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Clive Neil

Oral history interview conducted by Craig Wilder

July 29, 1993

Call number: 1994.006.21

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CRAIG WILDER: Let me start out by asking you where you were born and when.

CLIVE NEIL: I was born in Jamaica, West Indies, in 1959, in a central part of Jamaica, called Mandeville, in the parish of Manchester. I came to this country in 1978.

CRAIG WILDER: And why did you immigrate?

CLIVE NEIL: Primarily for educational purposes. After high school I came to the States for college, and went to Philadelphia Eastern College for my undergraduate school, and majored in Biology.

CRAIG WILDER: And how did you come up? What route did you take, from Jamaica?

CLIVE NEIL: From Jamaica to Philadelphia.


CRAIG WILDER: Straight to Philadelphia?

CLIVE NEIL: Straight to Philadelphia, to college.

CRAIG WILDER: When did you come to New York?

CLIVE NEIL: After graduation in Philadelphia, I went to Princeton University for graduate work, and after finishing my graduate work I went to work in the South Bronx, for five years.

CRAIG WILDER: And what did you do there? Ministry?

CLIVE NEIL: Both. I've always done both, both as a psychotherapist and as a clergy, pastor. So I did both in the South Bronx.

CRAIG WILDER: And when did you come to Brooklyn?

CLIVE NEIL: 1988, in June 1988 I came to Brooklyn, to the Bedford Central Church, located here in Crown Heights / Bed-Stuy.

CRAIG WILDER: Right on the border.

CLIVE NEIL: Right on the border.

CRAIG WILDER: Let me ask you, just to step back a minute, a few questions about Jamaica. The Jamaicans are a rather large group in Brooklyn now, particularly in 2:00this area. What are the misperceptions that people in this area have of Jamaicans? Or do we have them?

CLIVE NEIL: I think two things happen here. Maybe about 15, 20 years ago, there was one perception of Jamaicans coming to the area, primarily, at that time, was because those who immigrated were primarily the cream of the crop, those who had professional aspirations, those who were coming primarily for schools, and they were some of the best professional persons or the best students coming here. And so fifteen, twenty years ago the perception was that they were hard-working persons, primarily coming here to better themselves and to return to Jamaica for the advancement of the country. Presently the perception, primarily because of the drug infiltration, there is also the perception that Jamaicans are involved 3:00in both crimes and in drug trafficking, primarily in marijuana.

CRAIG WILDER: What would you like us to know about Jamaica and Jamaicans?

CLIVE NEIL: I think the country, in terms of the majority of the population, speaks for itself. In terms of, the larger percentage of Jamaicans who are here are still hardworking, strongly persons who are goal-oriented, and have the highest regard for education and for work, and are anxious to own property, and so the country itself is extremely a country that has strong values in terms of family. Jamaicans are highly family-oriented people, persons who are determined to advance themselves both economically, socially and otherwise. It's a country that's extremely religious in its outlook, as you find quite a few Jamaicans who 4:00are strongly religious in their orientation here. So I think people's perceptions, in terms of what Jamaicans need to be noticed for, is the export, which is people who are strongly leadership-oriented. You find Jamaicans in organizations or in the workplace exerting extremely strong leadership.

CRAIG WILDER: When you came to the United States, did you come with any family members?

CLIVE NEIL: I came by myself.

CRAIG WILDER: Subsequently, have any joined you?

CLIVE NEIL: Just one sister, just one sister is here, in the Bronx. All the others are home. I'm the youngest boy, and so all the others are persons with families and homes and jobs. So it wouldn't be in their best interest to come, once they've established themselves.

CRAIG WILDER: How much contact do you have with Jamaica, and your family in Jamaica?


CLIVE NEIL: Quite a lot, as is indicated by my phone bill. It's a large family, but we stay in touch constantly and of course my mom and dad visit periodically. My mom is here now on a visit, so there's a constant visitation. We're still in contact, very closely.

CRAIG WILDER: Was your family important to you when you resettled here? Were they significant in helping you?

