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Oral history interview conducted by Craig Wilder
August 15, 1993
Call number: 1994.006.10
CRAIG WILDER: When were you born and where?
IYEDUN INCE: I was born in a Harlem hospital. From what I was told, and I have1:00been told a lot, it was very painful. It was long, but not as long as most women go through labor. The day was hot, and my mother praised God that I was alive because she was in a room with a mother who gave birth to a stillborn baby. Everybody, when they first saw me, thought that I looked exactly like my father. I almost ended up with the name Eric, and that's about all I know about it.
CRAIG WILDER: Did you grow up in Harlem?
IYEDUN INCE: No, not really. I spent two years there and then moved to the Bronx.
CRAIG WILDER: What part of the Bronx?
IYEDUN INCE: I don't remember. It was a long time ago. It was near Fordham Road,178th Street.
CRAIG WILDER: How long did you live there?
IYEDUN INCE: Five years. From there, we moved into Brooklyn, where I live now,2:00with my mother -- to Eastern Parkway. The move was very sudden. I don't particularly know why we moved. My mother would not explain it to us. And she still won't. It's her prerogative. I feel that it was a good move, seeing how a few months later the place where we used to live burned down.
CRAIG WILDER: Tell me about the place you moved into. What do you remember aboutCrown Heights when you first came here?
IYEDUN INCE: What I remember was being very alone because the people that I knewaround where I used to live, I moved miles away from. It was a very frightening experience because the week after we moved in, our place was burglarized. It was 3:00very difficult to adjust to a new place, and because of our house being robbed, my mother would not allow us to go outside to play with the children. So most of the time, we were in the house.
CRAIG WILDER: You speak of "us." Who's "us?"
IYEDUN INCE: My mother, my brother Ojo Ashegun and myself.
CRAIG WILDER: The three of you moved to Crown Heights together?
IYEDUN INCE: Yes.
CRAIG WILDER: Where did you go to school?
IYEDUN INCE: I went to St. Mark's Episcopal School on Carroll Street. It was a4:00new experience. The only other school I had been going to was a private school, and moving to a school where they have a clause saying that if you got out of hand, you would get beaten, it was an experience all in itself. I made a lot of friends inside the school. I was one of the brighter kids in the class. I got along fairly well. It took me a little while to learn the ropes of the school, and thankfully enough, the guys that later became my friends steered my out of trouble, so I wouldn't have to get any beatings.
CRAIG WILDER: Were beatings common at St. Mark's?
IYEDUN INCE: Not really. Every once in a while, a kid would get out of hand andthey would get a beating. It was an old Catholic way of dealing with a problem. 5:00Stick out your hand and you got hit with that ruler.
CRAIG WILDER: Tell me about the students who were there. Were they from the area?
IYEDUN INCE: Some of them were. Most of the students that were there came from amiddle class background. That neighborhood is in the middle of a Jewish neighborhood, so they lived around but not very close, because the Jewish community was very tight, so maybe as close as five blocks away, but not really any closer.
CRAIG WILDER: Where were these students from? Were they mostly Caribbean or werethey native born?
IYEDUN INCE: I couldn't tell you. I really don't know because I haven't kept in6:00contact with any of them.
CRAIG WILDER: Did it matter?
IYEDUN INCE: No it didn't. At that time, it was us against them, trying to stayaway from being chastised. You did everything you were supposed to do, and you tried not to do what you weren't' supposed to do, you tried not to get caught. It didn't matter because they were pretty much the enemy.
CRAIG WILDER: How were the relations between the students at St. Mark's and theJewish community?
IYEDUN INCE: There wasn't much contact, between the students and the Jewishcommunity. There was a church a block away from the school and the school had a 7:00front yard. Most of the kids after school, just went home. Nobody bothered them because I guess they were kids and nobody has any animosity towards kids.
CRAIG WILDER: What impression did the Lubavitch Hasidim make on you as a kid?
