I was just in Brooklyn.

OKECHUKWU: What were the like-- What was, like, the racial make-up of the neighborhood when you first moved there?

BEMBRY-GUET: I would think, in my block association, the area there, that it was probably 75% Black.

OKECHUKWU: And so was it 25% White, or just other; of a variety?

BEMBRY-GUET: Mostly White. I didn't see many other different-- You know, in the immediate area. And I pretty much knew everybody in the block. And that block association was a unique block association, because it was four blocks. It was Flatbush Avenue over to Washington Avenue, which passed Underhill and Vanderbilt. And then we had two of the blocks on Underhill included, so it was 6:00a large block association. And I was a tenant, but, you know, most of the people in the blocks, they were, you know, one-family homes. So--

OKECHUKWU: What were some of the activities of that block association?

BEMBRY-GUET: Mostly window boxes and keeping the streets nice and clean. You know, having a relationship with sanitation and the police department, and everybody was involved in the h-- how it looked. So, and that was something, you know; I didn't have a front yard in Manhattan. I had a front yard and a backyard. You know, we barbecued a lot. So.

OKECHUKWU: Were there any--? I mean, I know you mentioned on the phone that you were mostly working. But were there any-- Can you think of like Crown Heights or Prospect Heights, any like locations or places that you have 7:00particular memories about? Like favorite places?

BEMBRY-GUET: The Botanical Gardens, you know. And I took-- I could take my bicycle there. And, you know, Prospect Park; it's right there. It's, to me, it was the cultural heart of-- I didn't know immediately that it was the cultural heart, but I had access, and I utilized that. You had-- We had the public library there, the Grand Army Plaza Library, at the entrance of the park. And right down the street is the Botanical Gardens. So I had all of that, and that was all new for me, coming out of the fields of Georgia. To come into a place-- And it was all free, you know. You didn't have to pay to go to the museum or the Botanical Gardens. So.

OKECHUKWU: So how would you, I guess overall -- you know, it being 2017 now -- 8:00how would you say Brooklyn was different when you came here in the sixties, as opposed to 2017? Like, what is some of the major differences?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, you know we had the gentrification. So that changes the menu, if you want to say that. It's just, it's a different people. And a wider variety of people. I don't know if it's because I have, you know, grown older, or had more exposure. Also in-- now, in 2017, I'm active in the community, with the community board, with the police precinct, because I'm on the safety committee with the precinct, and the Parks Department. So the things that are going on, you know, I'm involved with S.O.S. and Mediation Center. So, I'm into 9:00acting and things. And I did say to you on the phone, even though I lived here when I was working, it was, I was getting up and going to Manhattan, when I got to Brooklyn, I was just ready to go to bed. You know, I didn't even shop in the area; just supermarket, maybe. But I didn't even shop in the community, because I was somewhere else. So until I retired, I wasn't a community activist in the immediate area. I was active with my union, which was involved with the quality shelter movement and healthcare issues. So, those were my things that I was doing as an activist over the years, and why Connie told you to get in touch with me.

OKECHUKWU: So can you speak a little bit, then, about your work and, I guess, when you-- the work that you were doing when you first moved to Brooklyn, and if that changed, just the type of work that you're doing?


BEMBRY-GUET: Well, the reason I got active politically was I lived on the top floor in that beautiful apartment. And the roof was leaking, and I didn't get results from the landlord. And my thinking, I said you know, if I buy an appliance, I get a warranty. So if I'm paying rent, why, you know, th-- I shouldn't have to fight, I thought. That's what I thought. How wrong I was, you know, because I called the Metropolitan Council on H--, because I went to the yellow pages. And they referred me to Brooklyn Tenants Union, and that was the beginning of my activism, actually, because that's when I learned how to lobby. When they had said, "We're going to go to Albany and lobby," I thought, you know, I was going to go marching around a building, saying, you know, "Can't take no more." And when we got out of the city, I got a folder. I got a script. I got an assignment, you know, to go lobby. And at that time, we had, 11:00all of the housing movements that were lobbying were fighting for a warranty. Because in the sixties, there was no laws to protect tenants, at all. So we wanted a warranty. And it took almost six years to get it. You know, that was the first thing that we got as far as tenant rights. And then we started fighting for other issues, so--

OKECHUKWU: Can you speak a little bit more about that, that warranty? Like the-- I guess what was won in terms of getting tenants' rights? Like, what types of rights?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, a warranty means making a place habitable. That, you're abl-- that, you know, the things that, just basic; that you don't have a leaking roof, that you have a flushing toilet, that you have an exterminator, that you have heat and hot water, that you have clean hallways and a heater or front 12:00yard, or what. Basic human quality of life issues. So a warranty covers-- I guess, you know-- you'd call it protection. But, and those things weren't being provided. And by my first experience, lobbying was very painful because, as I said, my concept of what lobbying was, was really rally protesting. I didn't know I was going to go and have to sit down and try to sell a concept to a legislator. And I was also naive enough, at that time, to think, you know, there's God and mama and the teachers, the doctors. Those are the people. Politicians were right up there. I wasn't aware that they worked for me, that I was the boss, and that I could tell them what they needed to do. So I had to learn that. And my first assignment was to a Republican legislator from 13:00upstate. And I was talking to him about the rats crawling into the beds with infants, you know. And when they, mothers, put them to sleep with the bottles, and the milk leaked, and then the rats would chew the baby's face. And he told me, "They deserve that." And, you know, I just got up and walked out of the office because it wasn't in my script what he was going to say, you know. They had some questions there with what rebuttals I should expect, but that wasn't on my script. So I left. And I, you know, about three months later, I asked to be reassigned to the gentleman. So we had a different conversation at that time. And so, you know, I had to say, "I think maybe we should export some rats to your community." And, you know, my colleagues they talked to me, because they 14:00knew I was upset. They couldn't believe that, you know, somebody would be that cold. And I think he was serious, you know, that attitude. So then we had, we developed a strategy of how we would be able to get people who were anti- -- and upstate, they are anti-downstate. So, but there are times when you need cooperation and nonpartisans. So if my representative had promoted or co-signed a bill that they needed upstate, so I would-- I asked the staff in that office. I said, "I need you to do some research and tell me; what did we do for them upstate? And I want payback. So the next time I talked to him, I could tell him the dates and times that my representative had supported issues for his 15:00community, and we were looking for reimbursement.

