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Oral history interview conducted by Charis Shafer
June 11, 2013
Call number: 2011.019.054
CHARIS SHAFER: So this is Charis Shafer and I'm here with Shameeka Mattis andthis is a project, an oral history project, for the Brooklyn Historical Society, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations. And Shameeka?
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Yes.
CHARIS SHAFER: Would you tell me where you grew up and what your early life was like?
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Oh, gosh. I still feel like I'm in my early life even thoughBecca says I'm old. I grew up in Brooklyn for the first 18 years of my life. I'm from, originally from Bed-Stuy so I grew up on like Throop Avenue. I grew up on Jefferson. I moved around a couple of years, the first five or six years, and I was born in Long Island College Hospital which is now like maybe closing, which is crazy to me. And then I moved into Fort Greene project, also lived in Clinton Hill, more like the Fort Greene side before Clinton Hill but it's questionable. It's like right over by the park, Fort Greene Park. And then I 1:00was on Lafayette and then finally we moved into the projects at Fort Greene and my section was called Ingersoll so there's Ingersoll and Walt Whitman and there's what we called the Eagle Buildings. Those are the taller ones by like Commodore Barry Park with the pool. So I lived on a six-floor building, we had an elevator, and I lived on the fourth floor from age 6 to 18 officially and then went to college from there. So I consider myself a Fort Greene person primarily since that was like the majority of my childhood, but Bed-Stuy is where I started. So I can like walk up and down different streets and remember Larry's Liquid Love and those types of places and now the Tiptop -- it used to be called Junior's -- where I learned how to play pool when I was like six or four, something really young, and some drunk woman with a Jheri curl taught me how to do it, you know? So that was the early years in terms of living. My 2:00grandmother was not a Brooklynite so that was the only difference but everybody else seemed to be in Brooklyn. So my siblings, my great aunt who lived right on Fulton Street between Albany and Troy. Now they're high -- not high-rises but like condos there now. They just tore it down in the last five or so years and put something up that I think is very ugly, but she had a like three story walkup and a store front church that she was the first lady of and my great uncle was the pastor. Yeah, I mean I hung out at Albany projects, I hung out in Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, and went to school in Bushwick [Filton Scholar] which is, it's an intermediate school so sixth grade to eighth grade. No, fifth grade to eighth grade, and it was like this magnet school, so I went there which is along Greene and like Myrtle and so took the bus there. So it was cool. And 3:00then for high school went to George Westinghouse which is right down on Tillary. Elementary school went to PS11 which is right over on Waverly and between Greene and Gates so, yeah, Greene and Gates. So yeah, Brooklyn girl straight up. And mom was also from Brooklyn so, my dad wasn't. My dad's from the Caribbean. He was from St. Vincent.
CHARIS SHAFER: And where did your mom grow up?
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: My mom, she grew up all over the place because my grandparents,they came up here from South Carolina, North Carolina so they met somewhere in the middle of that together, got married, had my mom, she's the oldest, and then they moved here to, I don't even know what part they moved to first but she lived throughout Bed-Stuy. She never lived like really deep into Brooklyn but she lived closer to downtown most of her life and then my grandmother moved to Manhattan so they were there. But my mother also went down south during some of her high school years and lived in like South Carolina where my grandparents were from. She never made it to North Carolina where -- you know, she visited 4:00but she never lived there. So she was born in King's County Hospital and lived over there. You know, she was like Flatbush to downtown, so she lived in a couple of places, and very small apartments and all that. But then my grandmother moved into the Lower East Side area right over Pitt Street, not far from like Houston, like east Houston, or you know, Rivington and all those streets. So not far from the Williamsburg Bridge or the FDR and was in a tenth floor -- well, her, it was like an 18 or 20 floor building, really big building, connected to another large one, near the Boys and Girls Club. But she was on the tenth floor. So 10F, my grandmother. So my mom spent her later years toward the end of high school I think or like early twenties there before she moved out on her own. So, yeah. And then my dad, when he came from St. Vincent technically he was deported, never showed up to be deported. That was before 5:00the Homeland Security days so he was in Canada somewhere, I'm guessing Toronto or something like that, got deported, wasn't supposed to be there, overstayed his welcome with his visa, never made it to his pickup and then found his ass in the United States. And so he lived in Brooklyn his whole life after that so --
CHARIS SHAFER: How did he make it to Canada?
