Marcy Houses Oral History: Sheila Adams

I was born in the Marcy Houses. My mother lived here from the fifties until 2015. I have lived here for over twenty-four years and raised three children here, and all three are educated and doing well so far. Many people have labeled the idea of the projects as being a bad place to live. In the past the Marcy was a place where everyone looked out for one another’s children. There was a high level of respect that was displayed towards the elders and adults in the projects. It was a village and some people worked, and some were domestic workers. They also watched their neighbors’ children.

We all knew one another and had compassion for one another. There was unity and strength seen clearly in the Black family living in public housing. The idea that we lived in the projects did not make us less than others who had residence in other places, and it did not interpret our future outcome. We faced the same challenges that people in the suburbs faced. Except we were more monitored due to the negative external factors that surrounded our environment. However, we all had one another. We would fight with one another and then be friends again. We had church and faith in God.

I work educating other people’s children. When I render that service it does not matter where I live. All that matters is that their child learned that academic lesson. It does not make me less of a person. Many people are stigmatized by the ideas associated with the people in the projects. There are some very good people that live in the projects, and some very good people that come out of the projects. The Marcy has a history and in the beginning there were multicultural families that resided there. There were rules mandated by management and families cooperated. Mothers concerned themselves with other neighbors’ children. The parents utilized their skills and created gardens as a form of therapy and added beautification to the community. Children played games and ran races and had center parties. The Marcy Community Center offered recreational programs and trips to the youth. We had a place to go, and we communicated with each other. The police officers were known by name, and we had positive relationships for the most part with law enforcement.

As time moved forward, the standards and parental leadership in generations began to change for various reasons, and the socioeconomic factors impacted our community on another level. The behaviors in people began to change. The new generation became more interested in materialistic goods and modern technology. They seem more interested in getting their needs met rather than maintaining morals and values. As drugs and violence began to grow, more policing was put in place. Many individuals were faced with charges or prison, especially the Black and Hispanic males. There was no real rehabilitation performed, because those individuals could not return to their family environment by federal guidelines, and they could not get a good job with a record. Most of them come out with some type of condition due to prison conditions. This leaves the individual to fend for themselves. They are angry and lack opportunities. Many have business skills and are hands-on learners, but some may conceal their inabilities or their lack by substituting it with what they are good at. This also can play a role in the negative behaviors that we hear about today in the projects. There is a demand for programs in literacy, jobs, the arts, the stock market and skills in general.

When you scrutinize the making of the project you learn it was a part of the New Deal made for veterans and low income people, working and non-working people who needed a place to live, until they could do better and transition out. It was surrounded by stores, churches, fast food, liquor stores, transportation, violence and drugs. The issues that are hardly ever addressed are the drugs and guns that enter the country at the ports by global networking and people of power, which flows down into the inner city communities. The idea of the negative usage of the word projects or public housing is a term associated with ghetto, or slums, but in all reality it is just a group of buildings forming a community. It is the residents’ actions that make others also form their opinion of what it is actually like to live there, along with society’s views about the term public housing.

What many people do not know is the projects are very expensive to live in, if you work and make a good salary. The cost of living is high now and a one or two bedroom apartment will cost you way over a thousand dollars. All someone really has to do is lose their job, and they could easily step into homelessness. You see, Marcy Houses is in a prime location and everything around it is being transformed. Many are not going to be able to live in that area after a while, because it is going to be too expensive. The demographics are changing and gentrification is in the making. The government housing programs, laws, and private developers have a great deal to do with reshaping the lives of people. It is all business and profit. There need to be more programs centered on affordable house buying opportunities. People do not want to only rent, but people want to own.

So you see, I will not say that it has been all good living in the Marcy Houses, but I can’t say it has been all negative. One thing I can say is, “If you lived in the projects long enough you are well known by your name.” Believe it or not there will be many that look back on their childhood experiences living in the Marcy Projects and say, “We had fun.” We made it. God is Good. We know how to operate under pressure, and we know it is the work of our own hands that helps shape us. Each individual must to some degree be held accountable for their actions and their future endeavors if they want to experience some type of victory.

Friends of Marcy Houses
148 Columbia Heights, Garden Apt.
Brooklyn, NY 11201

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Dominique Bravo

Dominique Bravo was born in Los Angeles to parents from Peru. Dominique is an attorney and advocate for social and racial justice with three decades of counseling and representing community and arts organizations.  


Dominique currently serves as the Associate Executive Director of the Center on Race, Law and Justice at Fordham Law School.  Dominique previously served as General Counsel of the Roosevelt Institute, a think tank and college campus network that seeks to carry forward the legacy and values of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.  She founded and directed Pathways to Apprenticeship, a non-profit workforce development agency that assists low-income people — and in particular, the formerly incarcerated — to access apprenticeship opportunities in the union construction industry. She previously served as General Counsel to the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.  


In addition to her work with Marcy Houses, Dominique also currently serves as pro bono counsel for children seeking asylum with the Safe Passage Project, a non-profit legal clinic.  Dominique also serves as President of the board of American Oversight, a nonpartisan, nonprofit ethics watchdog law firm in Washington D.C., that focuses on litigation involving the Freedom of Information Act. She is also a member of the board of St Ann’s Warehouse, a performing arts institution in Brooklyn, New York.  Dominique is also President and General Counsel of Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance, a dance and drumming studio and performance space she co-founded in Brooklyn.  


Dominique previously served on a number of other boards of directors for other social service and arts organizations throughout New York City and was a member of Community Board 6 in Brooklyn.  She received her J.D. from Northeastern School of Law and her B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley.  Dominique has lived in Brooklyn for the past thirty years, and she and her husband, Eric Sloan, have raised three children in Brooklyn.