CLIVE NEIL: Not in terms of financial help, because they couldn't. I'm from a family of very low means financially, so they couldn't help me financially, so I had to use my feet. I play soccer, so I was able to obtain a soccer scholarship and pay my way through college. What they offered me was more substantial than money, a sense of value and how to survive in a foreign land when you didn't know anybody but had to recognize that you were here for your own self-betterment. And also the values that they conveyed, in terms of my faith, 6:00in terms of hard work, in terms of my determination to achieve my goals. They impressed upon me that it was important not to get sidetracked.

CRAIG WILDER: When you came, were there available to you any organizations of immigrant Jamaicans, assistance or benevolent organizations?

CLIVE NEIL: Not in college, not in my college, there wasn't anything Caribbean at all, West Indian, at all. What was there was a Black students association that I got connected up to, and I was also wise to get-- I played soccer, so the soccer team became your primary support group, since you spent so much time together. And along with that was the Black Students League, as it was called then, that provided support. I also sang in the college choir, so maybe those three areas were areas of support, but they weren't directed towards my ethnicity at all.

CRAIG WILDER: What expectations did you have about emigrating?


CLIVE NEIL: Two things happen to most persons who come here, when they immigrate. The impression that is given in your own country of America is that it lacks any kind of poverty or hunger. You only see so-called, the glamour of this country, so it dawns on you, when you get here, is to see the reality of life, the poverty-- You have both extremes: the extreme poverty and the extreme wealth. So in terms of expectation, my expectation that this country afforded me, was educationally. I saw it as an opportunity to better myself educationally, which would have been more difficult back home, because of space in the university. So this afforded me the opportunity to get academic 8:00credentials very quickly. So I saw it primarily as a fulfillment of my expectation academically.

CRAIG WILDER: Did you have any regrets about emigrating?

CLIVE NEIL: The first semester was the most difficult, because as you know, Jamaica is a tropical island and it's warm, and when I came here I ran into, in about October and November, I ran into the snow and the winter, and so that first semester was extremely, especially as it got into January, it was extremely difficult coping, and at that time I was wondering if it was worth it, to stay in the cold, or should I go back home. And then the whole issue of missing family. I was totally isolated. It was a very painful experience to overcome. So those times I thought about packing up and going back home, because 9:00of the weather, and also because of the adjustment to a new kind of people.

CRAIG WILDER: How did your experiences in college and graduate school, because it's a sort of fantastic journey you just described, from the Caribbean to Philadelphia to Princeton, to the South Bronx, how did those experiences prepare you for the move to Crown Heights?

CLIVE NEIL: That's a tough one, because they're two different kinds of schools. In Philadelphia I had a chance, much more, to rub heads with the real world, than I did at Princeton. Princeton, as great as it is, is really an isolated city, far away from reality. So they were two kinds of experiences. In Philadelphia: the chance to be in West Philly and to work in West Philly, and so forth. So I was able to touch base very quickly. In Princeton it was a different 10:00atmosphere. There's a whole mentality, a Princeton aura, and the academic challenges are higher, but the courses aren't really oriented to the inner city. So when I made a decision to go into the inner city, most people were surprised, because most Princetonians really don't move into the city, they try to move to a suburban atmosphere. So the preparation was primarily because I made a deliberate attempt on the weekends to be in the inner city, whether it was in Trenton, when I was at Princeton, or in West Philly, when I was in Philadelphia. But what both offered, and the balance to that, is that they were both predominantly White institutions, and so it at least gave me the opportunity to be in contact with mixed races before I got into the Crown Heights situation.

CRAIG WILDER: You said you purposely sought out the inner city. Why was that?

CLIVE NEIL: I felt that was where the needs were the greatest, from my weekend 11:00work in Trenton and in Princeton. This was my observation, that my contribution could be greater where the need was greatest. So both through the South Bronx, which-- Bed-Stuy here is a suburb vs. the reality of the South Bronx. I went to the South Bronx for those five years, and did my part in terms of trying to make a small difference, both in the community and in the lives of the people, and came here to Crown Heights, which is the same kind of a situation where there's a definite need for Black persons to be committed to the neighborhood.