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: I don't know how. I know very little of that story. I wish Icould ask my aunts and uncles but it's kind of vague to them too. So I don't know if he was estranged from the family then or what was going on but he was a young man. He was in his mid- to late twenties. Yeah, mid-twenties because he came here in his twenties. So I'm sure it was for some woman, knowing my dad. He was a ladies' man and I'm sure it was for work like most people. But he was in Canada and that's, I know for Caribbean people, between them and Africans, it's a lot of immigration to either parts of Europe, mostly like England, London, France, those places, or it's like to parts of Canada. And it can be 6:00anywhere in Canada. I don't understand it since Caribbean and African (inaudible) very, you know, it's from hot places to extreme cold places, bugs me out. So my dad moving to New York, who knew if he planned to stay or not but he got himself in Brooklyn and he lived not far from you, first on, he was in Clinton Hill first near where Biggie grew up on St. James or he was on this other street that I'm forgetting but I want to say St. James because that's where he met my mom. And then he was on Herkimer Street and then he was on Brooklyn and Bergen and that's where he spent his last years. He was there in Brooklyn since the '70s, like '77, '78 and my mom and him married and had my ass, so. So yeah, so everything I do is like Brooklyn inspired. Like when I moved to Philadelphia for grad school I made sure to line up my Brooklyn shirts, I got all these Brooklyn jerseys, and tried to wear a Brooklyn hat. You know, anything to rep because I didn't want to forget where I was from and I had lived 7:00in Binghamton for so many years after college and so I was like oh, I got to keep my New York on and really from Brooklyn because it's a difference from saying that person's, I'm from the Bronx or, you know, everybody's so territorial and we still, you know, all of my friends who are from Brooklyn, we still rep hard at parties. It doesn't get old. But yeah, in terms of, it's such a general question [music plays]. Thanks, Becca. Are you going to be like -- you want to join in?
BECCA: (inaudible) (overlapping voices; inaudible)
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: What else about my childhood? Yeah, most of my time was spentin Brooklyn but I definitely was a kid that traveled a lot. Not out of the country and things like that, we didn't have money like that but, and my dad never went back to St. Vincent so I never went back to St. Vincent even though my other family members, his siblings, did go. A lot of them are in New York 8:00still and they went back and forth but he wasn't close to them so I didn't go with them. But I went to different states and things like that and I was always in some kind of summer camp activity or just went local on my bike. And so once I was old enough to leave the house and like be unsupervised I was always working and traveling in mostly Manhattan and Brooklyn and going back and forth over the Brooklyn Bridge, which is the only bridge I've still ever walked and rode on. But I got to get to the Williamsburg Bridge except I've only done it by car and train and the same is true for Manhattan, so, yeah.
CHARIS SHAFER: So I think you took me up to, you told me where you went tomiddle school and high school.
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Yeah.
CHARIS SHAFER: And then from beyond that why did you leave New York to go to school?
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Oh, right. I also went to day care right over there by KFC.It's a joke between me and my babe because every time, because now it's like 9:00Jewish people have always owned it but now it's like some kind of like Jewish temple space or something. I don't know because I can't read what the letters say. So I'm like I don't know, it looks religious, like a religious space, like for religious purposes. It was my day care. It's the building right by the D train at the, what is it, Bedford-Nostrand stop?