IYEDUN INCE: As a kid, I rarely saw one. Whenever I went to school, they wereeither in their house or they had already left, or they just walked into their house. They didn't do a lot of talking towards anybody else, unless it was a neighbor. It really didn't matter, because the only people that really mattered then was my brother and mother and those were the only two people taking me 8:00home. Nothing else really mattered.
CRAIG WILDER: As you grew up, where did you go to school next?
IYEDUN INCE: I went to the Lenox School, P.S. 235, and I was in the SOARprogram, which was a program for academically gifted children. That was where I was truly set free, because I was away from my own neighborhood. I was in a neighborhood where it pretty much didn't matter what you did, because it was never gonna get home. I had a lot of friends there and most of the kids there… well it was hard. They were really mixed. There were the families that came 9:00originally from the southern United States. You had people from different countries like Guyana, Trinidad. And then you just had people that were always situated in North America. But even then, it didn't matter. Things like that really don't matter to kids. It doesn't effect a kid until he's older when the talk of the house is more ingrained into your head. We didn't have any problems. I got into more trouble then, a lot of trouble then.
CRAIG WILDER: The difference that you describe between St. Mark's and the LenoxSchool is that in St. Mark's, you didn't even bring up the Caribbeanness or 10:00nativebornness of people, and when you talked about the Lenox School, you did. Is that because of the influence of parents or as you get older, you become aware.
IYEDUN INCE: As I got older, I became more aware of it. There were a fewstudents in the class that had accents. I don't care how old you are, that you recognize immediately. Even then, it doesn't matter. It never mattered.
CRAIG WILDER: Where are your parents from?
IYEDUN INCE: My parents were born in New York. In fact, my father was born inthe same hospital that I was.
CRAIG WILDER: What did your mother do for a living?
IYEDUN INCE: She worked in the Personnel Department for Morgan Guaranteed Trust Company.
CRAIG WILDER: So you are a relatively middle class family.11:00
IYEDUN INCE: No… we were relatively poor, because of the single parent household.
CRAIG WILDER: When did your mother and father break up?
IYEDUN INCE: About the time we moved to Brooklyn.
CRAIG WILDER: Did you have any jobs when you were growing up?
IYEDUN INCE: Yes, I worked for the Board of Ed. I was a stock clerk for a newteacher staff development. It wasn't a very long job. In fact, it was a temp. It was going to different schools, accounting, book supplies, rulers, pencils, leaflets, distributing them out and cleaning Jacob Javits Convention Center -- 12:00which wasn't in my job description, but as long as they paid, it wasn't a problem.
CRAIG WILDER: Who helped you find that work?
IYEDUN INCE: My father.
CRAIG WILDER: Was your family important to you in your adjusting to Crown Heights?
IYEDUN INCE: In the beginning, yes. …I didn't really adjust too well. I neverreally knew anybody. I knew what they were about, but I never knew anybody per se, because everybody was into their own thing. My mother was really and truly into not having us talk to anybody. She really wanted us to be set on what we were going to do in our lives and that was it, because she did not want us to 13:00grow up thinking that this was it. She wanted something else. She always wanted something else for us. So there was not a lot of contact with too many people in the building.
CRAIG WILDER: What does "something else" mean?
IYEDUN INCE: She wanted a better life. I guess most parents want their childrento have a better life than they did. My mother is not happy where she's living, but she accepts it and she's working towards getting out. What can I say? She just wants out. She knows that both of her sons have a talent towards doing 14:00anything that they want to do, and all she wants to do is to make sure that we do what we want to do, and be good at it.
CRAIG WILDER: You said she didn't talk to you much about the move to CrownHeights; that she never really explained it.
IYEDUN INCE: My mother was really never too much of a person that spoke, period.She did not talk about how she felt about anything. She just did what she had to do.
CRAIG WILDER: But Crown Heights was "something better" then.
