Brooklyn. This One’s For The Natives.
When I woke up this morning and looked at my Facebook Newsfeed, I began to notice all the posts about Jay at the Barclay’s Center last night. I couldn’t help but get excited for the show tonight. Yes, it’s well known how many times I have seen Jay-Z in concert, but this excitement was about more than that. This is about Brooklyn. Not about the Brooklyn that
“they” know or heard about, but about the BROOKLYN that WE know and made! It’s not about the Brooklyn that they saw in a movie or reality show or read about in a newspaper, book or magazine. It’s not about the transplants from the South, West or Midwest, the Hipsters in their sister’s skinny jeans and ugly leftover animal print shirts or even the people who moved here from other parts of New York who think they know. This is about The Natives, the ones who were born here, grew up here and were made here.
As many of you know, for 5 months a year, I live in East Hampton to run my restaurant and lounge. Because of the distance and in-season traffic, I rarely get back to my family and friends in Brooklyn during those months. There is a popular saying, “You can take the kid out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of the kid.” I guess I’m one of the people that saying refers to. I’m very proud of where I’m from. That is a common trait amongst native Brooklynites. Often I’m mocked about it, in fun of course. I’ll get asked, “Fuccio, what’s so good about Brooklyn?” or “What makes Brooklyn the center of the universe.” Even better, you’ll hear the statement, “Here we go with Brooklyn, you think everything that’s the best is from there.” I never really could answer the questions or comments. I just know what my heart, mind and experiences have told me. The truth is that you have to be from here, and live the Brooklyn way, to understand why we feel the way we do about where we’re from.
It is said that one of every seven Americans can trace family roots back to Brooklyn. While not the largest borough in terms of land mass, Brooklyn is the most populated with 30% of NYC’s residents living here. In New York, 13% of the entire state’s population lives here. In fact, if it were a city on its own, Brooklyn would be the 4th most populated state in the United States. The numbers are impressive, but it’s not about the numbers.
While many places proudly proclaim their well-known natives, I’m not sure any place has produced more stand out names than Brooklyn. Since this was all sparked by the concert and the opening of the Barclay’s Center, let’s start with rappers. We all know that Brooklyn brought the world The Beastie Boys, Big Daddy Kane, Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls, Mos Def, Fabolous, Busta and Talib Kweli, but there are some that people don’t realize are from here. Sorry Queens, but Nas was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Sorry Bronx, but KRS-One was born in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Oh, and Staten Island, most of the Wu Tang, including ODB, GZA, RZA, U-God and Raekwon were born in BK. I just wanted to set the records straight. Brooklyn didn’t start or end with rappers. Singers like Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Pat Benatar, Barry Manilow, Maxwell and Debbie Gibson are from here. We love sports in Brooklyn. Michael Jordan, Sandy Koufax, Mike Tyson, Phil Rizzuto, Stephon Marbury and Vinny Testaverde are all native Brooklynites. It’s no wonder that some of the greatest coaches in history like Vince Lombardi, Larry Brown, Joe Paterno, Joe Torre and Lenny Wilkens are from here. While we are on sports, let’s not forget legendary broadcasters Howard Cossell and Marty Glickman. Brooklyn is no stranger to the literary world with natives like Bernard Malamud, Arthur Miller and Walt Whitman. Brooklynites have also dominated the small and big screens with actors like Mary Tyler Moore, Woody Allen, Tony Danza, Alyssa Milano(still love her), Mel Brooks, Richard Dreyfuss, Mickey Rooney, Edie Falco, and Harvey Keitel. That’s just to name a few of my favorites from here. Brooklyn can be the funniest place on earth, which probably explains why we are the comedy center of the world with natives that include comedians like Jackie Gleason, Richard Lewis, Buddy Hackett, Joan Rivers, Pat Cooper, Larry David, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld and Jerry Stiller. Since we are on the topic of entertainment, we can’t forget Brooklynites like playwright Neil Simon, composer George Gershwin, Illusionist David Blaine or talk show host Larry King. Since Brooklyn can be a very opinionated place, it is no shock that, agree with them or not, politicians Rudy Giuliani, Al D’Amato, Barbara Boxer, Charles Schumer, James Florio, Seth Low, Ruth Ginsberg and Timothy Geithner are all from Brooklyn. We have produced holders of the law like Judge Judy Sheindlin and, those that didn’t care for law so much like infamous gangsters like Al Capone, Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel. Brooklyn people try to stay in shape as exemplified by local born fitness pioneer Lucille Roberts and champion body builder Lou Ferrigno. Legendary Studio 54 Club Owner, Steve Rubell, showed the world how to party Brooklyn-style. Our own Howard Schultz created Starbucks to bring all the different types of coffee found in Brooklyn to the rest of the country. Of course, Brooklyn has always been a place where intelligence flourished. Native sons like economist Robert Solow and biologist George Wald won Nobel Prizes as proof. While I’m at it, even one of the most famous cartoon characters in history, Bugs Bunny, claims to have been born under Ebbets Field. The truth is that Brooklyn has produced too many notable people to name, yet that’s not the only proof behind Brooklyn’s greatness.