OKECHUKWU: So around what year was-- did you start getting involved?

BEMBRY-GUET: This was in the late sixties.

OKECHUKWU: And you mentioned that there was kind of a tenant's right movement at the time, like lots of other organizations?

BEMBRY-GUET: There were, there were a few. Met Council, Metropolitan Council on Housing, is still in existence. Very active. There are probably more tenant groups now than there were then. There was Met Council, and there was Brooklyn Tenants Union, which we were here in Crown Heights. And Flatbush Tenants Council, which Marty Marskowitz [sic] was the head of that. I don't know if you know Marty. So we were like a team. We all went up on the same buses when we went to Albany or we went to Washington, you know, when we would go. So, and 16:00then we formed-- Because New York City wasn't the only place where we have-- Some of the other cities-- So we did form a New York State coalition, which Michael McKee -- I don't know if you've heard of him -- he was the head of that for a long time. So that also helped in forming that statewide coalition. 'Cause there's power in numbers. So there were some issues with some of the cities upstate that had the same issues with housing that we had. So--

OKECHUKWU: Can you speak a little bit more about-- So you mentioned lobbying was one of the main activities of the organization. Can you speak to maybe some of the other activities of Brooklyn Tenants Union?

BEMBRY-GUET: That was primary, because going to court without a law to back you up; it was a waste of time almost. But during that time, there were-- Landlords 17:00were-- Real estate wasn't what it is today. At that time, a lot of landlords, when they couldn't pay their bills or they had an opportunity, they would burn down buildings to collect the insurance. So then the building was abandoned. But if there was a mortgage on the building, we would be able to go to the bank if the tenants were amenable. You could purchase the building for sweat equity. You could get a mortgage for $1, and then the tenants would pool what they would have been paying for rent into rehabbing the building. And the one thing, when you give people ownership, they have a lot of pride. They might have been poor. They might have thought they were poor. But, you know, with counseling and teaching, they could figure out, you know, well I'm going to go to work. But instead of going to a party on Friday night, the weekend, we are going to be cleaning out this building and fixing this building. Because, this, now I own 18:00an apartment. So we did some of those things, but we didn't do as much of that, you know, because it's hard, also, to organize tenants. We did tenant organizing, do rent strikes. And getting repairs was a major issue, so--

OKECHUKWU: So what were some of the-- You already touched on it a little bit, but what were some of the challenges of that work that you were doing in regards to the organizing and the lobbying?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, you know, the legislators, they want you to make the case. Because my representative said, "Of course." Because of course, they lived in the community. They know what you're talking about. They said, "Well, if you just get me some of the Republicans from upstate--" So they then assign you a-- "I will sponsor the bill. I will introduce the bill. But I need the votes. So I need your help for that." So that's where the lobbying really came in, 19:00when you had to go to the enemy to win them over. Or at least get some concessions, so--

OKECHUKWU: You've already spoken about some of the, the condition of the housing in the neighborhood. Can you speak a little bit more? I mean, I don't know if, you know, Prospect Heights had the same housing issues as Crown Heights, or if, you know, everyone was sort of up against the same kind of issues.

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, my-- I was in Prospect Heights at that time, and I had a leaky roof. But I-- my building was never abandoned, no. But I thought at the time, you know, a leaking roof was a big deal. But over the years, you know, when you have a building that's totally abandoned-- And when the buildings 20:00become abandoned, you had the vandalism. There is a building on Butler, at 55 Butler Place; absolutely beautiful building which now is a condominium. But the tenants in that building-- It was a large building, but the marble, you know, they had marble staircases, the bathrooms. This was a luxury building in its day. But there were floors that had no staircases, and they couldn't come out the front door. They had to go across the roof and down the fire escape every day. And there were children, there were families, because they had large apartments. So there were families living there, but, and had been living there a long time. But I don't know why the landlord, you know, abandoned the building. Was it not to pay rent? Or we don't know sometimes why. He wasn't one of those that burned the building down, you know, to collect the insurance. 21:00They just walked away. And, you know, it took a long time to get that building away from the bank. But eventually, the tenants, you know, got out. Because gentrification doesn't start overnight. So somebody saw, and this, and this building is in a prime place. It's right on Sterling, almost going into Flatbush Avenue. So you can see the library. You can see the arch. You can see the entrance into Prospect Park. Prime real estate. So, and when the, whoever, the developers got it, made it into luxury condominiums.

OKECHUKWU: Around what time? Do you remember?

BEMBRY-GUET: This was in the seventies, yeah.

OKECHUKWU: Did the developers get it at that time, or did they get it later on?


OKECHUKWU: Later on?


OKECHUKWU: Do you know when?


BEMBRY-GUET: No. No, now the dates, I can't give you date dates. Because I'm an old lady now. I was young and full of fire then, you know. I can't fight them now.

OKECHUKWU: When you were involved in the Brooklyn Tenants Union, was that your first experience with activism?

BEMBRY-GUET: Yeah, yeah.

OKECHUKWU: Where-- So I know Brooklyn Tenants Union wasn't just Crown Heights. It was a bunch of different organizations. Where did you, where did you all have meetings [inaudible]?

BEMBRY-GUET: There-- It's a restaurant now, but on Bedford and Eastern Parkway is, it's a restaurant now, but it used to be called The New Muse. It w-- You heard about it? You're too young to remember it, I think. But that's where we had our meet-- they gave us free space, because we were all volunteers. So we didn't have any financial income. We asked people to pay $5 a year for postage 23:00and Xeroxing, which most of them didn't do. They thought that was too expensive. [laughter] But-- And we found furniture on the streets. But that's where we met.

OKECHUKWU: So Connie had donated like lots and lots of papers to the Brooklyn Historical Society, so there's-- I know about The New Muse because a lot of her papers, you know, feature The New Muse; the children's activities and the other things that the museum did. And I also used to work in Weeksville before Brooklyn Historical Society so I know about The New Muse through Weeksville [inaudible].