IYEDUN INCE: Yes it was. There is a new element out on the streets now, and theelement out on the streets has little respect. The street never had any respect for anybody, the only way that the street had any respect, was when one person respected the other. Nowadays, nobody respects each other, because they don't respect themselves. It's the "trapped rat" syndrome, multiplied by ten. Not even 15:00by ten; its factor of ten. The population in Crown Heights is very, very large. There's a lot that's happening and when there's a lot of people and not enough money, people start to take their aggressions to another level because they simply just want to exist, and that's what's happening down there. It's going to a different level. The kids nowadays… I thought that my generation was bad, and it's funny talking about my generation, but when I was in high school, my high school was right across the street. I'm looking straight at it. We were 16:00known -- by that I mean my senior class -- as the guys that didn't make no waves. There was no need to. We made all our waves our junior year, when things were really wrong. Now things were really, really wrong and we realized there was nothing we could do about it, so we didn't make any waves, but… I saw how the classmen below us were. It really and truly scared me and I was relieved that I was getting out that year -- I was truly relived -- because I knew that the following years were going to be very, very dangerous for anybody, male or female, Black or White. It doesn't matter. Anybody in that school, their life was marked. I just wish them the best. A gun was never brought into school when 17:00I was there, but it's a whole lot more frequent now. And there's no need for it.
CRAIG WILDER: What do you think the great change is?
IYEDUN INCE: The great change is society. Society has allowed their wildestviolent fantasies to be let loose and it's in every movie theater, it's on T.V., it's in every book you read. Not every book, but it's all around and there's no escaping it. When you can watch a movie and see-- I saw Falling Down with 18:00Michael Douglas. He did not know how to use a bazooka, and a seven year old kid taught him how to operate one, and he asked the kid how he learned how to operate one, and the kid said, "I saw a movie about it." That is what it's about now. Nothing is impossible to get. If I wanted to, I could get a gun. People are not wanting to just let things slide anymore. They feel that if their honor has been trampled upon, they're willing to react, and their reaction will be not only violent, but it will be lethal. It will be very fatal. The days of using your hands to settle an argument are over. Now it's pull out a gun and blow them away and there's no need for any arguments ever, period. Everybody's trying to 19:00get a reputation, just so that they can be left alone, because that's what it's really about. I see all these people and they getting' a reputation for being crazy, and I look at them. They're not crazy. They just are afraid that if they get messed around too much, somebody's going to put them in a pine box, and that's all that it's about. Everybody wants their space and everybody wants to be left alone.
CRAIG WILDER: You saw this transformation in high school? You saw this coming.
IYEDUN INCE: I saw this transformation in junior high school. I went to I.S.320, and anybody that went to that school can tell you that it was a training ground for becoming a professional hoodlum, because from there, you went to Prospect Heights, which was a couple of blocks away. The kids, even there, they 20:00tried their best to be hoods. It's amazing, because you see in school what the prison system is like. You cannot be alone. You absolutely positively can't be alone. If you're alone, you're dead -- you can't be alone. Very few survived being alone. You had to be in a group. And you had to be hard to stay in that group because if you didn't stay hard, you were soft and you were out and you were once again prey to everybody. Thank God that there were some of us that got through that without having to join a gang or a posse because then, because that would have been the end of our future. A lot of guys that I know that did that 21:00are either in jail or dead. There's still a lot alive, but there's no guarantee that they will see the next day. Come to think of it, there's no guarantee that I'll see the next day, because in their stupidity, in their war, I could get caught in it. I could be the next one to get shot at. It's not like that hasn't happened before. Crown Heights… the only good thing I can say about it is that it's not as bad as other neighborhoods I've been in, but it could easily get that bad because… there's no hope for anybody. The hope that's there, people 22:00don't want to acknowledge, because they feel it's going to make them weak. Nobody wants to feel that they are weak in front of everybody else. You cannot not be weak in because if you're weak, you're prey. That's the last thing that anybody wants to be is prey.
CRAIG WILDER: Did you fear the idea of going to Prospect Height High School?
IYEDUN INCE: No.
CRAIG WILDER: Well you did avoid it. You got to Brooklyn Tech.