CRAIG WILDER: You came to Brooklyn in 1988. Bedford Central, your congregation is who? Is it local people, mostly?

CLIVE NEIL: Yes, we have about 70 percent local people from the community, who 12:00live around here in the community. The rest, we have two members from Queens, but they primarily come from Brooklyn, with 60 or 70 percent from right here in the Bed-Stuy community.

CRAIG WILDER: And what's the ethnic make-up?

CLIVE NEIL: We have maybe about two percent Whites who still remain here. Primarily Irish who still remain here, about two percent. And the rest, we have 23 countries represented in this church. Heavily Caribbean from all the countries, primarily from the Caribbean area, and also from Africa, quite a few from various countries in Africa, who are here, and then Black Americans. So that would be it. There are 23 countries represented in the church.

CRAIG WILDER: Has that been an important part of the ministry, to draw in people 13:00from various backgrounds?

CLIVE NEIL: Yes. What usually happens in a church like this is a person who comes from the various countries either make an attempt to bring in others from the particular country, they do their own personal recruiting, or the other person who comes in and just likes the mixture of persons, because there is no one accent that dominates or one cultural influence in the congregation. People like the mix, and it's enriching, especially educationally, persons are able to tap into the cultural mix and gain education way beyond any kind of narrow confines of one particular country being the main source of one's edification.

CRAIG WILDER: What has that resulted in? Has that brought some positive experiences?

CLIVE NEIL: There are two things. One is a tolerance for other people. It has 14:00really given a tolerance for other people. I don't make a big thing of my "Jamaican-ness" here at all. I broadly categorize in terms of the African-ness of us all, which is an important thing for me. So the tolerance is important. But also the education part I would like to mention, because people are able to learn about each other way beyond their respective cultures. And second, I think that we gain an appreciation for each other's' culture beyond themselves. There's no so-called dominant culture in the congregation. Everybody's culture is equally important.

CRAIG WILDER: And how do you manifest that? Is that done by education, is it done in courses?

CLIVE NEIL: Both in courses-- We have an institute twice a year, in which we may celebrate and talk about various cultures, or we may-- What we did this past 15:00week was to look at the African origins of Christianity as a church, and talk about what that means to us as a people. We've also had, during African Heritage Month, to have different countries get up and teach us their histories. In five minutes they would tell us important facts about their individual countries that most of us didn't know. So education is a primary area, one is also to feel comfortable wearing the native dress, whatever that is. And of course we have, we call it "International Week," where people are able to display their various foods and music, and celebrate that within the context of the church.

CRAIG WILDER: You said, very interestingly, that there's a rather wide cultural mix here at the church. Is there also a wide disparity in class mix? Is there a 16:00wide economic disparity, or are most of your congregants--?

CLIVE NEIL: You might have, maybe about, maximum-- Let me put it this way. Most of our members, professionally, would be in the middle class area. I know that's a kind of fragile category these days, but they would be-- A lot of teachers, they would consider themselves middle class with the salary they get. A lot of teachers, a lot of nurses, a few independent business persons, in the construction or automotive business, but professionally they are teachers, in the field of education and nurses. We don't have any millionaires in the church 17:00at all. We might have maybe one percent who may be in the upper class. But most of them would fall in the middle class, poor class area.

CRAIG WILDER: Earlier you mentioned families, when you were talking about the church and the experience of the church. How important are families to this ministry?

CLIVE NEIL: Extremely important. Redefined, though, redefined. We can talk about what should be, and what is. And so what I have done here, in the last five years, in my prayer ministry, was to, there were two things we were working on. We were working deliberately with Black men in the congregation, and in the community. We have a program for Black men. Secondly, we are working with what is, which is, primarily the church is made up of single women and children. That's probably what we've inherited due to economic disparity and so forth, but 18:00the reality is that most of the people in the church are women and children. So whatever the unit of the household is, we classify it as family, and work with that. Not to give those who have so-called male-female-children in the home, a dog and a car; that's the only family. We try to make sure that everybody has a sense of family, as a unit. Whatever your unit is in your respective household, we work with that as family, as much as we're trying to develop our men's ministry.

