Monthly Archives: February 2009

NY Times to start Fort Greene-Clinton Hill Blog

Brownstoner’s just made the news public about the new NY Times initiative to start a series of hyper-local blogs, one of which will be set in our very own Fort Greene / Clinton Hill.

Obviously, they have the advantage of full-time manpower to cover the scoops 24-7.  However, they’re missing one key advantage that us local bloggers have: the man they’ve pegged to run the blog lives in Park Slope.

Will they be able to pick up the nuances of our ‘hood’s special character?  Maybe, maybe not.  It’ll be interesting to see how it goes and what they’ll be covering.

As the ‘Stoner said, Game On.

Kudos for African eats in Fort Greene

As mentioned in Brownstoner and written about in the New York Times, Fort Greene is getting noticed for the variety and quality of the African cuisine available within its borders. In addition to the South African Madiba, Kif’s tagines and couscous, Abistro’s black eyed pea fritters and Bati’s injera were noted. Just a few streets away in Clinton Hill we also have Le Grand Dakar.

Speaking of African cuisine, does anyone have any information about the Nigerian restaurant that was advertised as going into a storefront on Lafayette near either Adelphi or Carlton? It has been under construction for some time. It would be a nice addition to the neighborhood.

South African Female Winemaker Dinner at Madiba

Madiba is hosting a South African Female Winemaker Dinner on Wednesday, March 11.

The cost is $75 and reservations must be made in advance by calling 718.855.9190. See full article for a list of food and wine pairings.

Village Voice:

What to Bring to Abistro, Fort Greene, when you BYOB

Gnarly Vines offers suggestions on what wine (under $15) to bring when you dine at Abistro

Village Voice:

New Turkish Restaurant Open in Fort Greene

Deniz, a “Turkish Mediterranean” restaurant, has opened at 662 Fulton Street (across the street-ish from the Smoke Joint).

Village Voice:

Teen Challenge House on the Market

Received a tip this morning about the mysterious mansion on Clinton between Lafayette and Greene – there’s a huge for sale sign in the front!

Brownstoner is reporting that the building is listed at $5.5 million and comes with a carriage house on Vanderbilt.  (He also has some cool history on the building as well.)

So why is Teen Challenge selling this gorgeous place?  Where are they moving the female residents?

Online Resources for Brooklyn Parents

One thing everyone reading this blog has in common:  we all sit in front of a computer screen on a semi-regular basis.  So, I thought I’d put together a listing of websites and blogs that are helpful resources for pregnant women and parents in our ‘hood.

A great asset most local parents probably already know about is the Fort Greene Kids Yahoo group.  It’s a good place to reconnect with a lost baby hat, buy a cheap second-hand stroller, and even sometimes find an apartment (I have done all these things with the help of FG Kids, in fact).  There is also a group for expectant parents and parents of babies called Fort Greene Babies, and one for Bed Stuy families called Bed Stuy Kids.  To join these groups, send an email message to the moderator.  You can do this by visiting:,, or

A Child Grows in Brooklyn is another site I like a lot.  Run by local mom Karen, it offers information for pregnant women and parents in Brooklyn including recommendations for pediatricians, resources for finding childcare, and green parenting tips.  Visit:

Pregnant women in the neighborhood should check out, where you can find information on local hospitals’ childbirth intervention rates (cesarean, epidural, induction, etc.) and compare them to rates of other NYC hospitals.  You can also download the New York Guide to a Healthy Birth, which has listings of local midwives, doulas, bodyworkers, and more.  Full disclosure:  I serve on the organization’s board. You can also use the Birth Survey at to read feedback about doctors and midwives you might be considering for your birth or to give anonymous feedback if you’ve had a baby recently.

Still Hip, our local shop for used kids’ clothing and gear, also has classes (for example, baby-wearing, infant CPR and cloth-diapering) as well as playgroups and activities.  Visit for details and scheduling.

For parents of school-age children, has a ton of useful information to help you navigate the maze that is the NYC public school system.  You can find comprehensive information about gifted and talented programs, school choice, ESL programs, how to apply to kindergarten, and lots more.  The reviews of individual schools are helpful as a jumping off point too.

The New York City Parks Department has a user-friendly website with a ton of helpful information for families.  There are listings of pools, basketball courts, nature centers, playgrounds, zoos and aquariums, ice skating rinks and more.  It is possible to search by location or use a calendar to find upcoming events.  You may go to the site to find things in our own neighborhood, but you’ll probably also come away with some nice ideas for daytrips to other parts of the city.  Check out:

In a similar vein, the Brooklyn Public Library has a site at where you can do things like order a library card online, get help with homework, and search a database designed for kids.