IYEDUN INCE: Before I got to Brooklyn Tech, I got to Paul Robeson. I didn't fearit. I didn't even worry about it because my mother told us that before I went to Prospect Heights, she would move out of Brooklyn. She would find someplace else to live because that just was not going to happen. 23:00
CRAIG WILDER: The family in general didn't want you there?
IYEDUN INCE: I did not want to be there, it's not a place--.There is where, ifyou had hopes and dreams, they died. They died because you were forced to see the reality of what your community was really about. If not your community, what the street was really about. The street can be very, very cruel. It has no love for anybody. It'll give you everything you want, but after a certain point, you gotta pay up, and if you can't pay up, then it's your badge and that's just the street law.
CRAIG WILDER: Tell me about Paul Robson High School. That's the old AlexanderHamilton School. Tell me where it is first. 24:00
IYEDUN INCE: It's on Dean Street, between Troy and New York. I mean Troy and Albany.
CRAIG WILDER: Tell me what it was like there. That's like the northern part ofCrown Heights.
IYEDUN INCE: There were not very many students. There were only 800 students inthe school and there wasn't even a senior class, because the school was that new. I loved it. I got to meet new friends. I got to meet some of my best friends that I have now. Two of my best friends came from that school. It was a new experience because once again, I was able to travel -- not just walk to school, but travel to school. I was 14 years old. I was stupid, because all 14 25:00year olds are stupid. I had a lot to learn and I had my nose into everything because that's the way I was back then. I was a bit on the nosey side. And because I was a bit on I knew a lot of people and a lot of people knew me and I got into a lot of scandals because of what I knew. That began a period of me opening up to see what the world was truly about, seeing how people thought, seeing how people reacted to other things that people did. It began to become my age of awareness, where I was aware of what was going on and what was going to happen. That school taught me that I could do almost anything. Anything that I 26:00wanted to do, I could do. It's a shame that I left that school. It was a good school, but it didn't have what I wanted, so I moved to Brooklyn Tech.
CRAIG WILDER: Now Brooklyn Tech; your description of Brooklyn Tech wasinteresting to me because it's generally considered one of the best public high schools in the city.
IYEDUN INCE: I don't feel so. The only reason it's one of the best is becausethe work that you learn at Brooklyn Tech would be the same anywhere else. The only difference is that they have an engineering program and a medical science program and programs dealing in the science and mathematics fields that aren't really extensive, but then there aren't other schools that have them, and the 27:00schools that have them don't get the money that Brooklyn Tech gets, because it is a "specialized school," and it's one of the prizes of New York. Because it's the prize of New York, it has to have a certain upkeep. If it doesn't have an upkeep, then New York City looks bad, so the only reason that that school has anything is because of its name.
CRAIG WILDER: But none the less, you described students walking aroundvictimizing each other.
IYEDUN INCE: Not all the time. Even there, you were in groups. That schoolhelped me to realize that it's not what you do, it's who you know, and what you know -- because in a lot of ways, that will get you over. Brooklyn Tech was very prejudiced against a lot of its students. There were a few teachers that were 28:00very prejudiced against their students, to the point where they would fail almost the entire class, except for maybe three people and the three people were White. Then you're like wait a minute, I know my work. This is right. Check this out. What's happening here? But it's hard to fire anybody that has tenure. Brooklyn Tech teaches you about what your life is going to be about as you get older. Nobody's ever going to give a damn about you. The world is very big. Brooklyn Tech is 4,000 plus strong. There's too many people for anybody to really give too much notice to you unless you are a star. If you're a star, people give you notice. If you're not, you're gonna work and trudge and drudge and do whatever you got to do to get your head above water, much less swim. If 29:00you're swimming, great. If you're swimming, it's probably because not only do you know what they're giving you, but you have developed a rapport with the teachers that you have and in a lot of ways, that was very difficult. Teachers didn't want that. You had to butter up your teachers. You had to learn how to kiss a little behind. You had to learn how to keep your mouth shut and just listen to what people were saying. Being in that area, if you did not understand how a person thought, then what were you doing in school? It was very hard to get by that school without realizing what peoples' agendas are, and if you don't know a person's agenda, especially the teachers, and the teachers were the easiest people to read. If you didn't know their agenda, you probably weren't 30:00passing their class. I'm not one to talk. I didn't pass a lot of my classes either but I didn't go to school too much. Like I said, academics-wise, they offered no challenge. You are coaxed into school by saying that there are opportunities here that you won't get at any other school. You will be challenged like you've never been challenged before. I wasn't challenged. In anything that I did, there really wasn't any challenge. Later it became there was no interest, and because there was no interest, I had to find something else to do, and it was usually outside of the school.