Of course there is the history and prominent places that also add to what makes Brooklyn great. There’s amazing architectural feats found in the many bridges, places of worship, commercial buildings and homes. It has its moments noted in the history books like the Battle of Brooklyn, which was the first major battle of the American Revolution. There are the scenic attractions like The Brooklyn Botanic Gardens, Prospect Park and Greenwood Cemetery, whose grounds were the inspiration behind the building of Central Park in Manhattan. There are the important entertainment and cultural institutions as the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Brooklyn Museum. As amazing as those things are, there’s so much to this place than any one of those things.
While all of the above listed facts add to the intrigue and romance with Brooklyn, they aren’t why we, who are native to the borough, always proclaim its reverence. The real reason we love Brooklyn is because of the people. Whether you are one of the Italians, Irish, Germans, Russians, Arabs, Asians, Jews, Latinos, from one of the islands or wherever, Brooklyn has always been the greatest example of America’s Melting Pot. When the Dutch first settled here in the 1600’s, they wrote the motto which translates to “Unity Builds Strength,” which to this date is written on the borough’s flag and seal. That motto couldn’t fit better. This is a place where family, loyalty, honor, and respect are the foundation to its people. I’m not sure if the newbie transplants know that, but I can bet that, whatever brought them here came from those entrenched principles. It’s kind of ironic. When you are born and raised here, you take those principles for granted. You think they are the norm. I can tell you from personal experience, they are not the norm. In fact, sometimes to our detriment, when you leave here, that thinking can get you in trouble. At the very least, it can lead you to culture shot as I could attest to myself.
As Native Brooklynites, we cannot get lost in what the Barclay’s Center or Major League sports returning to our borough really means. As many of us have been told, but few of us experienced, Brooklyn was once the proud home to the Brooklyn Dodgers since the day they were born as a major league baseball team in 1884. The Dodgers are the franchise that, right here in Brooklyn, made history by making Jackie Robinson the first African American to play in American professional sports. The Dodgers were the single thing that Brooklynites were most proud of in that era. That was until Walter O’Malley robbed the borough of its treasure and transplanted the team to LA in 1957. When the Nets begin playing here on November 1st, it will be over 55 years since a Major League sports franchise has called Brooklyn home. This is a monumental day for Brooklyn and its people.
A few years ago, I was listening to the Mike and the Mad Dog show, when they were still together on the WFAN Sports Radio Station. On that show, a couple of people who don’t have a clue about Brooklyn or its people, the hosts, Mike and Chris, were disparaging and ripping apart the idea of the Nets moving to Brooklyn. It angered me listening. I don’t know a group of people who have as much pride about where they live as the people who live in Brooklyn. From the conception of the idea, I knew that, if it became reality, we would support the team and any stadium built would thrive here. It was a long process, but eventually it got done. Sure there are politics behind it and, sure, there were some people displaced and forced to do things they didn’t want to, and of course, there will always be critics, but this is a moment in history for this borough and its people. There is no doubt that this was all the creation of a small circle of billionaires. I guess some people frown upon successful people and I understand some of the views of those critics, but this isn’t about politics to me. This is about the progress of Brooklyn, not only in material, but in image. The Brooklyn Brand might be the strongest brand of any city in the world right now. As a people, the people who have always known about Brooklyn’s
greatness, we should revel in it.
To me, the Barclay’s Center will be a new trophy that we add to Brooklyn’s Trophy Case. I hope it will be as successful as I know it can be. I hope it will be a positive symbol of what Brooklyn is really about, Greatness! For too many years, Brooklyn’s image has been prostituted in dumb reality shows, exaggerated movies and TV shows. I’m hoping that, beginning last night, with Jay’s first words, this brings nothing but positivity to a borough that is often misunderstood and not nearly recognized enough for its Greatness. BROOKLYN. ALL DAY. EVERY DAY.