Some additional websites and blogs:

Go City Kids at

Time Out New York Kids at

Since there are so many websites for NY parents, this is just the tip of the iceberg. What online parenting resources can’t you live without?

Garden District Now Online

The Brownstone Brooklyn Garden District, the organization that organizes the yearly self-guided garden tour through Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights, now has a blog!  Check it out here.

Upcoming events include:

Stereoscopic Garden Party – March 22, 2009
5:00pm – 7:00pm
The Irondale Center
85 South Oxford Street

The 12th Annual Garden Walk – June 14, 2009


Part One

Four of the major streets in the neighborhood – DeKalb, Lafayette, Greene, and Gates – may not be close together by chance.  As it turns out, the fates of the people they were named after also were linked together.

Johann DeKalb had one of the more colorful stories.  Born to a poor family in Bavaria in 1721, Johann left home to join the French Army when he was 20.  When Johann learned the French army only gave officers’ positions to noblemen, he started claiming to be a Baron.  The French were skeptical at first, but after the young soldier distinguished himself in battle, they chose to let him get away with it, and promoted him to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel during the Seven Year’s War in the 1750’s.  DeKalb was officially made a Baron in 1763, and retired from military service to raise a family.  But after only a few years, DeKalb became very interested in the whispers of rebellion in the thirteen American colonies.  He came out of retirement and visited the colonies on a covert fact-finding operation for the French in 1768, reporting that he was impressed with the colonists’ “spirit of independence.”   That “spirit of independence” turned into outright Revolution in 1776, and DeKalb was eager to return and join the Continental Army; he came over in 1777, accompanied by a young officer named Lafayette.

Lafayette actually WAS nobility, from a military family who had been fighting for France since the days of Joan of Arc.  He had joined the military when he was only eighteen, where his commanding officer took him on as a protégé.  The two spoke often of affairs in the colonies, and young Lafayette also became eager to join the fight – so much so that he actually paid for the ship that brought he and DeKalb to South Carolina in 1777.

However, they weren’t the only Frenchmen who’d been coming to join the fight – the Continental army was dealing with hundreds of other French “glory-seekers,” mercenaries, or other soldiers will little more than just zeal to recommend them.  Congress dragged its feet about assigning DeKalb and Lafayette roles at first.  Lafayette was finally made George Washington’s aide-de-camp in August of 1777.  DeKalb, however, was holding out for a role as Major-General, a position the Continental Army was reluctant to bestow upon a foreign officer.  DeKalb very nearly gave up and returned to France before the Continental Congress made him a Major General that September.

At about this time, another ambitious general was on the rise – but we’ll meet him, and our fourth soldier, next week.

Neighbor Interview: Selah Eric Spruiell

Last week I spoke with Clinton Hill activist, musician, actor and proud Obama supporter Selah Eric Spruiell over dinner and drinks at The Speakeasy on Greene.

As the new CHB contributor interested in doing neighbor profiles, I thought I would start off by interviewing someone I know.  Selah and I met about five years ago at The First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn Heights.  A lifelong resident of Brooklyn who grew up in the old Weeksville neighborhood of Crown Heights, Selah moved to Clinton Hill about 15 years ago. He says he discovered the area by accident when he was at Lafayette High School, needed to do summer classes, and wound up in summer school at Brooklyn Tech.

Fort Greene in 1968 was an incredible bohemian scene, which Selah quickly became hooked on. Artistically inclined, he also took advantage of an opportunity he had around that time to take classes in music and drama at Pratt Institute.  His drama teacher there was the TV and film actor Joe Morton.  He also got bass lessons from Bill Lee, Spike Lee’s father, who lived on Cambridge Place near DeKalb.  Additionally, he studied with Ahmed Abdul-Malik, who was Thelonius Monk’s bass player for a long time.  It wasn’t until 1979 that Selah got his first apartment in the neighborhood, which was on South Oxford Street.  A long-time housing advocate and youth worker, Selah currently works in the court system.