CRAIG WILDER: What did you do outside the school?31:00
IYEDUN INCE: A lot of times, I stayed home. There were times that I went out andI looked around not only my neighborhood, but other neighborhoods, to see what things were about. Because of Brooklyn Tech, I've gotten to know a lot of people that I would not have seen if I was in school. I've been to different schools. I've been to Cooper Union when I wasn't in Brooklyn Tech, I've been to Pratt when I wasn't in Cooper-- Because I'm an artist, and they weren't offering what I needed. They weren't even challenging me, so I had to look somewhere else, and 32:00what you do when you're an artist is, you just look. Sometimes that's the best thing to do. You can look and you can see something that probably wasn't meant to be there, but you see it because that's what you train your eye to do. Maybe I wasn't in class, but I was in school. When you're in a school that has more than 20 classrooms on a floor and there are 8 floors, it's very easy to get lost or to stay hidden, and when you do things like that, then you find out things about the school. You find out things that were never meant for any student to know. A lot of the teachers in the school are corrupt. A lot of teachers in the 33:00school don't know what they're doing. When you are into peoples' information like that, you get to know just what they're doing and what's wrong. There were a lot of things that were wrong with the school, but what can you do about it? You can't say anything because the next question is, how do you know? The way I found out a lot of things, not only would I get other people in trouble, but the trouble that I would get in would be-- It would not be a gamble that I would like to take, so you just keep your mouth shut and watch what you're doing and every once in a while, you use that information to do something to get you over. When I was in Brooklyn Tech, my senior year, I helped one of the teachers in the 34:00school with their lesson plans because they, he wasn't an artist. He did not know how to run the class and since he didn't know how to run the class, he was asking somebody that knew what they were doing. He knew that I went to a program at Cooper Union, an intensive program, so I knew something about what I was doing, so he asked me to help him out, and that's what I did. After I helped him out, he tried to fail me. It was a valuable lesson. I learned a lot there. I don't take anything away from the school. They do teach you, but what they teach is probably not what you want to learn.
CRAIG WILDER: Let's return to Crown Heights for a minute. As you were growing up35:00in Crown Heights, what did your family do for fun?
IYEDUN INCE: We went out to my grandparent's house, out in the Bronx and weplayed around out there. Went to a movie every once in a while to be with family. Our family wasn't always very… we didn't talk too much, but what we did was we were around each other. We knew that everybody else was around us and there was no need to worry. That helped us the most I guess in terms of enjoying ourselves and just relaxing, because that's all we really did was that every once in a while we would relax because we were always doing something. What we 36:00did for fun? There was a lot of watching T.V. What you did for fun, you did on your own sometimes too. I was an artist so I drew, I painted. That's what I did for fun. That was my hobby and that was wanted I wanted to do with my future. There were programs that we were into. There was a program that I believe is still active now, The Crown Heights Youth Collective, run by Mr. Richard Green. My brother and myself were there for a very long time. They had you in activities. If you wanted to, there was a karate class there. There was a dance 37:00class. There were activities for you to do after you finished your homework. There was always something to do and in the summer, there were activities then too, cause that's usually where we went. As I got older, my brother and I were in the Boy Scouts, on Classon Street, between Sterling and Prospect. Going to 38:00camp. Making arts and crafts. Sculpting things out of wood. Those were the things that we were usually doing. Every once in a while, we would have a party. That really was most of what I did when I wasn't with my best friend.