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Yeah, so on the Lafayette exit, you know? Whatever. But yeah,so I just wanted to add that in there because that's where I learned all of what I know. My godmother was my teacher and so I went there for like baby school and then like pre-K and kindergarten. But I went to college in Binghamton and it was just one of those things that happened by accident. Like I didn't like Binghamton when I visited, I didn't think it was a nice place, I thought it was really kind of country and when you're from the city everything's country that's not New York.
CHARIS SHAFER: Right, that must have been quite a transition.
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Yeah.
CHARIS SHAFER: Having lived -- at that point you had lived almost your entirelife or your entire life -- 10:00
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Yeah, my entire life in Brooklyn.
CHARIS SHAFER: -- in Brooklyn.
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Yeah, it was a culture shock. And it was cold. I visitedprobably in November or October the year before and I was like I'm not going to this stupid-ass school. No, I was a junior when I visited. But I went on college trips like since freshman year so I always visited any school I could because it meant time out of class and I enjoyed that. But Binghamton, I knew it was a good school. I knew it was one of the better SUNYs and so I'm like yeah, I'll apply because that's what they say to do. But I wanted to go over to Atlanta. I didn't want to go west coast or anything. I didn't want to go really like to Minnesota or Texas or anything like that but I wanted to go like more east-south, you know? Southeast. So Florida was an option even though I didn't apply to any schools there. I thought about it. Atlanta for sure because I had friends there already who had gone to college a year or two before me, or some people more than that. And like Virginia, you know, Pennsylvania, those places. But then I applied to so many different schools. I got into Penn State first and I remember thinking I'm going to Pennsylvania and I didn't know 11:00where the hell Erie, Pennsylvania was, because it wasn't the main campus, and I'm like I don't know where Erie is but it sounds really pretty (laughter) and I hadn't been to that part of Pennsylvania and I'm glad I didn't go. It would not have been a good -- I could live there now, barely, but definitely, yeah, Erie, I'm like eh, you know? But yeah, I wanted to go, it sound really, really picturesque, and they didn't give me any money. It was an out of state tuition, all that. So I was just like well, it's a state school but not for me. So then Binghamton, Buffalo, New Paltz and Stony Brook were my options for the SUNYs. And so I was just like well, three hours is far enough, Binghamton is the better school of, at that time of the four, so let me just go there. I think Stony Brook and them were rivaled. And so I thought I would just maybe do a year, see if I liked it, and then I fell in love with it because of my friendships and got busy on campus and all that. And then after being there for four years I didn't think I was coming back to New York. I wanted to go to grad school, I didn't know where. I knew I didn't want to work hard the first like few years out. I 12:00wanted to work and be in school so kind of have like internships, field placements, things like that. I fell into social work kind of by accident but it's a natural kind of job for me. And so I looked at Philadelphia and so when I had a school fair I thought well, that's better than staying in Binghamton, it's better than going back to New York where I'll have to work to make a living. I knew that I could kind of work for free anywhere else if I were a student but in New York it's kind of hard to do that in the city. And my mom lived in a really kind of -- she was easygoing and everything but she would have expected me to contribute and so I was just like I don't want that much responsibility just yet. I'd rather just kind of visit when I visit and have my own thing and, you know, have my own space to have sex and do all this good stuff and party and just sleep in and all that. Because there was no way I could support myself just yet and so I knew I would have to live with her. So I decided to go to Philly. It was blacker than Binghamton, it felt like, parts of 13:00felt like it could look like East New York or parts of Brownsville or something just with a more southern kind of feel. And I liked Penn which is the school I wound up going to and they gave me a lot of money and so I moved there for my two years out of grad school. I mean in grad school. And then after that just stayed in Philly, it just seemed natural to do. Still not thinking I would come back to Brooklyn or New York at all and then I fell in love and had an itch before that to kind of come back and get planted again. So I've been here almost five years on November eighth. No, November fourth, pardon me. Election day. So I voted for Barack in Pennsylvania and then moved to New York. (laughter) So that's, and then started my job the day after. So all those things brought me back to Brooklyn and I've been living in Brooklyn up until last year and now I'm in Queens which is OK. It's nice, it's suburban. (laughter) 14:00
CHARIS SHAFER: Did you notice any changes when you moved back? Because it hadbeen some time since you'd lived in Brooklyn.