I asked him about his path to becoming an activist and musician.  Selah comes from a solidly middle class and political black family.  His father worked as a correction officer and was involved in the Democratic Party, where some of the people he helped elect was Sam Wright, the former Brooklyn City Councilman and State Assemblyman, and Stanley Steingut, The former Speaker of the State Assembly. Selah’s mother was a probation officer who was also one of the founding members of Progressive Women for Civil Rights.  Both parents went on the March on Washington.  Selah’s cousin was a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).  He introduced Selah to jazz and took him to a SNCC Convention, where he met Stokely Carmichael and H. “Rap” Brown, two of its most prominent leaders.  While still in high school, Selah joined the Black Panther Party.  Nowadays he describes his politics as “progressive”—not nearly as radical as back then.

Following in his parents’ footsteps, Selah’s been involved in the election of practically every black politician in Brooklyn.  He met his wife, Bernette Carway-Spruiell, while working on former State Assembly Member from the 57th District Roger Green’s campaign and has also worked on the campaigns of Velmanette Montgomery, Major Owens, Letitia James, and most recently Hakeem Jeffries.  Not surprisingly, he was an early supporter of Barack Obama.  A Working Families Party member, he belongs to the North Brooklyn/Crown Heights Club.  During the primary election, the North Brooklyn/Crown Heights Club joined forces with Brooklyn for Barack and their efforts brought out people in droves for Obama in the 10th and 11th Congressional Districts.

Selah’s family was also musical. His father had a great voice, and his mother trained in opera at Morgan State University, one of the historic black colleges. She was offered a scholarship to study opera in Germany, but chose to raise a family and became a social worker instead.  Growing up, Selah’s mother would play piano, and he along with his sisters would sing at different churches in Brooklyn. Selah sang in church and school choirs.  During high school and college, Selah performed with several rock, R&B and jazz bands.

I was curious about Selah’s work with The Fort Greene Project (, a music ensemble he leads.  He explained that it was never a band in the traditional sense of the word, but more of a community of musicians that Selah works with on special projects.  The group is currently on hiatus.

Besides being a talented musician, Selah also studied drama while a student in college, at the Afro-American Studio and at The Negro Ensemble Company.  He’s done Off-Off Broadway theatre and was involved in the Black Theater Movement.  In addition, he’s had walk-ons for shows like “Sex & the City” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

I asked Selah what his thoughts were on how the neighborhood has changed as it’s become more gentrified over the last decade or so.  Selah says the neighborhood has clearly changed a lot since gangster rapper Biggie Smalls held rap sessions with his cohorts from the Junior M.A.F.I.A. Crew in P.S.11 Park.  He insists on correcting the false impression people have that Biggie was from Bed-Stuy.  In fact, Biggie was from Clinton Hill and grew up on St. James Place.  Bed-Stuy’s motto is “Bed-Stuy Do or Die,” and it probably appealed to Biggie’s handlers as a more obvious place for a gangster rapper to hail from.  Selah believes that youth music culture is still alive and well in the neighborhood; it’s just become more bohemian and less rough over the last decade or so.  He wishes that weekly “Slams” such as The Brooklyn Moon Cafe’s Friday Poetry Night would come back.

Selah says that Brooklyn is a wonderful place and is convinced that Fort Greene and Clinton Hill are way hipper than the Village; however, he doesn’t like the high rents or how housing prices have skyrocketed.  In his view, newcomers unfortunately don’t always respect the culture of the people already here.  As an example, he mentions how a few years ago new brownstone owners near Brown Memorial Baptist Church on Washington Avenue complained to the police about “noise” coming from the church’s renowned choir during rehearsals.  His advice to them would be, “Don’t try to change everything. There were people here before [you], and they have a right to be here as well.”

Finally, I asked Selah what some of his favorite places in the neighborhood are.  While he seldom finds time anymore, he enjoys hanging out in the sculpture garden on the Pratt campus and in Fort Greene Park. Madiba would definitely be his favorite neighborhood restaurant. For entertainment, he highly recommends saxophonist Lonnie Youngblood, who plays Thursday nights at Frank’s Lounge on Fulton Street.   Youngblood used to be an associate of Jimi Hendrix. Before we ordered another drink and chatted further off-record, Selah insisted, “You have to check him out.”

SCH New Comers Party

New to the neighborhood?  You might want to check out the Society for Clinton Hill’s annual New Comers Party!

The Society for Clinton Hill



To its

Annual New Comers Party

Thursday, February 19, 2009

7:30 – 9:30 pm

315 Washington Avenue

Between DeKalb/Lafayette

New Comers are guests.  Old-timers bring a vegetarian dish. SCH will provide drinks.  Children are welcome and babysitters will be available.

Please invite your friends and neighbors and anyone new to the communtiy. We want to welcome any and all new neighbors.