CRAIG WILDER: You've got an artist's eye, so if you were to walk me throughCrown Heights today, what things would you point out to represent the African American presence there or the Black presence there?
IYEDUN INCE: There are quite a few murals that were painted there by a brothernamed [inaudible] I knew him because of the Crown Heights Youth Collective 39:00because most of the time, they sponsored his work. There you will see pictures of the Egyptian way of life. You will see murals of African Americans that made a difference in the Western world. You will see pictures of Marcus Garvey, Muhammad Ali, el-Hajj Malik Shabazz, Martin Luther King. You just have to look. It's all around. What you'll see there also, if you look around, you will see 40:00plants that are growing, that grew because of a cooperative effort between some people. There are a lot of gardens around the area. There's a garden right next to the building where I live where a few years ago, it was nothing but a junk heap. They cleared it out and they made a garden out of the place. It's not the most beautiful garden you've ever seen, but it's there. It's an effort to try to make this community somewhat better. Then you'll see, as an artist's eye, maybe not just as an artist, maybe as an armchair psychologist, you'll see the walking 41:00dead. You will see the people that made their world this community. All that is there is what they can see for a future. Sure they move out, but then they're right back in. They go out for a minute, they do what they gotta do, have fun in the village or something like that, then they go right back where they started from. Sometimes it's hard and it's sad to see because you see the anguish, the hurt, the disappointment -- the frustration. You can definitely see the frustration in the males. You see the mask that gives off a feeling of a mean, 42:00hard, cruel, dangerous person, but behind the mask is somebody that's really and truly scared and lonely and hurt, but they know they can't allow that to show. You'll see the depression of people. You see the oppression of people. Some of it is self-oppression, some of it isn't. It's there and it's unmistakable. 43:00
CRAIG WILDER: If I were to ask you to tell us the misperceptions that you thinkpeople have of Black Americans, particularly Black Americans in Crown Heights, and by that I mean this is a community that has been heavily analyzed in the past two years, not substantively, but heavily. Everyone's been analyzing it, every newspaper carries stories about it. What are the misperceptions?
IYEDUN INCE: That would be difficult because I've lived in the neighborhood, andthere is no doubt that the neighborhood is rough, but at the same time, there are good people in the neighborhood. There are people that are willing to work. There are people that are willing to do, what they have to do, without doing anything illegal, so that they can survive. There are people who would not mind being janitors because that's what they've got to do. Crown Heights, in the past 44:00few years, has been known for the dissension between the Black and the Hasidic population and what can I say? It is there. Nobody really thinks about it. What can you say when you have a Hasidic person or a White person walk through your neighborhood and nobody will bother them, but the next time, you see a person whose family is from Jamaica or Trinidad, they walk down the block and get jumped? What's there is a very big, not fear, but respect for the police because 45:00there's a lot around. The precinct for Crown Heights is maybe five blocks away, no six blocks away from any of the really seedy, really harsh parts of Crown Heights. Now we're talking if you call somebody, they can be there in two minutes -- not even really that because there's a police precinct in one of the train stations on Franklin Avenue. The misperceptions. People just really need to see that these people are just having a hard time living. In fact, they're not really even living sometimes, they're just existing and that's a horrible thing to do, to exist. Once you see past that, you see that they're really not 46:00that bad. Nobody is really that bad. Everybody's just trying to do what they gotta do in order to exist and that is what says it all for me. They're existing, they're trying to exist. Once you see past that you see that their not that bad. Nobody's really that bad. Everybody is just doing what they need to do to try to exist. Some of them are trying to live, but mainly they're just really trying to exist and that's not a way for anybody to live.
CRAIG WILDER: How has Crown Heights changed in the 12 years that you've been here?
IYEDUN INCE: It's gotten rougher. There was a time when Crown Heights was reallybeginning to get lifted up, when people were beginning to care about the neighborhood again. Maybe it's because I'm not deep in the [inaudible] anymore, 47:00but it doesn't seem like that it happening too much anymore. Most of the programs that were down there… The Crown Heights Youth Collective, they're almost leaving. It seems like they're going to move soon. There needs to be people who care about being African American, who know that it's not really that bad to be in the neighborhood.