BEMBRY-GUET: Yeah, they had the-- Reggie Workman taught my daughter jazz. She took classes with him there.

OKECHUKWU: I'm going to interview with him in a few weeks.



OKECHUKWU: So I want to ask about maybe some other-- I mean, I know you all met at The New Muse, and there were, like you mentioned, your daughter was taking classes there. Were there other-- Did you ever go to The New Muse for other reasons?

BEMBRY-GUET: Yeah, I went there. I went there for the art. There were activities, but my primary thing -- because I was working full-time -- so every Wednesday, I was giving up my life just to be there to be teaching tenants. That was-- But, you know, it had to go beyond that. And sometimes, I worked in a hospital, so sometimes I would have weekdays off and I would go to court with tenants. So, you know, that was just-- Wednesday nights was the meeting place. I didn't get involved in trying to help do other stuff. That was enough, so--

OKECHUKWU: Did you at all know Arthur Miller?



OKECHUKWU: Can you tell me a little bit about Arthur Miller?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, he was-- He wasn't-- He was involved in a lot of things. I know you know that. So he wasn't like an arm or participating with what we were doing. But he was making a contribution in the community, so if there needed to be a march or issues that needed to be addressed, we were there in the crowd to support that. But, you know, as far as the housing stuff, at that time, our primary thing was housing. But Arthur was interested in the whole person and the whole community, you know.

OKECHUKWU: Do you remember any of the responses? I mean, I guess there's lots of political and rallies and protests and things after he was killed. Do you remember any of that? Did you participate in any of that?

BEMBRY-GUET: Yeah, I was marching on Fulton Street. And I couldn't get inside the facility at the funeral. You know, there were, there were just thousands of 26:00people at that funeral. When I got there, it was, you couldn't even get near the door. So, there was so many people in the street.

OKECHUKWU: Do you remember, like, what the-- yeah, like how folks felt about it-- what the sentiment was?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well I, I'm sure all those people who were there, they didn't personally know him. I personally knew him. But, you know, just the fact of how he was killed was the thing that I think stirred emotions in the community near and far, because all those people at that funeral were not from Crown Heights. But they knew what had happened. So, you know, people were sad and angry. But they couldn't, we couldn't do anything about that at that time.

OKECHUKWU: Do you remember what your feelings were about, generally about the, 27:00like policing and safety in the neighborhood at the time?

BEMBRY-GUET: I didn't concentrate on that. You know, I thought that, that was a horrible thing. But I was also removed from it in a sense, you know. See now, I'm involved with the police. So every shooting, I just-- We had the public safety meeting Monday night. So we get the, you know, reports on everything that has happened, pretty much. The captain gives us-- I guess I threw out the stats after I looked at them, because we get the monthly stats, the weekly stats. But at that time, I didn't look at-- Well, first of all, we didn't have comp stats, so we wouldn't have had the percentages. You know, we couldn't measure anything. So we just, when the television came on, that's when 28:00you knew that something had happened. And we did not have community policing, which is pretty new now, even. So there was no sitting down to have discussions. It was them and us.

OKECHUKWU: Did you feel safe in the neighborhood?


OKECHUKWU: So when did-- I don't know the, like, I guess the end or when Brooklyn Tenants Union, I mean-- Was there a point that you left the organization, or did it stop sort of functioning?

BEMBRY-GUET: It stopped sort of functioning because it-- you can only do so many things. And so either-- Well, I became disenchanted with the people coming to the workshops on Wednesdays, expecting. I was working full-time, and they expected -- people who weren't working -- expected you to do all the legwork. And they were just, you know-- It wasn't encouraging, and it was 29:00taxing. So I reached that point where I thought, you know, "I can't do this anymore. I can't take this abuse. You know, it's not, I'm not the landlord. It's not my fault. And if you are not willing to take one step forward to help yourself, I can't take my car fare and go and do papers for you. You can't go get papers Xeroxed." You know, it just got to be too taxing. And the few and few of us, you know, all of us were older, you know, than a lot-- I don't know. It just got, sort of concentrating on the state issues. And we got away from going to court a lot, because one of our organizers was an attorney. So he came to the workshops. You know, he sort of trained us, and he worked with us and 30:00came to the workshop, and he counseled us. And when we went to court with tenants without attorneys, usually he would be in the background to hear what was going on. And if we got a recess, he'd go back and tell us what else we need to say or do. Also, he gave us, you know, his library card to the Brooklyn Law School, so we had access to the library if we needed to look up stuff. So, you know.

OKECHUKWU: So at what point did you, you know, step away, I guess, [inaudible]?

BEMBRY-GUET: I was at my desk at work, and this guy came to me. And he brought me this guy. And he just said to Nelson, he says, "I'm giving you this woman, and don't let her go. She's a phenomenal lobbyist." So I let them rope me into becoming a delegate for 1199. So that meant continuing to go to Albany to 31:00lobby, but now we're dealing with healthcare and Washington. So, that pretty much divorced the activity with the tenant movement. But not completely, because they knew what I was doing. So, you know, in healthcare, the people who are working in healthcare are poor, too. They had housing issues. So if we could have a discussion on housing, we did that. But you know, I just, it was sort of freelance; not anything formal like we had, you know, with the Brooklyn Tenants Union.

OKECHUKWU: So was that around, what time? Like, the seventies? Eighties?

BEMBRY-GUET: That was in the late seventies.

OKECHUKWU: So what were some of the issues that you were lobbying around for your union, with the healthcare, for healthcare?