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Yeah, a lot of changes. I mean I remember when Metro Tech gotbuilt. I lived in Fort Greene by then and Fort Greene projects by then. Fort Greene like, when you said Fort Greene that's what people usually thought about, they thought about that side of the park, not the other. The other side was always bohemian and artsy like it is. It had less restaurants for sure but if it had a restaurant it was something that had been there for a long time. Like Mike's Coffee Shop has been there forever. I don't know if management has changed or not but you know, that's one of the areas near Pratt that's always been there. The churches, things like that. So like that feel hasn't changed but like when Metro Tech went up I remember walking my grandmother to the train station, avoiding certain construction sites, wondering what it was going to be because it was always an empty lot until it wasn't, and construction took longer then, so, you know, you had a while to appreciate, you know, what was happening 15:00as opposed to now you're like you walk around, five minutes later you have a new building up. So Metro Tech built like Chase Bank and those other structures. I don't think the 9/11 building was built yet, the dispatch or whatever it is, but the bank was up. And I remember hearing rumblings in my neighborhood from like the more conscious people, usually the oldest people who were in like tenant associations and things like that, that it was starting to change and that people were going to be forced out. And that was in like the late '80s, early '90s. So by the time I had gone to high school in the mid-'90s, you know, it starting to look different. You would notice when one person, one or two people who weren't black or Latino moved in. If they were Asian they stood out back then. But they weren't condos popping up all over the place or anything like that. Not in that part of Brooklyn, not yet. But the more Metro Tech got, I guess, more popular and stuff the arts festivals started coming to the neighborhood, things moved from like the park in Flatbush and started coming 16:00over to Fort Greene park -- like it started to happen before I left. And then I was in college so I kind of feel like those four years passed me by. I came home once every two or three months, I would only be home for two or three weeks at a time. I never stayed home more than like six weeks. I can't even remember doing that all through college. And I took summer classes so I was always upstate. And when I traveled I tried to leave New York so that I could go visit family or just go hang out. And so by the time I started paying attention for real there was a bike everywhere and that was different because I remember being one of the few people in my neighborhood who rode a bike everywhere. There was always an old man with a bike and a beer. That's always funny to me. But you started to be like OK, so where are these people coming from? And it didn't matter, black, white, Asian, Latino, like it just felt different. And then when I started visiting while I was living in Philly, even once grad school started, when I would come back it seemed like the trains got more crowded, people were 17:00getting off later and later into Brooklyn no matter what train I was on, no matter where I was going. And so I thought OK, this is not a touristy section so why the hell are they here? The tour buses weren't here yet so that wasn't so different but businesses were popping up, more like coffee shops and things like that, and then you started to see the condos and that's when I started to see these big condos like go up. You know, first they closed the community center. It seemed like it was closed for four or five years. It might have been less than that but that's what it felt like.
CHARIS SHAFER: This is a community center?
