Hear Me Out: Part One

Season 3, Episode 9

Hear me out: a Bed-Stuy kid grapples with her Brooklyn identity, a Chassidic woman follows her faith to from South Africa to Crown Heights, musicians find belonging in the South Indian music diaspora, a Brooklynite memorializes early activism in the borough, and a Black Puerto Rican land worker paves her own career path. These are all Brooklyn stories, created as part of BPL's first ever audio storytelling workshop.

Episode Transcript

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Krissa Corbett Cavouras Hey, Adwoa.

Adwoa Adusei Hey, Krissa.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras So, we have set ourselves a huge task on Borrowed. As the podcast of Brooklyn Public Library, a library with 60 branches across the borough, we’re often trying to tell Brooklyn’s story to our listeners.

Adwoa Adusei Which seems impossible, right? I mean, Brooklyn is a borough of nearly three million people, people speaking hundreds of different languages from countries around the world. Each neighborhood is basically like a different city. I mean, how could we possibly presume to tell Brooklyn’s story, right?

Krissa Corbett Cavouras And that’s not even a good thing to attempt! I’m thinking about Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche's famous TED talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” in which she warns against assuming that a country or a community or a group of people have only one narrative to tell about themselves. During that talk, Adiche said: “Stories matter. Many stories matter. … When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

Adwoa Adusei So, we’re going to bring that philosophy to Borrowed today. You’re about to hear five different stories about Brooklyn. These stories were all produced during the library’s first ever audio storytelling workshop series, titled "Hear Me Out."

Krissa Corbett Cavouras It was a really incredible program. As you’ll hear, each participant came in with a story to tell, and over the course of twelve weeks, they learned the basics of recording, editing, and mixing their own audio stories.

Adwoa Adusei So, as ever on Borrowed, we bring you stories that started at the library. I’m Adwoa Adusei.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras And I’m Krissa Corbett Cavouras.


Glynn Pogue To really make this make sense, I gotta set the scene.

Glynn, a Bed Stuy kid, rollerblades down
MacDonough Street in 1995. 
(Courtesy Glynn Pogue)

[Hip hop music]

Let’s think about Bed-Stuy for a moment. Let’s get sensory. Wipe away the gentrification coffee shops for a second. Maybe, with your eyes closed, you might conjure up a snippet of Biggie rapping: Live from Bedford-Stuyvesant the livest one; you might see scenes from Do the Right Thing. If you’re a little closer to the experience, you might envision block parties; kids dashing through open fire hydrants, giddy. And maybe you imagine dice games in front of the corner store; and think of the infamy, of violence and gang banging. But no matter what, Bed-Stuy evokes energy. It’s undeniably someplace loud, vibrant and alive.

[Music stops with a record screech]

And, I gotta come clean, while I know those elements, I’m not OF them, I’m not really from that “Bed-Stuy” of lore.  I’m from a historic subsection of bed stuy called Stuyvesant Heights; an enclave known for its old victorian homes, grand churches and quiet shady streets. It’s like a bubble, encompassing the blocks within Tompkins Avenue, Halsey Street, Malcolm X Boulevard, and Fulton. For the most part, I always felt like my hood was like a tree-lined New Jersey suburb, tucked away in the middle of Bed-Stuy. Around my way, everyone knew your name and your business, and they’d read you down if your flower boxes were looking raggedy. We had to come correct. That’s how we won the greenest block in Brooklyn title back to back to back.

I will say, though, that a truly magical part of growing up in that enclave was that Black folks owned everything; our homes and our businesses. I’ve only truly come to appreciate this as I’ve gotten older, in the midst of the ‘Stuy’s rapid gentrification. So I say all that to say that, my childhood wasn't exactly a gritty scene characterized by a Jay-Z song. And low-key, if we're being honest, some say, his wasn't either — no shade HOV! — that’s just what the streets be saying sometimes. But Jay and I can both wax poetic about hugging the block. I can spit every one of his lyrics with conviction, verse for verse, even though there was very little fire hydrant frolicking, quarter water drinking, double-dutch jumping, or general stoop kid sh** in my story. Man, my dad wouldn’t even let me chase after the ice cream truck, for fear that Mr. Softee was slinging more than soft serve. And I’ll let you take that, for however you take that. But sometimes I’m like, where was my childhood? I always thought being from Bed-Stuy meant a few quintessential things: first off, you had to be fly.