BEMBRY-GUET: Mostly the income issues, because when I started working at NYU, I was making $57 a week. I started there in 1966. I do not -- I know it's somewhere in the archives somewhere what year, because I know it was on the front page of the New York Times -- when entry-level workers started making $100 a week. So it was fighting for, you know, to get a decent salary. And I think Jesse Jackson, on our behalf, said, you know, that, and-- they think his mother was a healthcare worker-- and he says, you know, "She can't even afford to sleep in the bed that she has to make every day." So it was a matter of upgrading a life, which had to do with the economy. But 1199 fights all human need issues, 33:00so there are the social issues. And we also, you know, believe that you have to carry and participate in society, so we didn't just fight for us and our union alone. We fought for all workers, for equality for all workers. And our union basically, it started out, it started with the pharmacists. But when, in 1959, hospital workers were not allowed to go on strike until 1959. And Nelson Rockefeller was the governor when, that's when we w-- They passed a law that we could go on strike, but you have to give a 10-day notice so they have time to prepare. So, and 1959 was the first strike of the union. By that time, the-- And the drugstore workers were determined with the leader, Leon Davis, that if 34:00we get the hospital workers, they have pharmacists in the hospitals. So if we organize hospital workers, we have more power, which it proved to be. But it didn't just organize the pharmacists in the hospitals. They organized the poorest of the workers, you know, the entry-level workers, which is the largest group of workers in the hospital. So they need to be uplifted. So, that's what we did.

OKECHUKWU: So would you say it was similar challenges? What were some of the major challenges in that organizing?

BEMBRY-GUET: The difference is in tenant organizing, you're dealing with people who really don't know. They didn't have rights, so you can't say they didn't know what their rights were. But, you know, it's hard to educate adults if they don't have any background or-- And our society and system steers them from 35:00information anyways, because then you can take advantage of people if you steer them away from information. Wherein in negotiating in the hospitals, lobbying for issues in hospitals; you're dealing with politicians, you're dealing with lawyers and judges, you're dealing with people who are educated. And the employees are also educated people. So your approach and technique has to be different, because you're dealing with information, power, money, and education. So the strategy has to be different, has to be thought out, planned, organized.

OKECHUKWU: So when you-- So were you in Crown Heights when the events of 1991 happened?

BEMBRY-GUET: The riots?



BEMBRY-GUET: No, I wasn't living here. I was still living down at 210.

OKECHUKWU: So you were in Prospect Heights?

BEMBRY-GUET: Yeah. I lived on Park Place farther down than down here, same street.

OKECHUKWU: Do you remember any of the-- What do you remember thinking when you heard about it, or kind of what's happening?

BEMBRY-GUET: I didn't know why-- Well, I knew about the death. But I didn't understand the animosity that was going on. And, now how I look at it now, I have a little better understanding. But, and it's not good. But at the time, I wasn't involved in it, so it just, I was just reading about it. And I also thought that some people who, other people who weren't here were so strong, made such strong statements about it. But they weren't here. They didn't live in 37:00the community. But they had strong opinions about it. And I didn't see the people that actually live here, I didn't see any of those people on TV. I just saw other, what I thought were, agitators. They didn't help, you know. I think probably the best thing that has happened with that is the Mediation Center.

OKECHUKWU: I know like, you know, through the eighties and up until '91, it seemed like in New York there were a lot of like racial, sort of political incidents; like the subway vigilante and, you know, Yusuf Hawkins and Michael Griffith and Bensonhurst and Howard Beach. And, you know, lots of incidents. Do you remember anything about that? Just because there's a lot of protest activity, I think, that followed some of that.


BEMBRY-GUET: Yeah, I know about it. I didn't get involved in it. I, see, I used to think, you know, the marching and the protesting, I've done some. Not a lot of marching, but, I think, talking. The yelling doesn't really accomplish it. And some people say, "Well, you know, Al Sharpton says you've got to do it all. You've got to protest. You've got to negotiate. You have to have conversations. It takes all of that." But I didn't care about, even with the union, when we'd have rallies, when we, when the bosses won't give us what we want in a contract and, you know, we'd go on strike. We were trained how to do civil disobedience and to be arrested. I didn't want to be arrested, even though I knew that the lawyer was on the picket line with a satchel full of money. I did not want to be arrested. So, I sort of stayed out of the way of 39:00that kind of stuff, you know. Even when I marched, I stayed on the edge. You wouldn't find me ever in the middle of the crowd. I didn't talk about it, but I just didn't get in the middle.

OKECHUKWU: So you said when you retired is when you became more active in the community organizations and things like that. What were some of the first, I guess, organizations or activities that you became involved in after you retired?

BEMBRY-GUET: The Mediation Center and SOS.

OKECHUKWU: So what motivated you to get involved with them?

BEMBRY-GUET: I was invited. Somebody asked me would I be interested. There was an event here in the park, and I was out there, and there was-- I stopped at a table, and somebody said, "Would you be interested in participating in what's going on in your community?" I said, "Why not?" And the next thing is I 40:00get a letter from Amy. Then I get a phone call. And I had actually been in to the Mediation Center, because I'm not tech savvy, and I wanted to see if I could find someplace I could get a computer class free. And turns out that that's where I needed to go to get involved. And of course, they put you to work.

OKECHUKWU: So what are some of the things that you've done there? What is the work that they put you on?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, I started out making outreach calls for the shootings, because when there's a shooting, we need to call people to go to the site, you know, to try to appease and quell any retaliation. Let the people in the block know that there's support and there's concern. That was the first things that, because, you know, we're a team. We used to do that; making the phone calls and going to those. So now, I go to Legal Hand, because I have herniated discs and 41:00I can't stand or walk too much. And so when this was developed and I said, "Oh, I don't have to." Because I had stopped going to the streets because I just couldn't do it physically. And so this was something that I could do. Mentally, I'm healthy. Physically, I'm an old lady, so--

OKECHUKWU: How do you feel about safety in the neighborhood? Do you feel safe in your neighborhood?

BEMBRY-GUET: Absolutely. When I first moved here, he told me, "Whatever you do, don't go in the park." In the park, there was a gang that owned the park, the Brower Boys. You know, so I couldn't enjoy the park. And it wasn't a bad thing for me, because I never had a park as a front yard. So just don't go in the park. You know, but look at it now. We've got Shakespeare in the Park. 42:00We've got movies in the park. We have all kinds of things going on there, you know. The only thing is we wonder what's going to happen when the Brower Boys get out of jail. But I think maybe they'll find someplace else. Or if they come back to the neighborhood, probably our street interrupters from SOS will be there to re-introduce them to the community with a different attitude. That would be good. Because many of the young men and women at SOS are from the community, that were incarcerated and they came back. And usually when people have lost everything, they come home. Even when you see people that are homeless in the street, if you sat down and you interviewed them, you would find that they have roots in the community. Because that's what's familiar, whether it was from childhood or whatever. If I lost everything, if Putin dropped 43:00something on New York City, I would go to Hawkin [sville]. First of all, we have land. I have land at home. There's food. There's a farm. There's animals for food. So, I wouldn't have any money, but I can go home. So, possibly when, if those guys get out and come back, they'll be better citizens.