CRAIG WILDER: And the men's ministry includes what?

CLIVE NEIL: Primarily what we are trying to do is to work with men in the context of the church, to remind them, primarily, men in the community, in terms of teaching, in terms of workshops, in terms of seminar, bringing persons to the seminar, to remind them that the church is not for women and children, that they 19:00themselves have a vital role, both in terms of the imagery for the young men, that we all need role models, how can you be what you haven't seen, Judge [unintelligible]'s popular statement, but also to let them know that in God's divine plan, that God has a vital role for them to play in their respective households. And so for young men and young women are going to be able to develop as constructive citizens, they can't do it by looking at the wind, meaning the absent fathers. They have to have male images around that are going to somehow teach them that role. And I remind them through the story I always tell about Christ himself. That despite that the birth of Christ was a miraculous birth where Mary didn't need a male to impregnate her, God still provided Joseph. God 20:00told Joseph not to leave, but to stay in the household to give his son Christ a male image. That's how important to God the male image was in the home.

CRAIG WILDER: So that is in response to a number of social and economic problems.

CLIVE NEIL: Definitely. And also, for the survival of the community, if the Black community is going to survive in any kind of realistic sense, it's going to need the male to survive, because they are the protectors of the family. And if they don't have the male around, then we're in trouble.

CRAIG WILDER: That's a very interesting re-description of the role of the church. You're church isn't just then a place to come, sit down, and pray.

CLIVE NEIL: No. You can do that at home.

CRAIG WILDER: So what is your church, if you had to sum it all up? What are you trying to create?

CLIVE NEIL: I'm trying to let the community know that, number one, whatever God intended church to be, it was intended to be what we call not "a corpse," but a "corpus," a living organism It has to be constantly reformed and in the process 21:00of reforming itself. So it has to be relevant. The church has to be relevant to every single need that is being examined in the community. So for our church, we say two things. One is that our church has to be relevant to the needs of the community, whatever it takes to reach those who are on the outside, we need to do that. Secondly, that the church has an educational function. We cannot underestimate the importance of the educational function, and that the church needs to be constantly involved in educating persons, number one, about who they are, what their purpose in life is, because a person with a sense of purpose is a person with a sense of will, willpower. And we need willpower if we're going to survive and make a contribution to the future.

CRAIG WILDER: You also do counseling?

CLIVE NEIL: Yes, I do counseling.

CRAIG WILDER: How important have families been in orienting people to this new life? You've got a number of people coming from other countries into Crown 22:00Heights. How important have families been in helping them to adjust to their new life?

CLIVE NEIL: Usually, what happens to every person who comes to this country, whether you're family or not, is that you go through six months or one year, very few times it falls within six months, that painful adjustment from your native country to this land. So finding any kind of support system is like a drowning man catching at a straw. You're hoping this will allow and cushion the pain of those first six months. So you try to have families that establish themselves both mentally and economically as much as possible before receiving other persons. And what this country does, as you know, is to keep people so busy that sometimes it destroys whatever the sense of community that families 23:00are supposed to have. So we work with families, both in the unit family, meaning the biological family, but also as a church family, to help in any way with the adjustment that the persons from various countries are experiencing upon arrival here.

CRAIG WILDER: Does the church reach out to any other community organizations?