Dave Bed-Stuy, The Stuy.

Glynn Pogue That’s my friend Dave, he grew up around the corner from me on Macon, while I grew up on MacDonough Street.

Dave Stuy-Raq, Stuy Fly, Red Stuy, you feel me? We do it better, we get brispy.

Glynn Pogue And when I tell you this kid was always fly?! Like, it was not a game. His whole family was fly. Like, he deada** got it from his family. They were not playing.

Dave We just get flyer than every other hood in Brooklyn. Just know that. I’m keeping it a buck. All the way a buck.

Glynn Pogue Dave used to wear braids and they were never fuzzy, always fresh. He had the Iversons, and they were intertwining and overlapping. The parts were mad sharp. He always had on some nice pressed True Religions, sagging just right, like whewwwwww.

Adwoa Adusei That was Glynn Pogue, a writer and educator. Her writing has been featured in Vogue, Guernica, Essence, National Geographic Traveler and more. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras We just played an excerpt from her audio story, and you can hear the full version on our webite — we'll give you the link at the end of this episode. And, Glynn is intending to make this story part of a serialized podcast called Bed Stuy Brat, which was also her AOL Instant Messenger name back in the T-Mobile Sidekick days. So, watch your podcast feeds for that!


You can follow Glynn Pogue on Instagram @bedstuybrat or listen to her podcast, Black Girls Texting, and find more of her work at her website

Adwoa Adusei Our next story is from just a neighborhood over. Mingy Dworcan is a resident of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, but her story starts halfway across the world.

Mingy Dworcan Brooklyn was a central part of my life long before I was ever there. I was born and raised far across the world in South Africa. But I was also a Chassidic Jew, part of the Chabad Lubavitch sect. Crown Heights, Brooklyn was home to the headquarters and to the leader of the movement, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, known to many simply as the Rebbe. 

[Singing in Hebrew]

The Rebbe was known as one of the most influential Jewish leaders of the 20th century for his work on behalf of Jewry as a whole. Chassidic Jews in general are known for being insular in the name of preserving their religious culture. Having come to America from areas throughout Europe out of force and not out of choice, they made it their mission to hold on to their traditions by keeping within their tight knit communities. But the Lubavitcher Rebbe took a different approach. In a post-Holocaust world, his mission was to reach every corner of the globe with love and concern, to promote acts of goodness and kindness, and to utilize the world around us to further that goal. I was part of that international network the Rebbe had created. For me, he was a mentor and teacher, and much of our lives were centered around the goings-on in Crown Heights. I remember being woken up late at night as a child to go watch satellite hook ups of the Rebbe delivering live public addresses. Brooklyn seemed so far away and yet it seemed part of my identity already then.

News voice 1 Lubavitcher Jews around the world today began seven days of mourning for their beloved leader, Rabbi Schneersohn.

News voice 2 Rabbi Schneersohn was a great leader of a bunch of people, a great religious leader of the Jewish people. He was also a great religious leader of all people, all throughout the world.

Mingy Dworcan On June 12th, 1994, the Rebbe passed away, leaving a community of thousands of his followers reeling. The tremors of this earthquake were felt worldwide within Chabad and far beyond. For me, his loss was an occurrence I was brought up to believe was an impossibility. The Rebbe was the seventh in a direct succession of leaders, and it was known there was no one in place to take over his seat. Even though he was 92, there was never talk of us losing him. I'm not sure exactly what the plan was. For many, there was an expectation that the Rebbe would usher us into the messianic era. And maybe there was some denial on the part of the grown ups, which obviously doesn't translate well for a child of my age. So full of hope, not knowing yet about disappointment and unfulfilled promises, I watched as my learned teachers, esteemed rabbis and world leaders stood speechless, seeming so unsure of what the future held.