OKECHUKWU: So when did you move from Prospect Heights to Crown Heights?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, I've been here about 27, 27 years.

OKECHUKWU: Did you notice any differences between the neighborhoods since you moved to Crown Heights?

BEMBRY-GUET: Not that-- Well, I didn't find the people as friendly. They're very friendly now. We all say hello to every, to each other, you know. And being involved in the community, you know, if I go out there now, you're going to hear people saying, "How you doing, Ms. Dorothy?" You know. When I moved up 44:00here, I only knew him, you know. So and as I said, getting up at six o'clock in the morning and going to work and coming home. So I don't know. It wasn't the community. It's just that I wasn't available, or didn't avail myself to whatever was here. There's no restaurants. There's nothing socially here except the children's museum, at the time.

OKECHUKWU: So what motivated the move?

BEMBRY-GUET: The new owner, they wanted to co-op the building, and I wasn't interested in buying a co-op. Because my real intention in retirement was to move back to Georgia. But I'm on a healthcare plan, so I can't afford to move out of my healthcare plan. But also, I love the city. I don't love my hometown, but you have to be practical when you get to old, you know. At this 45:00point in my life, I love the subway. But now I can't use the subway, because of my lack of mobility. I've got to pay a cab. It costs me $80 to go to Manhattan and come back. So, but it would cost me a lot more to go to the doctor if I went home, because I would be out of my network. So, Medicare doesn't pay that much. So, and I put 42 years into my union, and they pay for my healthcare. That is a bonus that I can't throw in the garbage can. [laughter]

OKECHUKWU: What-- So, how has the neighborhood changed over the 27 years that you've been here? I mean, you mentioned gentrification earlier, which I think is probably a major shift in the neighborhood.


BEMBRY-GUET: Well, the people, I think people don't mind the people as people, you know, because they're not offensive in that sense. But what the people in the community resent is knocking on your door with cash to ask you to move, and where people are being forced out. You know, and even though I'm not involved with the tenant movement, I keep up with the changes in the tenant laws, you know, and what they're trying to do. And I know you saw this thing out there. This building was bought two years ago. He has lived in this building, July 29 will be 50 years. And I've been with him here 22 years, OK. So, we're 47:00stabilized tenants. We also have preferential rent, because we used to live on the fourth floor. But, you know, he's diabetic and an amputee. So the previous landlord says, "Ms. Dorothy, I don't like the way you're walking down those steps. You look like, you remind me of my mother struggling." He said, "I have an empty apartment in the same side, same size. I'll give it to you for the same rent." Because with, with the stabilized apartments, the more people who move out, they get the vacancy rate. So the registered legal rent is much higher than the rent upstairs was, because he didn't move. So the rent was very low. So he gave us the same rent to move, let us get the first floor apartment, which turned out to be very good for both of us, as far as mobility goes. But the people that are here, and the previous landlord [inaudible] said somebody put a bug in his ear about-- And I'm not being nasty, but the things that the 48:00politician did to give incentives to private home builders, you know, giving them the extra $400 a room to rent to Section 8 people. We, for many years, we never had Section 8 people. So the new person is coming in. "Well, I'll give you $50,000 to move." Oh yes, that's a lot of money. They don't realize, 47% off the top goes to federal tax. So you don't have $50,000. You've got $26,000, so. And to move. And where are you going to move to, with the rents what they are? But their mentality is, well, I'm Section 8. Social services, they have to find me a place. So that means, now, there are three empty apartments in here that are being renovated. This apartment, there's one bedroom there. They're making this into a bedroom, and they're squeezing the 49:00dining room and sitting space over this way. That's going to be a bedroom, the kitchen. So that's what, that's what they're doing here. Some people don't like that. Those people-- Now I'm not talking about the Section 8 people, because they're indifferent about it. It's because this, "Well, you know, the government has to take care of me. They have to find me. They can't put my kids on the street." So the homeowners all know it, with people knocking on their door. They feel harassed. And the kind of people, they're people that-- There's a 92-year-old lady, is on the community board. She said she and her husband bought the house. They paid $47,000 for the house 40, 50 years ago. She's 92, and they were young. They didn't have kids when they bought the house, so she's been there a long time. And she doesn't like being aggravated 50:00with people knocking on her door. "Well, go live with your daughter, your daughter. Let your daughter take care of you." She says, "No, my daughter's going to come and live in this house. So it's not for sale." But then another person comes, and everybody that's coming has got a yarmulke on. So, you know, those people who have been in this community for a long time, they said when they first came, the Jews were here, but they ran away. Now, they want to come back. Even with the church on the corner that's landmarked-- they-- it's a synagogue. It was a synagogue, but now it's a church and they burned the deed. Yep. You know what burning the deed means? That's an accomplishment.

OKECHUKWU: Can you, can you explain that for the recording?

BEMBRY-GUET: Oh, when you make, when you purchase-- Churches like-- I don't know about all churches, but I know in Black churches; when you pay the last mortgage payment and you own the church, they have a ceremony and they burn the deed, because they own it. So it's a big, big thing. So they paid for the 51:00church, you know, and they're being harassed. One look at it, they didn't-- there's a change of design inside. Now, you can't-- It's landmarked, so you can't change the outside. But they don't want to. But they also, they're not selling it back, you know. So, that mood is here. People are tired of that kind of harassment. And I've heard people say that they know when the one guy comes and knocks on the door with all the cash, they know there's a developer behind them. You know, it's not this one guy so rich that he's w-- I'm a poor person. I don't walk with cash. You know, if I've got $10, I use the credit card. I don't walk with cash. It's from habit. It's not because I think I'm going to get robbed. But that is the big thing; the harassment of bothering you 52:00about your house.