CLIVE NEIL: Yes, we're involved in two -- the Association of Brooklyn Clergy and Elected Officials, which is a kind of city-wide organization, each borough has its own. There's one here that meets at the House of the Lord. Presiding Reverend Daughtry is there, that's one. We're also part of the Brooklyn Ecumenical Association of Clergy Fellowship, which is much more of an 24:00organization concerned with housing issues, health issues, the AIDS issue, and Marvin Owens is the executive director of that one, and they meet at Mt. Sinai Church, where Rev. Curtis Whitney is the pastor. So those are two organizations that we're presently involved in. As we speak now, there is an organization in the process of being formed. As a matter of fact we can say it's formed, called "Central Brooklyn Churches," which I think is going to be the organization to address the particular needs in this Crown Heights area. We're using the philosophy that comes out of IAF, the Industrial Areas Foundation, as evidently their work in East New York, near the churches, built what across the country is known as the Nehemiah Homes. We are forming this organization here in Central Brooklyn, which really believes in what we call "broad-based organization" or 25:00"broad-based empowerment." You really empower a person from the bottom up. So that's coming to fruition now, and there are about 25 strong churches for the first time who will become a part of that.

CRAIG WILDER: And the ultimate goal of that is going to be housing for--

CLIVE NEIL: We don't know. It's always a whole package, because whatever the people in the community need, that's how we work. The primary needs of a part of the community might be just to clean up the drugs, and maybe that's what we have to put our efforts in. That's one way for one particular community. The other one could be housing. We know there's a tremendous housing need around here and what they were able to do in the Nehemiah Homes was to sell single-family homes for $35,000. That was the history behind it. We were able to sell single-family homes, three-bedroom, where you have your own land space, not an apartment 26:00building, single-family homes, and now they are building 3,000 that are going to be sold for $55,000. So I'm just saying that may be the need around here, because once you own property, then they have a sense of ownership of their community.

CRAIG WILDER: That seems like a rather dynamic project. Is it important for this church to be involved in community-wide or city-wide projects?

CLIVE NEIL: I think what happened to most of us clergy around here, and recently we have been doing what we call the change of the guards. Primarily the pastors who are now pastoring the so-called large churches are young ministers: There's Concord with Gary Simpson, he's 29, Arlee Griffin, down here at Berean, 34, Trufant at Emmanuel. There's a new movement of younger pastors in here. And what we have discovered, if we're going to survive as churches, we have to come together and start doing some major impacting project, that will hold the community together. Otherwise we're going to have empty churches. So part of 27:00it's for our own self-interest, for our own survival, but also recognizing that we can't work individually. There is definite power in strength. And what the churches have always been able to do is produce people. If we have nothing else, we can produce people.

CRAIG WILDER: That's an interesting point that young ministers are all of a sudden sweeping into the churches of Brooklyn. What other changes do you see that bringing to religious life in the community?

CLIVE NEIL: There's also, it's going to be much more, I'm using this word guardedly, much more honesty in terms of ministry. The clergy who are coming in will have to do much more counseling than our predecessors. Because the needs of people's lives are so complex and so painful that you can no longer preach at people, preach to people, without touching them during the week. And so the new 28:00clergy who are coming in now out of their various graduate schools, are persons who are taking the therapeutic aspect of ministry very seriously. And so they're going to be able to impact families in a much more tangible way: Dealing with the honesty that people struggle with.

CRAIG WILDER: Do you think it would also help to draw younger people into churches?

CLIVE NEIL: Definitely. Most of the growth that we have seen here has been amongst younger people, who are here currently. Age is a part of that. But also the relevance of my sermons is a part of it. People see themselves, and since I don't have all the answers, they see me struggling with them in their lives. The old approach was to come in and just give them all the answers. But most of the clergy who are younger now are struggling with the people as they attempt to grow, because life is an everyday struggle. Part of it is the honesty of the struggle. That the younger people who are being attracted to the churches is out of that honesty of the struggle.


CRAIG WILDER: What sort of needs are young people coming to the church with? What are the things you find yourself addressing most often?

CLIVE NEIL: Young meaning what age group?

CRAIG WILDER: Our age: young, twenties, thirties.