It's a funny thing to try put into perspective now, as an adult. I never met the Rebbe person, this spiritual giant, who had such a great impact on my life at such a young age. I met my friend Shua years later, when I moved to Brooklyn as an adult. At the time of the Rebbe’s passing, he was thirteen years old and living in Crown Heights. His life then revolved around 770 Eastern Parkway, the headquarters, where he went daily to pray, to see the Rebbe, to listen to him talk, or to receive a blessing from him and a dollar for charity.

Shua Levy All that I ever knew was him, you know, kind of leading the community and leading this movement. And the thought of him not being around was really scary. Something huge was going to change. And, I didn't know any other version of everyday life.

Mingy Dworcan I spoke to him about how it was being right in the heart of the action on the day of the Rebbe’s passing. It was cathartic in the same way you might sit with an older sibling and listen to stories of a grandparent that they grew up with, but you never got to meet. As my parents shook me awake that early Sunday morning, June 13th, in South Africa, to break the bad news to me, it was still nighttime in New York. 

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn at a gathering in 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch Headquarters. 
(Courtesy Mingy Dworcan)

Shua Levy It was Saturday night. I just I woke up. There was a lot of people talking on the phone. There was actually an alarm going. When he used to give public addresses, there was a siren that would sound, so that people would know -- before the time cell phones -- would know to make their way to the synagogue. That siren was sounding. As soon as I heard, I was sure that's what had happened. I was sure that's what had happened. Which sounds silly for me to say, that I was sure. People were very much talking about it like something that would never happen. It was going to be this miracle. Then I remember my dad was talking on the phone to his sister who lived -- where she living then? In Texas, maybe -- and I just remember him saying, "It's over." It was very dramatic. I just remember him saying, "It's over."


Krissa Corbett Cavouras That was Mingy Dworcan, sharing with us a small peek into a world she is passionate about: navigating Chassidic life in a modern society. Listen to the rest of her beautiful story over on our website.


Music in this segment was produced by JEM Media, Matisyahu, David D'Or, Moshe Laufer and Rami Kleinstein. You can follow Mingy Dworcan on Instagram @themingyproject.

Adwoa Adusei For our next story, we hear from Shivram Viswanathan, who actually produced his story from Seoul, Korea, where he is on a fellowship studying economics, political science and spiritual music.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Shiv reminded us that physical place isn’t the only way to form an identity. Specifically, Shiv described Indian-Americans who come together around traditional South Indian music. 

Shivram Viswanathan If my childhood had a soundtrack, it would probably be Carnatic music, a classical, often spiritual musical style from Southern India. It usually involves a melodic instrument or somebody's voice,

[String instrument plays]

accompanied by some percussion,

[Drum sound]

and the drone of the stringed tanpura.

[Drone sound]

Now, these elements played together, sound something a little like this.

[Carnatic music plays]

These sounds remind me of the joys and difficulties I had pulling together a cultural and spiritual identity of my own while living in Ohio with a small diaspora community. Carnatic music is a cultural centerpiece for South Indian descendants. But, for many people, it can also be a case study in tensions between orthodoxy and innovation, between tradition and modernity, and between themselves and others. 

I spoke with three second generation Indian-American Carnatic musicians, Roopa Mahadevan and Shiv Subramaniam, who are vocalists based out of New York. And Sruti Sarathy, a violinist living in the Bay Area. And they grew up navigating frictions of an Indian American identity, using music, like I did. And also like me, the first setting for these frictions was in the American education system.

Roopa Mahadevan My upbringing was super diverse. I mean, tons of Desis, yes, but also, like, you know, Asians, you know, Latin, Mexican communities, African-American communities.