OKECHUKWU: In terms of your involvement on the community board, what are some of the major issues that--? I don't know if you're on a particular committee for the community board [inaudible].

BEMBRY-GUET: The Parks Department; I'm not a member of the board itself. There's only 50 members on the board. But any member of the community can serve on committees, and we have voting rights on the committee. We don't vote in the general meeting, but I'm on the parks committee and I'm on the public safety committee, which encompasses police, EMS, fire department. So we make decisions on the committee, present it to the general population, and they vote on it.

OKECHUKWU: What are some of the major issues that you've dealt with on a public safety committee?

BEMBRY-GUET: Stop and frisk. Like, I had a senior moment. Stop and frisk was 53:00a big issue in the community, you know, because the young, the young White people, usually they are already educated. They have the money to buy. But the young Black people in the neighborhood, you know, they've grown up here. They might have education. They might not. But, you know, certainly the young men, the stop and frisk was a major issue for us. You know, there's a way, there's a route. And they say stop and frisk, and it's not just stop and frisk. It's stop, question, and frisk. But we're doing-- We have community policing now, and we have the sectors. And the group that's assigned to each sector, they're available to everybody. They're also walking the streets, and it's mandatory that the community speak to them. We try to do that, you know. And as an old 54:00lady, I don't cross the street when I see a bunch of young guys being very loud, because they aren't planning to attack me. They're having fun with each other. And we need to know that and not feel threatened. So stop and frisk was a big thing. And other types of crimes that we have, the report that we got, the biggest thing that we've had is breaking into people's houses. And because people are careless; leaving their windows open on fire escapes, leaving their things -- computers and cameras and stuff in the cars -- visible, leaving their cars unlocked, leaving their keys in the car. But very little violent crime. And we have a housing project over here, Albany Houses near Weeksville. How much, four hund-- 408 days we went without a shooting? And that was a hellhole. 55:00But with the PSA and the precinct people, that's down. So, and I know at SOS once, we went over 100 days without a shooting, and there was-- Then once we had a shooting, the kids all they say, "Who messed up our record?" You know. And normally, he would've looked -- that might be one of the shooters, and he's mad. They, somebody messed up the record for the community, you know. So that speaks well for, you know, trying to educate people and also respecting them for who they are. It's a big component.

OKECHUKWU: What are some of the major issues with the parks committee?

BEMBRY-GUET: Dogs off the leash, that came with the gentrification. And it's still an issue. The park is too small for a dog run, so the Parks Commissioner 56:00said the dogs can be off the leash from 9PM to 9AM, but there's an elementary school there. People for generations walk -- the nannies, the grandparents -- walking elementary school children through there. And there was a lady who came to one of the parks committee meetings. She came from the Netherlands. She'd been here like eight months. She bought a house on St. Mark's. And she said that they can go around the park with the kids, because the dogs needed to socialize. So I let her know. I said, "The park was built for the people. It's not a dog's park." But I haven't won my battle yet. No, this, I'll say this off the record when we were done. I won't say it now about the park. I don't, [laughter] I don't want to go down in history for what I was thinking.


OKECHUKWU: When did the gentrification start? Like what do you, what do you remember of the first, first realizing that something was going on?

BEMBRY-GUET: I don't remember how long ago, but I was working in-- You know, it's dark at six o'clock in the morning in the wintertime. It's still very dark. And I was going to work, and I saw a White girl by herself in this dark going down Kingston Avenue. And I said, I said, "They're taking over. There's a White girl walking by herself in the dark." [laughter] You know, and she was comfortable. She didn't have any problems, you know. And normally, in so-called ghettoes, they're afraid to walk in the daytime by themselves or with somebody. This was dark. That's when I noticed it. Nobody didn't have to tell me that they were here. I saw. [laughter]


OKECHUKWU: And so then, shortly after that; is that when some of the housing pressures--? Did you start feeling that and people [inaudible] the offers?

BEMBRY-GUET: No, it was a good while later before. Now, we have the landmarks committee. Every three months, we have the meeting. And you-- That's when you started to hear things, especially seniors who owned these one-family homes. And they're used to hammering up and doing what they wanted. Now all these roots. And they didn't participate in the planning with the landmark, so when the district got landmarked-- And that has happened in Prospect Heights. And when-- The way; they were very smart with Prospect Heights. They didn't do it building by building. They did it very quietly. It wasn't broadcast, and then 59:00it was done in a short period of time. There was an empty building, empty lot for years on Park Place between Flatbush and Vanderbilt. And they kept trying to get it-- and when I was living there-- they kept trying to get it cleaned up. It was owned by a family that lived down South. And they kept paying the taxes, so people couldn't take it. It had trees. It had debris. And then I moved away. And then next thing I've heard, they managed to get the property. And they built an apartment, condominiums. Must be about 220, on the south side of the street. Those condominium owners were the people who initiated the landmark. And this is a brand new building. But they got the area landmarked, down Flatbush, to Atlantic, up Vanderbilt, to Grand Army Plaza. All of that is landmarked; the whole, everything, the shanty, the shack, the outhouse. 60:00Everything is landmarked. So, you know, they can't paint a mailbox without permission. So, a lot of those small, you know, especially the poor people that bought those houses years and years ago, you know, they're upset. But it's done. And here, they didn't do it that way. And I guess not enough people participating in it. So but the area now, they've got national status. So even though the building, per se, isn't landmarked landmarked, they still have to go by certain guidelines for anything in the area to be touched. And also, when they-- who, somehow, whoever is the snitch for the developers in the area, because they were coming around, trying to grab as much as they could before it was landmarked so that they could go ahead and put in their designs and all that 61:00before this was done. So, some got in under the belt, and some didn't. But these didn't, because they bought the building afterwards. But they had been trying to-- They were knocking on our door all the time. "I'm a new landlord." They're not the new landlord, you know. But they were very aggressive and pushy.

OKECHUKWU: So with the new one, you think you'll be able to stay here, even with the new landlord?