CLIVE NEIL: Sometimes people in their twenties are really dealing, usually. I want to quote Erikson and the whole notion of wanting to give themselves to somebody in love, the whole issue of, I'm ready to give myself to somebody in love, and number one, can't find somebody, or the person that I'm involved with, I can't trust them fully, because of the whole bag of worms that's going on now in the society about relationships. That's one issue. The second issue is career. The person who has studied through schools, through colleges, and now are leaving, are recognizing that there are no jobs out there, and they may have 30:00to re-orient themselves, or get re-trained to another area to be able to hold onto a job. Number three is that the future doesn't look as bright as they thought it was when they did what was right. Going through schools and so forth; recognizing now that although they have a degree, they may not be able to own that home that their parents were able to own. And so economically things are changing on them. So all that confusion, all that wondering if they were misled by those who told them to get an education, because that's the way to go. As important as it is, and they should, is that now that they have it, things are not coming together as they thought. So there's that whole confusion personally, but also professionally.

CRAIG WILDER: You and I both share an idea that you can do what's "right." Whatever that is. Is it harder to do what's right in 1993?


CLIVE NEIL: Most definitely. We can even sit down here and get into some deep philosophy about what's right anymore, so to speak. Mostly what's right for a person now comes with a sense of their religion, or their sense of value that they got from home, because there is no so-called national rightness anymore, because the words of what is now changed. You can lie now and call it "disinformation." Everything has changed. Or so-called, what people see as "sin" in the church has now become a bad habit. So the language has changed, and whatever we perceive to be wrong or right is being done by those who we want to espouse as our leaders or our mentors. So it's a difficult time to walk the line of what's right and what's wrong. Persons sometimes, who are trying to do things that are respectful, are really doing things that will hurt the majority of 32:00people in their life. So I, you know, right and wrong could be clear for those of us who are religious, but for those people who are not religious, it's not as clear for them. Primarily, because they do not have the reservoir or the tradition of a value system to fall back on. So the young boy or young girl on the street who will wipe you out and really don't see anything wrong with that because they didn't have the value system that we have. And they don't have the kind of self-respect that we grew up with, saying that life is valued. No, no. Life for them is money, if they perceive you as having some money and they're hungry, they'll kill you to get it. Don't tell me that's right or wrong because I got the money. Money's important. So the value system has changed. So it's very difficult now for even people who want to live by the system, because most of us, the value system we have has been acquired from our parents. And you know, we examine it, after we get to a certain age. So people are constantly 33:00re-adapting their value system. It's a difficult time.

CRAIG WILDER: You had mentioned before that one of the issues that young people come to the church with is their whole life, their romantic sort of relationships. How does the church handle that sort of social activity, or social problem? Does the church actually take an interventionist role, a guiding role in that?

CLIVE NEIL: It's a difficult thing because most of the time you can't. As you know, relationships are very fragile, and even in therapy we can never tell a person what decision they should make, because you could be legally responsible if they take your advice. What we try to encourage persons to do, is two things. One is to make sure that you develop yourself as much as possible, with all the 34:00resources you have around you. Make sure that you develop yourself educationally, socially, and otherwise, as much as possible. The stronger you are as an individual, the better you'll be able to give yourself to a person. So it's a matter of trying to remind a person of a sense of priority, and that can be difficult for people who are constantly watching the so-called "time clock." But the more you are developed, the most you will have to give. Always make sure you can bring something to the table, in any relationship you're involved in. Make sure you bring something to the table. So primarily through lectures, through sermons, through worship and so forth; we try to let people know that if we want to create and define ourselves within another person. You first need to find yourself within yourself, because there's a misconception that a person's all there to fill your needs. And nobody can fulfill your needs but you.

CRAIG WILDER: You also mentioned earlier the African-ness of your congregation, 35:00and how that's an important organizing principle, or a principle on which to approach them. If I walk through this area, if you walked me through this area, what would you see as the African tradition in Crown Heights, or the African tradition in Brooklyn, what things would you immediately point out to me?