IYEDUN INCE: What can I say? It's… I don't really know how I can explainthis. It's rougher in some sorts, but in a lot of ways it's mellowing out too. Because I'm watching the kids. And either they don't know how to survive on the 48:00streets, or they're not learning very well, or they're just getting out there. Whatever way the kids are not really doing a great job of what they're doing. That shows me that if they're not doing it well, they're either not learning or they're not experienced enough, which means that they're inside doing something else. Maybe that's better. Maybe they need to be inside and have their family try to drive them towards something else. There are quite a few kids that are being produced out of Crown Heights that are willing to do something better for themselves and for their families. In a lot of ways, everything has changed and nothing has changed. Everything just got upped a degree. There's still crime. I don't see too much of it, but then again, I'm in and out of Crown Heights so 49:00often I don't see a lot of things. What I don't hear a lot of is gunshots. There was a time when you would always hear gunshots. I don't hear that much anymore, so there's less violence. There's more of a community-minded ethic and I think that's what's really needed. For years, for decades the community-minded ethic that was once held by African American people has be disregarded. There was a time where if you did something wrong down the block, everybody in the neighborhood knew you and somebody else's mother would come outside and lay a whipping on your behind. Everybody heard it so you were stopped quite often, 50:00getting whippings, and then by the time you got to your house, your mother was ready to tear your behind up. That's the way it was, to let you know that hey, this is not happening. We are in control. Parents don't have the control of the kids anymore. Kids ain't scared. Kids are growing up fast and they know better. If you treat them like a kid, you're really gonna be in for a rough time, because they know better. They probably haven't seen as much as you, but they know a hell of lot for being kids.
CRAIG WILDER: What would make Crown Heights better?
IYEDUN INCE: More housing, so that people can be able to spread out. Getting theAfrican American male in Crown Heights to do something active, to do some work 51:00study because… everybody in there probably has some talent that is marketable, whether it's DJing or whatever, they need a break. You gotta give them a break. You gotta help them to find something. There are a lot of artists out there. Have them do some art. There's a lot of recreation. They can do the dancing, they can have parties, non-alcoholic parties. There can be workshops. These days, getting people active somewhere else besides the street helps the youth. What's wrong is the youth have to be jump started. They have to have something to do. If you don't have them doing anything, they're not gonna do anything and what they're gonna do is get into trouble because there's nothing else to do. You gotta do something. They talk about God don't like an idle person; the idle 52:00person is the devil's handiwork. That might be true. All I know is, some way or another, some force moves you to do either right or wrong, when you're not moving. Because you gotta move. That's what life is about. You're moving constantly. Breathing is moving. You're doing it every day. The day you stop moving is the day you're dead. If you're not moving you're dead, you're dying. A lot of people are dying. They have to be given the drive, the passion to do what they want to do. The education system is bad. Some of them would really like to do something with their lives, but the education system is bad there. It's hard to do anything. If you don't have connections, you can't get your child to a good school. That's not the way it should work. The schools down there should 53:00have adequate teaching facilities. They should be able to do their job the right way, to do it well. If you can't do that, you don't have kids that are learning. Learning can't get you a job. A job gets you on the street, because you can't do nothing else. You gotta have some money. How you gonna get you some money? You gotta eat. That is how the community gets better, by initiating programs to get the youth back into living life, any which way. It can just be meditation; a program where you learn to channel your hostility and your frustrations toward something else, using that energy, because frustration is energy, using that towards a goal. You wanna become a D.J.? D.J. your behind off and do what you gotta do. That's how Crown Heights could be made into a better community. 54:00
CRAIG WILDER: Let me ask you a final question. You're 20 years old. If you had achance right now to talk to the people who are younger than you in Crown Heights, in the same area that you spent 12 years in, what would you say to them?