Shivram Viswanathan This is Roopa, talking about going to school in the Bay Area.

Roopa Mahadevan But I think I learned to be savvy about like, like I wouldn't go to a non-Indian friend in school and be like, hey, can I sing you this song I'm learning? And maybe I should have been, maybe I should have been more confident about that.

Shivram Viswanathan A growing Indian immigrant population gave Roopa the outlet for her Carnatic music, and the ability to explore her connection to that music a little more creatively.

Roopa Mahadevan I found myself falling in love with, much later, R&B and Hip-hop, and people who were saying -- who were embodying, like, rhythm and melody, incorporating it into their lives, right? I don't know, maybe Carnatic music honed my ear in a certain way where I could even, like, start to appreciate the intricacies of like R&B music differently, you know? 

Sruti Sarathy (left) and Roopa Mahadevan (right). 
(Photo courtesy Shivram Viswanathan)

Shivram Viswanathan On the other hand, Shiv had more trouble translating his connection to Carnatic music where he lived in Lawrence, Kansas.

Shiv Subramaniam I remember I've always had this disappointment of not being able to share the music in the way that I wanted to with friends. I would, but I'm also a sharer by temperament. And so I would share it. I would sing, like in school, like in various events. And it's like ridiculous. Like once, I was playing tennis and, like, everyone was playing like pump up music and we got to rotate. I, like, brought like a Simhendramadhyamam alapanai...

Shivram Viswanathan So, Simhendramadhyamam is a type of scale in Carnatic music called a raagam. And alapanai is a slow, methodical development of that scale through long, sustained tones. Not exactly what you would expect in a pre-match playlist alongside Rock and Heavy Metal.

Shiv Subramaniam For tennis It's like a vibe killer. I wouldn't recommend listening to like alapanai trying to, like, pump up for exercise.

Shivram Viswanathan I could understand Shiv's frustration. He and I didn't have large social structures built around Carnatic music like Roopa did. We couldn't openly share that part of ourselves with as many people that understood the context and the meaning behind it.

Shiv Subramaniam The plus is that I got to explore my relationship to the music. I think without, like, all of the pressures that come with having to play authenticity. You know, when you're, when there are not many people in your town making remarks that make you question, am I Indian enough? This was not really a question that, like, burdened me in Kansas.

Shivram Viswanathan And the strangest part? This competition for authenticity is as pronounced in diaspora as it is in India itself, if not more so. At least that's what Sruti found when she started talking with Carnatic musicians her age in Chennai, India.

Sruti Sarathy That's when you realize like, oh, like, my idea of what Carnatic music is has been so narrow, mostly like influenced by people of my parents' generation, what narrow conception they had of what this music is. And actually young people in India think about it much more imaginatively and with much more freedom. I mean, that's what my experience was. And I felt that that was because they don't have this, like, anxiety about authenticity, because it's a given. Whereas for us, you know, you had this lingering concern. Are we maintaining, maintaining the tradition, preserving the tradition?

[Carnatic music]

Adwoa Adusei That was Shivram Viswanathan. There’s more to his story, too, so be sure to check it out on our website.


You can follow Shivram Viswanathan on Instagram @v_shivram or Twitter @vshivramv.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Next up, we have Raul Rothblatt, who brings us the story about the fight to memorialize the early days of activism in Brooklyn, specifically, the work of Brooklyn’s Black women activists.

Raul Rothblatt Imagine if all the protests from the last year were erased from the history books. No Black Lives Matter protests. And then go back a little further, Ocasio Cortez, all of those people gone from the history books, and then go back further, the decade before that and the decade before that: Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, all erased from the history books. All the civil rights marches gone. That would be kind of upsetting, right? My point of doing this right now, speaking these words, is we've kind of done that for the century before that, 19th century. All of those protests, all the organizations that they founded, we have nothing that we do to recognize those people. 