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Yeah, for more neighborhood, yeah. And it was just shut down,you know? But there's a Duane Reed across the street. There was always some fire that was putting somebody out of business on Myrtle Avenue or some kind of like structural issues so some bricks were coming down and they had to close it. And then you would see this new posh thing or it would be nothing, you know? But the condos is what made me pay attention. So once we got some skyscrapers in Brooklyn I thought OK, shit is really different. And it started to look more like a Park Slope or, what is that area? Brooklyn Heights. So I'd go there as 18:00a kid to ride my bike. My mom would escort me probably until about age 11 or 12, help me with, you know, like just watch me ride my bike, and that was like my getaway for the day, you know. Felt like we had this whole adventure even though it was like really in our backyard. But everything started to look like that more so the trees seemed more manicured or the plants seemed kind of put together more. The crime was different. You know, people weren't just jacking each other out in the open. Things that people were afraid to come to Brooklyn for were changing and the skyscrapers led to these other small pieces of shit condos that started to get put up. And then I saw a gazillion white people. It just felt like every time I came to Brooklyn, and particularly because I always came to Brooklyn to visit family or friends, it was always like, you know, 100 new white people on the train, 50 new white people, and I'm like this is different. Because racially Brooklyn was the black borough in so many different parts. You could go deeper out and always find different communities but you 19:00knew that downtown Brooklyn, except for Brooklyn Heights or Cobble Hill or Park Slope, everything else was like black and Latino and some Asian. So feeling that difference, at first I was just kind of in shock and then I was angry because I knew that that meant that the property values were going to go up and even though brownstones have always been here through my lifetime and before me, I knew that that was going to be like a prime property and that, you know, the faces that would represent mine wouldn't necessarily be there. And that's just what's been happening. And so it's been a hard thing to see and I feel like I went through some major kind of grief or loss process the first two and a half years. Like I really felt like I never settled those two and a half years of being here, and partly that is because me and my wife, then my girlfriend, then my fiancée, we moved maybe two or three times in that time just finding the right apartment, living with roommates and that kind of thing. But even that, like living within blocks from my old elementary school when rent was super 20:00cheap you could have this loft for like nothing and now our rent as a two, no, three-bedroom apartment and two bathrooms, which was nice but not different than what I had experienced growing up, was now like over $2,000. You know, when did this happen? And it's still like on the shitty C line, still with the one or two bodegas, there's nothing really in the neighborhood yet. You know, you have a couple of restaurants that shut down and close every few months, a couple of bike shops, which is the other thing I noticed when we went back. And so now we're used to it. You know, I still make my jokes, I'm like whatever, I've accepted that Williamsburg is actually a place to visit. Because that was never what the fuck you did. Williamsburg was a place where you learned how to drive and you rode your bike and got away from the drama. You know, like it was never crowded, the only people that were there were like some Polish people on into Greenpoint, some like Latinos and mostly Hasidic Jews, and everything else was barren. It was like no skyscrapers, no anything. And now it's the hub of, you 21:00know, it's like the major Manhattan spot in Brooklyn. Like more prestigious than Brooklyn Heights. And my mother, if she were living, would not believe it. Literally let's get on a train, let's go, let's drive, you know? So I've accepted those things because I like culture, I like music, I like diversity in that way, but when I'm on the plane going anywhere and people talk about Brooklyn and I know which Brooklyn they're talking about I still kind of get my stomach in knots. Hearing people from all over the world talk about Brooklyn as if it's only been this one kind of thing, this new, you know, like Mecca of art and all that when I felt like it was always those things, it was just not, it was a hidden gem, if you will. I don't know if I answered your question.
CHARIS SHAFER: Yeah.
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: OK.
CHARIS SHAFER: I think so.