BEMBRY-GUET: I didn't have-- And I thought, I was aggravated. I thought I was going to. My lease was up last year. I wasn't sure I was, because they didn't talk to me about anything. I said I'm-- I was, I knew I wasn't going to move. I knew that I could stretch it out. But I expected problems. But I haven't been approached with money or anything. I asked for a lease three months in 62:00advance. I got it. Now what's going to happen in 2018, I don't know. So, but I'm prepared.

And I don't think-- they know how much rent I pay-- I don't think they know that I have preferential rent. But, 2014, a law was changed that is in my favor with the preferential rent. So, but it's an LLC, so I don't even know who to talk to. And I don't know if I want to talk to them, because I'm not interested in negotiation. And if, if they renovate all the others and we're the last tenants here, I already know what kind of contract I'm going to draw up. Because they have a tendency to say, "Well, you know, we just want to fix up the apartment, so you can move into one of the newly renovated ones temporarily, until we fix 63:00up your apartment." That sounds good. But then, when it, when they fix up the apartment, or before they fix it up, they evict you because you've abandoned your premises. They have their tactics. And that's a good reason to be part of a tenants association or an organization, so when the laws change, you know how it affects you personally. So when they come with a lie, you are prepared. So.

OKECHUKWU: What do you think Crown Heights is going to look like in ten years?

BEMBRY-GUET: I, you know, I don't know. Have you been to Harlem lately?

OKECHUKWU: [inaudible]

BEMBRY-GUET: Don't some of the streets, the tree-lined streets, remind you of Paris? Have you been in Bed-Stuy and seen some of the streets? Did you see the 64:00lady that got robbed and sexually assaulted in Harlem, on the news last week? No, this, this happened in Harlem. Then when they, you know, on her street. And I looked at the street, I said, "Is that a Paris Boulevard?" So it looks like the whole block was done; tree-lined and everything. So I expect to see that. The only thing I wonder; you can't have a city or any community that's totally, 100% affluent. So even if you have one people, that one percent, they need service. So where, where are the people going to live, the slobs that's coming in the back door to clean for you? So I wonder, where are, where do they 65:00expect the poor people to live? I know they're putting up 70 new shelters in Brooklyn. Now, Scott Stringer came to a community board meeting with the mayor. And I know his purposes. He's going to run for mayor, so he's looking for votes. So he comes out all the time. Showed us this map. He didn't pass the map out. Five hundred and seventy-three parcels of land that belongs to the city. He's saying, "Instead of building shelters, build affordable housing." But that's very intelligent and logical. Why are you building shelters to warehouse families? Children need to be in a clean home. They need it for self-esteem. They need it, they just need it; it's the humanitarian thing to do in a so-called democratic society. So what do we need 70 shelters in Brooklyn 66:00for? If we've got 573 empty spaces that you can build on, because they're going to give them to the developers, like they did Barclays Center.

OKECHUKWU: There's been a lot of, in the news lately, a lot of conversation around Crown Heights and shelters; with both the, I guess, the Armory on Bedford as well as [inaudible]

BEMBRY-GUET: --Bergen Street.

OKECHUKWU: --Bergen Street and everything like that. What is, I mean, has the community board been talking? I mean, what has been the conversation [inaudible]?

BEMBRY-GUET: Yeah, well, people are outraged, you know. Next, next Wednesday, I think, the judge says she's going to make a decision about the main shelter on Bergen Street. But, and the outrage here is, you know, when it comes to the city, when they're building something, it takes them five to 10 years to pull up a tent. But the reason people even knew about this shelter on Bergen Street, 67:00it's next to a church. And so the church people are saying, "What's going on?" They can't find out who owns it, who's building. And then, when they said-- They saw all these beds lined up through the window. The window was open, and they saw all these beds when they-- And it was almost, they had a ribbon cutting or something, and nobody knew what was going on. And so the board has been on the mayor's office about it, and they've come up with some Trump-type responses. You know, nobody knew. You cannot tell me that they, they deliberately lied about knowing what was going on till, until it's a done deal. So the community board didn't know what, what it was going to be, so.


OKECHUKWU: Has-- With gentrification, have any of the services in the neighborhood changed? Like I know some people will say, "With gentrification, you get improved services." Have you noticed any differences in services?

BEMBRY-GUET: I tell you, the food in the supermarket is fresher, and variety, better variety, definitely. And he says it's going to get better. That's the only thing. I noticed here, it's like in the country, you don't have a lot of big stores, so, or services. There's no services here. We have the senior citizen home. I don't know what, how they are accommodated there. And then across the street, for the handicapped. So they would require services. But I would think the closing of the hospitals affects this community; that kind of 69:00thing, but in the immediate area. And there's so much wrong with the education system, so I don't even want to get into discussions with people about schools. Even though we did have a discussion at the public safety commission meeting on Monday that the chairperson on the community board last week pointed out to the community that we have a lot of 14-year-olds in the community. And in the next presidential election, they'll be eligible to vote. So we need to start with the 14-year-olds right now and prepare them and educate them. So, somebody, the chair of the committee, spoke to the captain of the precinct about going into the schools. But then the community affairs officer says, every Wednesday, they 70:00are in the schools and the nursing homes. With the nursing homes, it's public safety with seniors, you know, inside the facility and in the street. Because you have a lot senior citizens getting killed and hurt vehicularly. And now, a big thing in the community is the bike lanes. That's major. The transportation committee had to move their site because so many people, they couldn't accommodate them in the space. They had to move the meeting to the hall at St. Gregory's because so many people are upset about the bike lanes. Because they're talking about re-routing buses, changing bus stops. So that's the only mode of transportation a lot of people have. So, but talking about teaching ci-- because they don't teach civics in the schools anymore. So, young people don't have any idea about, they said they know what their rights are. They 71:00haven't read, they haven't had any exposure to the Constitution. And you can't go by cable TV. They keep talking about the Founding Fathers and what they wanted, and how they're turning over in their graves. Well, you're not in your grave now, so let's do something that's applicable today. [laughter]

OKECHUKWU: You mentioned education. Did your--? I know you mentioned your, you have a child. Did they attend school in the neighborhood?


OKECHUKWU: No they didn't, ok. Because I was going to ask, maybe, what your thoughts were about the education of the schools in the neighborhood?