IYEDUN INCE: That would be hard. I would have to know every one of those kids inorder to tell them because everything is different. The way I live life in Crown Heights is very different from everybody else. I must thank God and any spirit that is around me that protected me this long for that because I have not been messed with too often in Crown Heights and that's a hard thing to say. I lived 55:00there for 12 years and I've been bothered maybe 3 times; in my life there. What you gotta do…What I would have to tell them is what I would have to tell anybody generally is live your life to the best of your possibilities. If you have a dream that you want to do, try to achieve it. If there's no way for you to get it, find a way. I'm telling you, there are things out there. Your teacher may not know it. If you have a teacher that doesn't know, find somebody that does. Go to a library because you've got some knowledgeable people there, people that will know how to get into things. You have to take an initiative. If this is your life, you have to have enough desire and passion to want to do something for yourself. It's a hard thing to do because I am still learning to do this myself, but once you start to walk down that road that you want to walk down and 56:00you're sure that's the road that you want to walk down, you keep on that road and you don't let nobody stop you. You do what you gotta do. You don't let nothing stop you, like not knowing. Not knowing never stops anybody because knowledge is acquired. Anything that you want, there's somebody out there that can get it for you. Anything. All you gotta do is go out there and look for it. That's what I'd tell them. And to stay strong and to try your best to stay away from the temptation, because it's really easy in a neighborhood like that to get caught up in the wrong thing, because everybody has a love for their family now and then. You talk to some drug dealers and they do it because they need money for their family. What you gotta do is stand strong and know that your family don't want you to go out that way. No family member, no family member of mine 57:00wants me to peddle drugs out on the street. I could probably do that and make a good living out of it because I know people. I'm getting an idea of how people think. Once you got that, you kind of know how to deliver your angle, but that is not the way my mother raised me to be. That's not the way I want my brother to be. I gotta set an example for him. I'm the oldest. I don't want him to live like that. I don't want my mother having money that came from the tears of some poor soul's family. That's not what life is about and nobody's life should be like that. I would tell them that the strength of being a man or a woman comes 58:00in a desire to do what is right for you, in any way. That's all that I could really tell them. If they wanted some help, then that would come whichever way. Everybody needs help in a different way. That's all I can advocate for them.
Oral History Interview with Iyedun Ince
At the time of the interview in 1993, African American Ince Iyedun was twenty years old. Born in Harlem, New York, he and his brother Ojo Ashegun were raised by a single mother in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. He attended parochial and public schools in the area; graduating from Brooklyn Technical High School. As of 2016, he is a djembe musician and teacher in New York City.
The narrator discusses his childhood in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, the disillusionment he experienced in high school and the decline of the youth culture of Crown Heights. He describes his own struggle to define himself and free himself from the pressures of his generation. He discusses possible approaches to changing the social environment of the neighborhood and concludes the interview with advice directed to the youth of Crown Heights. Interview conducted by Craig Wilder.
This collection contains oral history recordings and transcripts, as well as exhibit materials, from Brooklyn Historical Society's Crown Heights History Project, also known as "Bridging Eastern Parkway." Crown Heights History Project oral histories include audio and transcripts created and collected within the context of an exhibition project undertaken in part by BHS in 1993 and 1994. Three interviewers recorded conversations with over forty narrators. In addition to exhibition product value, the oral histories were conducted as life history and community anthropology interviews; topics of discussion include family and heritage, immigration and relocation, cultural and racial relations, occupations and professions, education and religion, housing and gentrification, civil unrest and reconciliation, media representation and portrayal, and activism. The series of exhibition research materials document the outreach efforts for interviews and materials from the community as well as exhibit scripts and curatorial notes.
CitationInce, Iyedun, Oral history interview conducted by Craig Wilder, August 15, 1993, Crown Heights History Project collection, 1994.006.10; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Brooklyn Technical High School (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
- Ince, Iyedun
- African American neighborhoods
- Ethnic neighborhoods
- Jewish neighborhoods
- Race idenity
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidCrown Heights History Project collection