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Brother Born Petitions To Transform DSS HQ
by Melissa Bailey | Sep 18, 2013 10:06 am
Posted to: Black History, Newhallville
The bustling social services agency moved across town. In its former home, Brother Born envisions the ghosts of black history coming alive, and unemployed neighbors lining up for plumbing classes.
Brother Born (that’s his nickname; his legal name Yancey Horton) pitched that vision to passersby Tuesday, as he navigated his neighborhood by wheelchair. He and some friends have collected hundreds of signatures calling for the state and federal governments to pay to turn 194 Bassett St. into an African cultural center, youth center and job-training site.
The building held the regional offices of the state Department of Social Services (DSS) until June, when DSS relocated to James and Humphrey streets in Fair Haven.
The move left behind a vacant, two-story, 46,000-square-foot brick building sitting on 1.17 acres in Newhallville, right on the Farmington Canal Trail. The property is owned by a private company, Bassett Street Properties Inc., owned by Patrick Flynn of Carmel, New York and Cheever Tyler of New Haven. They couldn’t be reached for comment.
The city does not have any plans for the building, according to mayoral spokeswoman Anna Mariotti.
Brother Born does. The Newhallville neighborhood activist, who lives on Read Street, came up with the idea shortly after confronting Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with a plea to invest in Newhallville—and do something about the police shooting range. All sorts of state, federal and local law enforcement officers use the Sherman Parkway firing range to practice shooting, sending a drumbeat of gunshots across the neighborhood.
If the state and the feds use Newhallville for shooting practice, Brother Born argued, they should invest in a solution to help neighbors who are facing gun violence, poverty and unemployment.
In the empty DSS offices, Brother Born envisions a lecture hall offering lessons in black history, health and economics. A job center where unemployed neighbors can train each other in plumbing, electrical work and HVAC.
“There are people in the neighborhood who are already certified” in those trades, Brother Born said. There are also graphic designers, musicians, and entrepreneurs who can train kids and adults in their industries.
“We need real jobs in the neighborhood,” Brother Born said. “We’ve been lacking in self-sufficiency.”
Shortly after his encounter with Malloy on Aug. 19, he began circulating petitions promoting the idea for reviving 194 Bassett. He and a couple of friends, including Jewu Richardson, have been hitting the streets to collect signatures.
As he made his way from Newhall Street to Dixwell Avenue Tuesday, Brother Born stopped near a group of adults hanging out on the corner.
“That’s a good thing that you’re doing,” responded Johnnie Mitchell. “Our young people are getting killed over anything.”
Brother Born quickly acknowledge that the plan may not pan out. He said if it doesn’t, Newhallville shouldn’t sit around and wait for a rescue line, he said.
“For 50 cent out of every family, we could rent something”—a vacant storefront on Dixwell, perhaps.
Mitchell nodded and signed on the line—as have hundreds of others, according to Brother Born.
He showed off several pages of signatures in September at a mayoral candidates debate.
“The politicians are going to have to address the people if the people come at them in masses,” he reasoned.
Brother Born (pictured), who’s 36, collected some 30 signatures Tuesday afternoon along his travels. He moved by hand-powered wheelchair—a state he was left in when someone shot him in the back during a robbery some seven or eight years ago, he said. He said he can’t move his legs and has been living off of disability payments.
Meanwhile, he spends his time running an internet radio show called Nevah Win News (based on New Haven, spelled backwards); organizing a yearly block party; and running “History on the Block”—his name for impromptu black history lessons he offers for passersby at Newhall and Read.
“Class is always in session when I’m around,” he said.
Brother Born said he has recruited some neighborhood kids to fill out the petitions for $2 a page. The goal isn’t to revive a particular building, but to get neighbors talking, he said.
“I’m doing this to get their energy up,” he said, to “get people with enough fight in them” to rally together.
“We’ve been waiting a long time for them to open up Q Houses,” he said. “Listen, we can do this ourself.”
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thats a good idea..the gentleman needs to be supported a little more its not alot of “him” in the community
If you’re able to get that space, check out the free school model:
Good luck! Also, you may want to consider reaching out to the Employment Center at Science Park. They offer lots of great employment related services targeted specifically for Dixwell/ Newhallville residents, and would surely love to be involved. Here’s a link:
I don’t think I would label any property as “prime” in such a dangerous area of the city.
@Stylo: 194 Bassett may not be prime in standard real estate speak, but it is IN the neighborhood needing, seeking transformation. Brother Born is calling for the first most important investment in neighborhood transformation, the active engagement in the process, and providing a center for that IN the neighborhood.
Best of luck to you, Brother Born, in your efforts to start the neighborhood revitalizing itself.