CLIVE NEIL: Well, you know, where we are right now, we are two blocks away from two communities. One is Fulton Street, which is heavily African in its orientation, not just Africans from Africa selling commodities, but also several African stores that are around here. That's one thing. The other thing is, the Nation of Islam is very strong around here. The Muslim community is very strong with the African orientation. The man across [unintelligible], with the 36:00bookstore [unintelligible] a good friend, is a Muslim. You find several Muslims. The second aspect are the Rastas, the Jamaican people around here are heavily Rastafarian, which is from the Ethiopian concept of Haile Selassi, and his contribution to the Western World. And so the Rastafarians here would also be a symbol of the African-ness of the people who are here, from the various Caribbean islands. They would represent that aspect. So the people themselves, and cultural areas here, the music you hear around here, heavily sometimes relates-- it's reggae, African music, Haitian music, would represent the African culture. So you have that mixture of symbols around.

CRAIG WILDER: A couple of years ago in the summer, the riots took place on Eastern Parkway. I don't want to get into the riots. I actually want to ask you 37:00how your church reacted to that turmoil. Did you feel it here?

CLIVE NEIL: Definitely, you couldn't help but feel it in its various forms. One is, as a leader of this church, I got involved in the leadership of the clergy, because there were several leaders who took different sides to it. There was no one side that any particular leader took. I was part of a group of clergy, along with Reverend Simpson, Reverend Griffin and others, who made it very very clear that the majority of Black persons were not rioting. That's number one; that there were decent persons who were around. So we took the angle that justice should be served for whatever happened to Cato, but also to Rosenbaum. That justice should be served. But the majority of the Black people here were decent 38:00persons going about their business and were not a part of the riots. So we were able to thank our congregation for maintaining a sense of stability and not playing into the media hype during that time. So we were able to take that angle here.

CRAIG WILDER: Did you also find yourself having to address the pain of the experience with your congregation?

CLIVE NEIL: I don't know if we're going to get deeper into it, into the Crown Heights situation, because it wasn't surprising that it happened based on at least, the perception which sometimes is more a perception than reality, of how the Hasidic community is treated in this area. There's a perception that has, since I arrived here, always been there, that they're able to get whatever they want, while the Black community has to struggle twice as hard to get the minimum 39:00of the services in this community. So the perception was always there, and so what Crown Heights maybe just brought to the forefront was a symbol of the perception. It was a symbol of the perception of the disparity of the communities.

CRAIG WILDER: Does that perception still exist?

CLIVE NEIL: Definitely. Definitely, it still exists amongst the persons in the community. It exists because the media hasn't helped, in terms of the constant focus on the Rosenbaum murder, and not a focus on the Cato murder. So it's already telling you whose life was more important. I thought both lives were equally important, and both lives and families need to achieve justice. But the media continues to propel one community as if they're the only one who was hurt. 40:00And I'm saying both communities are hurting, and if you have two hurting people, they need to be together to heal their hurt, outside the media's realm.

CRAIG WILDER: You sit, like I said at the beginning, in a rather interesting spot. You're literally right between Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. What special burden does that place on your congregation and on your ministry? Not burdened necessarily in a negative way.

CLIVE NEIL: I think it's a sense of accountability, and responsibility, we have primarily to deal with the high level of frustration that we have both here in Crown Heights and in Bed-Stuy. The frustration primarily around the teenagers, who have a lot of time of their hands, the frustration that they're not sure whether their life is going to be worth living, both in terms of violence within the community or violence outside the community. My emphasis for leadership, 41:00primarily, is trying to develop consructive ways to address the frustration of the young people, constructively.

CRAIG WILDER: Where do those frustrations begin? Is it primarily economic, is it social? Is it the whole combination?

CLIVE NEIL: I think it's multi-faceted in this area. The community, especially in the Bed-Stuy section, are about 60 percent persons who are receiving some kind of government aid from the city or from the government. It's a very high percentage. So you find a frustration economically, not believing that they can leave and get out of the plight that they're in, they've been locked into it. Of course there's a connection between poverty and crime. It's always been there. 42:00The other one is social, not having social outlets for them to have. With the number of young people you have around here, percentagewise, the number of outside facilities to utilize their energy constructively is minimal, percentagewise. We have a park down the street here, in Brooklyn, where there may be a good gathering, but overall we don't have enough constructed facilities here to have programs to address the needs of the percentage of young people we have in this community. Which is where our church comes in.