This is the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage, at least as far as the 19th Amendment goes. The First Black Women's Suffrage Club was here in Brooklyn. Why don't we have a monument to that? So, the people who did that, Dr. Susan Smith McKinney and Sarah Smith Garnet, they did a lot of other amazing things as well. Dr. Susan Smith McKinney was the first Black woman doctor in New York, Sarah Smith Garnet was the first Black woman principal. She taught for 37 years, 37 years of students. I mean, that is amazing, but there's nothing to recognize that. And we can do better. So this podcast is about our attempt to build a monument to the women who did something amazing.

Shawné Lee Why, hello, my name is Shawné Joy Lee and I'm the daughter of Joy Maria Monroe Lee Jones Chatel.

Raul Rothblatt Joy Monroe, a.k.a. Mama Joy, was an amazing woman and I have the pleasure to be good friends with her daughter and the rest of her family. Shawné, who's speaking here, who can tell about when Mayor Bloomberg tried to confiscate their home, 227 Duffield, as it was known, to make an underground parking lot and micro park.

Raul to Shawné So, we want to build this the statue. What's there now?  What could be there? What should the neighborhood be?

Raul Rothblatt stands with Shawné Lee, holding a sign that reads "Abolitionist Place," 
which is the name of the block of Duffield Street between Fulton and Willoughby.
(Courtesy Raul Rothblatt)

Shawné Lee I think it shouldn't be, that whole area should be a hub of, not only abolitionist history, but of the African experience and the African diaspora, because there's a lot of cultural richness there that we, as a people, don't even know about. It needs to be brought to our attention that Ida B Wells lived only a couple of blocks away from my mom's home. You know, and that it was … I mean, you know the history, it was just the site of a lot of Black churches, which was people's refuge and salvation. You know, I don't mind change, but I, I do mind when you exclude and demolish the character of a community, and totally leave no trace of what was there and what generations need to know. There's no character there, there's only coldness. We have plenty of dog parks. We don't need another one. We need something where you stop, and not just say the person's name, but have a sense of what they looked like, what their plight was, what their mission was, what their dream was, and what their accomplishments were. We need something tangiable, we need something of substance, where when we walk through, we can stop and relax and also gaze upon people who look like us who accomplished great things. 

Adwoa Adusei And, we have an exciting update, actually. Just yesterday, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated 227 Duffield Street as a landmark. That’s the home of Shawné Lee, who you just heard, and the former home of the Truesdells, who were active abolitionists. 

Krissa Corbett Cavouras That was Raul Rothblatt. You can hear the rest of his story on our website.


The music you heard in this segment was "New Destiny," composed and recorded by Raul Rothbatt and his band, Dallam-Dougou. You can read more about the fight to preserve Brooklyn's activist history here and here, and sign petitions to build the "Sisters In Freedom Monument" here and here.

Adwoa Adusei And finally, our last story on the episode comes to us from Yejin Lee. She reminded us just how many Brooklynites are paving their own paths right now, when traditional jobs and New York City lifestyles just don’t fit.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Yejin interviewed Frances Perez-Rodriguez, a Black Puerto Rican land and farm worker living in Brooklyn.

Frances Perez-Rodriguez Like, I started to feel silly sitting at the computer Tweeting, like I was just like, this isn't even real. Like, I'm on the Internet, I'm sending Tweets, I'm putting a post in this like virtual reality and there's like real sh** going on.

[protest sound]

Yejin Lee This marked the point of departure from Frances's plans to work in music or journalism, and the beginning of a journey to find meaningful focus and purpose. Books like Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Howard Zinn’s A People's History of the United States, had her thinking about something new, about the power of growing food.

Frances Perez-Rodriguez Just thinking of the main character in Parable of the Sower and how she's, you know, she has dried fruit and seeds and things and how that was priority, just feeling like, yeah, I need to learn how to dry fruit, too. I need to learn how to plant seeds, too. And I, I didn't want to just do the herbal medicine. I wanted to also grow the food and and just get reconnected to the land.

Yejin Lee So, Frances decided to leave her social media job in pursuit of something related to the land, and enrolled in Farm School NYC.