SHAMEEKA MATTIS: Yeah, so I mean Philly, going to Philly and coming back I thinkis where -- I was also older. I was in my mid-twenties by then and really just paying attention to things differently than when I was like 18 to 22. So yeah 22:00but, yeah, it's different. And then I think the [lasting cars] that I'll add to like what stood out was seeing, I remember when I was a kid and some of my friends' parents would say, "Oh, you got to play with such and such all summer because we're moving." And sometimes people moved down south at the time. It was rare that people left the country, unless they were from the Caribbean, because I didn't grow up around a lot of Africans or anything. And rarely any, like any non-black people. I had some Latino friends but most of my Latino friends were in the Lower East Side near my grandmother's house. And so they would say, "Oh, we're moving in two months" or "We're moving in six months" and then what would happen, you're like what, you know? And it became something where people would move but it was because they got money to move. And I didn't understand that when I was 10, 11, 12, you know, but they had already started doing that and that was after Metro Tech got built. So when I think about how people got incented to leave, whether it was to move to another set of projects or to go into some low income housing or wherever you chose to go, you would get 23:00a couple of thousand dollars to leave. By the time I moved out of my mom's apartment officially, like signed the lease and, I mean you know, closed the lease out and turned in my keys, I was 23 or 24, something like that. I kept the apartment after my mother died in 2003, I was 22 when she died. And I kept it just kind of sentimental value. I never really thought I would live there because of the sentimental value but I didn't know if I wanted to give it up. So I thought well, maybe I can like sublet it or something and so I did that while I was in grad school -- off the record. (laughter) But I sublet it and then it was just one of those things where by the time I was ready to leave they offered me maybe $800, which is like a little less than your average month's rent in most places in this area. And so I was just afford like a studio, you know? And so I knew I was in Philly already, I had been living in Philly in the dorms, I was working in the dorms as a graduate student, and then I moved, after 24:00school ended I just moved near my community, my school community, and so that was enough to carry my rent because it was like $600 then, maybe 550. So that was like a surplus, you know, to have another $800 in my pocket. But I was like what if, you know, like I knew then what was happening and people were still flooding in the projects, people still had, you know, it was like nobody had really left yet even though all these people had been living all these years. There was always somebody to fill their slot. But when I moved I went back and I would look up at my apartment and to this day nobody's occupied the place so 25:00 26:00 27:00 28:00 29:00 30:00 31:00 32:00 33:00 34:00 35:00 36:00 37:00 38:00 39:00 40:00 41:00 42:00 43:00 44:00 45:00 46:00 47:00 48:00 49:00 50:00 51:00 52:00 53:00 54:00 55:00 56:00 57:00 58:00 59:00 60:00 61:00 62:00 63:00 64:00 65:00 66:00 67:00 68:00 69:00 70:00 71:00 72:00 73:00 74:00 75:00 76:00 77:00 78:00 79:00 80:00 81:00 82:00 83:00 84:00 85:00
0:00 - Introduction and childhood in Brooklyn
8:40 - Attending college in Pennsylvania
14:00 - Changing demographics in Brooklyn
46:44 - Courtship with wife
54:22 - Marriage and wife's Caribbean identity
72:23 - Coney Island and Brooklyn waterfront
77:46 - Changes in Red Hook and conclusion
Oral History Interview with Shameeka Mattis
Shameeka was born in Long Island College Hospital and spent the first five or six years of life Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn living on Throop and Jefferson. Her family then moved to Clinton Hill/Fort Greene close to Fort Greene Park on Lafayette Avenue. They finally settled in Fort Green in the Ingersoll Houses. She lived on the fourth floor of a sixth floor building from age six to eighteen. Most of her family also lived in this area of Brooklyn. Her aunt resided in a building on Albany and Troy (just recently torn down to build condominiums) with a storefront church where Shameeka's great-uncle was the pastor. Her mother's family is from North Carolina. Her father's family is from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Her maternal grandparents came up from South and North Carolina and settled in downtown Brooklyn. Her maternal grandmother later moved to Pitt Street in Manhattan.
Her mother maintained a deep connection to South Carolina visiting regularly and spending some childhood years there. Her father was technically deported from Canada in his early twenties after emigrating from St. Vincent. Instead of returning to St. Vincent, he moved to the United States. The details of this journey are unclear, but he settled in Brooklyn. He was first in Clinton Hill, later was on Herkimer Street, and finally lived on Brooklyn and Bergen in Crown Heights.
Shameeka left Brooklyn to attend SUNY Binghamton and the University of Pennsylvania. She returned to Brooklyn in 2008 and lived there until 2012 when she moved to Queens. She is currently a social worker in Brooklyn.
In this interview Shameeka recalls her childhood in both Bed-Stuy and Fort Greene/Clinton Hill. She tells stories about her childhood such as how she was taught to play pool by an older woman with a Jheri curl at Tip Top Bar (then Junior's Bar). She details her childhood visits to the Albany Houses, and her years at P.S. 11, Phillippa Schuyler School (J.H.S. 383), and George Westinghouse High School.