BEMBRY-GUET: I hear that they're bad. But my daughter went to school down South. Her oldest children-- what do you call the schools that are not-- they didn't go to charter schools, but they're the ones that, the high IQs. I can't think.


OKECHUKWU: Specialized schools or--?

BEMBRY-GUET: Yeah. I can't think of the name, but the two, two of them. And then my middle grandson, he had, he was dyslexic. He went to the public schools. But, you know, he had a special condition. So you can't measure the system by a child that has difficulties. But the other two, they did, they did well in school. And the little one, my daughter moved from Brooklyn to New Jersey. So she got a superb education with 2% Blacks in the school. So, so I don't have that much experience to talk about the school. But I do hear that they're not-- And I worked in a so-called high-class hospital, and I saw the difference in medical school. People pay a lot of money for their kids to go to 73:00medical school at NYU. When I started working there, I saw what the medical students were exposed to. They were exposed to an education. And I wouldn't mind them being my doctors. But what's coming out of there now, I don't want them to be my doctors because they're not getting an education. They're just taking up space.

OKECHUKWU: What do you think of the difference, like, why the change?

BEMBRY-GUET: I don't know why there's a change. But to me, sometimes it seems to me like ego that the chairman of the department is, they're like Donald Trump. It's just whoever's the chairman of the-- and there's no vertical, I mean horizontal communication. Everything is vertical. And there's no room for input or output or discussion. And so the students just trek behind the professor, you know. So it's-- They make rounds. They started. They used to 74:00make rounds. They used to touch patients. Now, they make rounds at the computer, based on other people's notes. And those notes aren't from observation. So it's just note taking and note taking at the computer in the nursing station, so. So, one of the things I've said about education, though, I think in many ways it changed America when we got integration. But coming out of the South and the context, the teachers in the South said, "They can make them sit in the classroom with us, but they can't make us teach them." So they didn't teach us. They didn't teach themselves. So everybody is ignorant. 75:00That's part of the problem in America today.

OKECHUKWU: What do you, what do you hope for Crown Heights? I mean, we know that gentrification is happening, lots of changes are happening. What do you hope for the neighborhood?

BEMBRY-GUET: Well, safety is an issue. It should be a consideration. That's the first thing to think about. Be healthy, you know, available, open space, clean air, clean water. Oh yeah, the stuff that keeps the body and the community healthy; socially, emotionally, mentally.

OKECHUKWU: Is there anything else you'd like to share about your time in the 76:00neighborhood or any of the work that you've done in the neighborhood that you'd like to talk about or want to say more about?

BEMBRY-GUET: Oh, I can't think of anything. You need to lead me a little bit. It's just off the top of my head. Like I told you, I just didn't prepare this, I'm just going to let her ask me questions. And then I'll, I'll take it and run with it.

OKECHUKWU: [inaudible] Yes, we've talked about a lot. [inaudible] questions. [laughter] OK, so if you don't have anything else, I can show you the release, so. This is the release form. If you could just fill out--


BEMBRY-GUET: You want me to fill in, you want me to fill this in?

OKECHUKWU: Yeah. I mean I can fill it out, too. I have your address, but if you could, yeah. [Interview interrupted.] You know, when I was talking to 78:00Connie, she was talking about with her at the building, I guess, that she lived in for so long was turning into co-ops and how she took a buy-out.


BEMBRY-GUET: I could beat her for that, especially knowing what she knows. Some people don't know any better. Connie knows better.

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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Dorothy Bembry-Guet

Born in 1942 in Georgia, Dorothy Bembry-Guet moved to New York City in 1968. The Prospect Heights and Crown Heights neighborhoods of Brooklyn have largely been her places of residence, the latter for twenty-five years as of 2017. She married in 1974 and had one child. Bembry-Guet worked primarily for the New York University (NYU) Medical Center. She received a bachelor's degree in communications and political science from NYU in 1992. Bembry-Guet has devoted much of her life to activism; including work with the Brooklyn Tenants Union, Legal Hand, Crown Heights Mediation Center, two terms as chair of the political action committee in the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) 1199 local, and as a member of the public safety and park committees of Community Board Eight in Crown Heights. Retired, with limited mobility, at the time of the 2017 interview, Bembry-Guet had also pursued healthcare reform as a lobbyist in Albany.

In the interview, Dorothy Bembry-Guet recalls her early experiences with moving and adjusting to New York City, and looking for housing in Brooklyn. She describes the neighborhoods of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, their amenities and cultural landmarks, and their gentrification over decades. Throughout, Bembry-Guet refers to her varied and evolving efforts at activism, including tenants' rights, public safety and healthcare. She remembers local community leader Arthur Miller and protests over his death at the hands of the New York Police Department. Pointing out her participation in local community organizations, she talks about the work of the Mediation Center and their Save Our Streets (SOS) initiative. Interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu.

This collection includes oral histories conducted by Brooklyn Historical Society (BHS), Brooklyn Movement Center, and Weeksville Heritage Center beginning in 2016 and collected and arranged by BHS in 2017. Each organization's interviews form a series within the collection. This oral history is one in the BHS series. The assembled collection was part of broader programming efforts by the three organizations to commemorate and examine the transforming Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn a quarter-century after the August 1991 conflicts and unrest sometimes called "the Crown Heights riot." The oral history collection features a broad range of narrators; educators, community organizers, activists, entrepreneurs, artists, bloggers, and longtime neighborhood residents, who describe the changes they have observed in their neighborhood over decades.


Bembry-Guet, Dorothy, Oral history interview conducted by Amaka Okechukwu, May 17, 2017, Voices of Crown Heights oral histories, 2016.027.1.11; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Bembry-Guet, Dorothy
  • Community Board No. 8 (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights Mediation Center
  • Lesold, Constance
  • Miller, Arthur, Jr.
  • Muse Community Museum (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • New York (N.Y.). Police Department


  • African Americans
  • Community activists
  • Community development
  • Community organizing
  • Crime
  • Gentrification
  • Housing
  • Neighborhoods
  • Police brutality
  • Police-community relations
  • Politicians


  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
  • Prospect Heights (New York, N.Y.)


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Finding Aid

Voices of Crown Heights oral histories