This Female-Led Group Is Helping to Protect Bed-Stuy’s Black Community for the Next Generation
Through fundraising and a weekly marketplace, Building Black Bed-Stuy seeks to combat gentrification and cultivate a safe space for Black residents.
In the 1930s, as the Harlem Renaissance swept the eponymous neighborhood, many Black residents utilized the newly extended A/C subway line and left the overcrowded scene in Harlem for Bedford Stuyvesant. Lined with lush greenery, vibrant murals, and one of the largest collections of Victorian architecture in the United States, the neighborhood (known colloquially as Bed-Stuy) has since thrived as Brooklyn’s “Black cultural capital.”
However, over the past two decades, Bed-Stuy has undergone a radical shift.
A 2021 report revealed it lost 34.5% of its Black residents since 2000 while gaining over 30% more white residents during the same period. Like many neighborhoods across New York City, and especially in Brooklyn, Bed-Stuy is a victim of gentrification—and as new transplants and development continue to flock to it, longtime residents and local businesses, who are primarily Black, are striving to hold on to the community they have left.
“The places that I remember when I first moved here, most of them are gone,” says Shani Coleman, a local resident of nearly 15 years, while lamenting the inundation of large chain stores or other businesses that aren’t Black-owned. "A lot of the things that are here are just not conducive to what Bed-Stuy has always been.”
However, a group of long-term residents are taking action to change that. Founded by Dana Arbib, Nana Yaa Asare-Boadu, Kai Avent-deLeon, and Rajni Jacques, Building Black Bed-Stuy is an all female-led committee dedicated to protecting, preserving, and uplifting the local Black community.
“We want it to help be a driver of Black financial growth and prosperity in our local community and beyond.”
Avent deLeon, an area native and owner of womenswear shop Sincerely, Tommy on Tompkins Avenue, was inspired to start the committee in 2020 after witnessing fellow Black-owned businesses in the neighborhood struggling to make ends meet during the pandemic. After reaching out to Jacques, Arbib, and Asare-Boadu, the group created an Instagram account, which quickly gained a substantial following, and dedicated their efforts toward fundraising.
“The main objective was to find a way to foster our own support and not have to rely on anyone or anything outside of our people to liberate us,” says Avent deLeon.
Here’s how it works: every couple of months, Building Black Bed-Stuy posts an open call for nominations of local Black-owned businesses and organizations in need of support. After inviting a select few to apply, the group chooses three to raise money for. Being community-driven or offering service and innovation are just a few of the sought-after values. Amongst many others, past recipients include Life Wellness Center, Little Sun People, and Bed-Stuy Arthouse—and since the first fundraising term, over $180k has been raised.
“We want it to help be a driver of Black financial growth and prosperity in our local community and beyond,” says Jacques.
Along with their fundraising, Building Black Bed-Stuy hosts a marketplace where young Black entrepreneurs and small businesses sell products ranging from ceramics and flower arrangements to baked goods.
The marketplace, which garnered over 500 attendees at its first iteration, takes place in front of Sincerely, Tommy every Sunday from 12 pm–5 pm. While the primary purpose is to promote local businesses, the marketplace always ends up turning into more than just a place to shop; it’s a celebration that’s impossible to miss. Black community members gather on Tompkins Avenue to two-step in the streets to local DJs, play games, and socialize.
For Coleman, a member of the Building Black Bed-Stuy team who oversees the marketplace, she understands the importance of minority residents starting businesses of their own to boost the local economy and keep capital circulating within the community. “The market is an opportunity for small businesses to have a space to come and share their products,” she says. “And not just with the community, but with each other.”
Because of their efforts, Building Black Bed-Stuy has enabled the neighborhood’s remaining Black community to flourish. The Watoto Free School, for example, which is dedicated to teaching preschool children an African-centered curriculum, has used their funding to increase enrollment, expand teaching opportunities, and move into a larger space.
While Building Black Bed-Stuy has served as a financial and emotional lifeline, they are constantly working toward expanding their marketplace, raising more money, and overall, bolstering the Black community. “I’d like to foster more conversations and provide resources around home and land ownership for Black people—especially during this time when home ownership can feel more inaccessible than ever,” says Avent-deLeon.
Building Black Bed-Stuy is now on their fourth round of fundraising, with a goal of raising $30k to donate to Alfreda’s Cinema, Order of the Tents, and Hattie Carthan Community Garden. While their last marketplace of the year is October 1, they accept donations throughout every fundraising term through their GoFundMe.