She recalls her mother's family, and their move from North and South Carolina, and her father's journey from the Caribbean. She discusses the importance of her Brooklyn roots as a point of pride and her desire to represent Brooklyn with her clothing and attitude when she moved away from Brooklyn to attend SUNY Binghamton and, later, the University of Pennsylvania.
She reflects on how the neighborhood transformed in terms of demographics from the time she left for college to the time she moved back to Brooklyn in 2008. She noticed more people biking on the streets, neighborhoods feeling different, trains that were more crowded, more coffee shops and restaurants opening, and, finally, condo buildings being built where community centers once stood. Skyscrapers made the area feel different, she recalls, more like Park Slope or Brooklyn Heights. She noticed more and more white people in Brooklyn. This was a radical change from her view of Brooklyn as the black borough. She describes feeling extreme grief at the raising rents in her childhood home, forcing friends and family to move.
She brings up other neighborhoods and their evolution. She describes Williamsburg and how it changed from a sleepy area to a bustling hub. She relates her displeasure about the perception of Brooklyn as a novel mecca of art and culture when she overhears conversations about the borough on a plane or elsewhere; this is not the Brooklyn of her remembrance. She bristles at her memory of how friends and family elected to move because they were given fiscal incentives to leave the Fort Greene area by developers. She describes her growing awareness of this shift in demographics that, later, she would call gentrification.
She details changes she observed in Brooklyn during the Bloomberg administration such as more well kept community gardens, hidden detention centers, a halt in community programming, yellow cabs coming to Brooklyn, and Europeans renting brownstones through vacation rentals. She lists specific buildings that have changed such as The Chocolate Factory on Myrtle Avenue that was converted to condominiums. (Shameeka's wife, Rebecca, offers some comments here and throughout the interview. Also, at this point in the interview, a fruit fly that was in the room is referenced several times.)
Shameeka delves in to the construction of the Barclays Center and Atlantic Terminal and how it engulfed the low income housing that formerly existed there through eminent domain. She remembers how a man she dated used to sell drugs out of his apartment located where Atlantic Terminal is now. She reminisces about taking her ailing father to see the stadium area in his final years and his disbelief upon seeing the structure.
She relays how, in her career as a social worker, she often visits the areas where she went to high school and spends time near the court houses in downtown Brooklyn. She recalls feeling a sense of scale and irony when she spends time in the court buildings that are aesthetically pleasing but are also the site of many injustices. She also mentions a "true Brooklynite" - a black Panamanian-American who helped build the structure. She shares similar deep emotions about the possible closure of Long Island College Hospital where she was born and where her mother died.
She discusses her wife Rebecca (Becca) and how they met in college at SUNY Binghamton. She tells their love story. She relays how Becca grew up in Queens and that her family is from Haiti. She explains their differing cultural norms. She delineates her family's diaspora and how it relates to her family's cultural expression. She outlines the negative perception of Brooklyn by her in-laws. She postulates on the community perception of herself and Becca as black lesbians living in Bed-Stuy and their move to Queens. She parses out what she sees as the difference between black American culture and Caribbean American culture telling of her father's bias towards certain Caribbean cultural groups. She finishes with childhood memories of Coney Island and the demographic shifts there and her memories of Red Hook as a young person.
CitationMattis, Shameeka, Oral history interview conducted by Charis Shafer, June 11, 2013, Crossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection, 2011.019.054; Brooklyn Historical Society.
- Mattis, Shameeka
- Caribbean Americans
- Gender identity
- Haitian Americans
- Queer theory
- Same-sex marriage
- Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
- Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
- Fort Greene (New York, N.Y.)
- Red Hook (New York, N.Y.)
- Williamsburg (New York, N.Y.)
Finding AidCrossing Borders, Bridging Generations oral history collection