CRAIG WILDER: What needs to change in this community? What does Crown Heights need most?

CLIVE NEIL: There needs to be, maybe this is what you guys are doing, there needs to be an appreciation equally, educationally first, I don't know if people will have the energy, if you're hungry, to be thinking of it educationally, but there has to be a real sense of appreciation culturally of all the various 43:00people who live in the community. It has to start with a sense of, number one, each person, which is what [unintelligible] is, appreciating our uniqueness as African, Caribbean, African American persons. And recognizing that we have made a contribution to this area, and many people don't understand that we have made a contribution to this area. They think we have just been Johnny-Come-Lately and have inherited something that other persons have built. And so we need to recognize that we have made a serious contribution to the Bed-Stuy/Crown Heights history in the past, and are making one in the present. That's number one. Number two; we need to understand also that if we can respect ourselves we need establish respect for other persons' culture equally. That we're equally important, and no one ethnic group is more important than the other. And that 44:00will only take place when we can find ourselves involved in serious dialogue. And not learning about each other through the guise of negativity by the media. Because most of what we know: about Bed-Stuy, as indicated before, or Jews in Bed-Stuy, is through the media. When people are co-existing effectively in Crown Heights.

CLIVE NEIL: So it's being defined from outside.

CRAIG WILDER: Definitely. The media, in their 20-second-commercial-oriented news: trying to get across to people their impression of what is. People who are getting most of their information from the media, they think that it's gospel.

CLIVE NEIL: Thank you, Reverend.


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Interview Description

Oral History Interview with Clive Neil

Born in Mandeville, Jamaica in 1959, Dr. Clive E. Neil came to the United States on a soccer scholarship. He was an honors student at Eastern University and fellow at Princeton University. He has a master's degree in Divinity as well as a doctorate in Counseling from Drew University. He was ordained and served as minister at Tremont Presbyterian Church in the Bronx from 1985 to 1988. His pastorship at Bedford-Central began in 1988. He has written three books, taught and lectured at area colleges, enrolled as a Ministry Leadership Network scholar, and fathered two children.

Reverend Dr. Clive E. Neil discusses the misperceptions and strengths of Jamaicans and Jamaican Americans. He recalls the hardship of leaving family and country and his time in higher education and inner city volunteer work. He describes the ethnic makeup of his congregation on the border of the Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhoods of Brooklyn and how their diversity is a means to educate and celebrate. Neil points out family and community causes he actively supports, such as a Men's Ministry at his church, and the broad-based Nehemiah Homes effort. He also describes the transformation of the area's "Black churches" brought on by the influx of young ministers. He shares his views on the community turmoil and violence related to the deaths of Gavin Cato and Yankel Rosenbaum, the reaction of the local clergy, and the media's unfair slant on the matter. 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.


Neil, Clive, Oral history interview conducted by Craig Wilder, July 29, 1993, Crown Heights History Project collection, 1994.006.21; Brooklyn Historical Society.


  • Cato, Gavin
  • Classon Avenue Presbyterian Church (Brooklyn, New York, N.Y.)
  • Nehemiah Housing
  • Neil, Clive
  • Princeton University
  • Rosenbaum, Yankel


  • African Americans
  • Caribbean Americans
  • Community activists
  • Cultural diversity
  • Emigration and immigration
  • Ethnic neighborhoods
  • Home ownership
  • Immigrants
  • Jamaicans
  • Low cost housing
  • Low-income housing
  • Multiculturalism
  • Presbyterian Church
  • Race identity


  • Bedford-Stuyvesant (New York, N.Y.)
  • Brooklyn (New York, N.Y.)
  • Classon Avenue (New York, N.Y.)
  • Crown Heights (New York, N.Y.)


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Crown Heights History Project collection