Frances Perez-Rodriguez They talked about having a foundation in social justice. So because around this time I'm learning about the police and learning about America, learning about racism and oppression. I was like, oh, this is dope. This is going to be not only farming, but it's going to be like the right way to farm. It's going to be like farming, you know, intentionally. Farming with Black and Brown folks.

Yejin Lee Frances graduated from farm school two years ago and has been living a life that looks and feels considerably different from the one she had set out for herself as a young person and young professional. Frances now spends her time doing farm work, land work, and has rediscovered her roots as an educator. She serves as the land education coordinator at Woke Foods, an Afro Caribbean plant-based food service co-op that serves organizers in the South Bronx and Washington Heights. She's also an active member of La Finca Del Sur Community Farm, where she grows produce and herbs. When asked what she loves most about what she does now, here's what she had to say.

Frances Perez-Rodriguez I really love working with teenagers and young adults on the farm, on land, period. I always think of kids putting plants in the ground or kids planting seeds and then feeling ownership over the plant and being worried about the plant and thinking about the plant. Those things bring me so much joy. There's nothing like seeing the sparkle in the youth's eyes when they're suddenly excited about being at the farm.

Yejin Lee Frances found what she was looking for. You can hear it from the sparkle in her voice. But that doesn't mean she doesn't sometimes think about what could have been if she stuck with music journalism.

Frances Perez-Rodriguez Like, sometimes I'm still sad about not being a music journalist. Like I see, especially now, I'm like, oh man, I could've just done my own thing, like, that's crazy. Instead of feeling like I needed to be a part of something, like I could have just... yeah. There's a lot of really cool, like, long form music journalism out there, but I don't know that I would have woken up in this way, for lack of a better term, or or learned about injustice and oppression had I stayed in that field. Maybe, maybe I would have still seen the Central Park Five documentary, still read the same books. But I'm grateful to be doing this work.

Yejin Lee I believe that Frances's openness was part of what led her to finding focus, meaning and purpose. She was open to listening to her experiences of loneliness as an intern, to her disillusionment with the individualistic and unhealthy culture that capitalism fosters in big industries, and to experiences of herbal healing. She was open to being changed by Octavia Butler.


Adwoa Adusei I do enjoy a good Octavia Butler book. I've just got to read Parable of the Sower, so that's really exciting. And, Yejin is planning to turn this story into a series of interviews with BIPOC folks who have decided to form their own career pathways, outside of traditional jobs. So, definitely watch out for her work.


Music in this segment came from Pete "El Conde" Rodriguez, and intro and outro music by Nico Soffiato. You can follow Yejin Lee on Instagram @Yejin_Lee or on her website.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras And, you can  listen to the rest of these incredible stories on our website: BKLYN Library [dot] org [slash] community [dash] content … or search for Hear Me Out on soundcloud. Hear Me Out was part of BKLYN Incubator, co-produced by Virginia Marshall and UnionDocs, and was generously supported with funding from The Charles H. Revson Foundation and Robin K. and Jay L. Lewis. Family Inc.

Adwoa Adusei The incredible lead instructor and curriculum designer of the library’s “Hear Me Out” program was Stephanie Foo. Guest instructors included: Dan Rosato, Marissa Schneiderman, Sachar Mattias, Ann Heppermann and Brendan Baker.

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Borrowed is brought to you by Brooklyn Public Library and is hosted by me Krissa Corbett Cavouras, and Adwoa Adusei. You can find a transcript of this episode at our website, B-K-L-Y-N Library [dot] org [slash] podcasts. 

Adwoa Adusei Borrowed is produced by Virginia Marshall and written by Virginia Marshall and me, with help from Fritzi Bodenheimer, Jennifer Proffitt, Meryl Friedman, and Robin Lester Kenton. Our music composer is Billy Libby.  

Krissa Corbett Cavouras Borrowed will be back next week with more of your Brooklyn stories.