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Brooklyn Best

Brooklyn, New York, has been a mecca for immigrants, artists and entrepreneurs; an incubator for innovative ideas; and a nesting-ground for the rugged and the refined throughout its more than 350-year history. The very best of Brooklyn is brought to light in this “biography of a borough,” narrated by the people who live, work and play here.

AIRED: December 14, 2017 | 0:27:27


>> Welcome to Brooklyn.

>> I love Brooklyn because it's


It's where I was born.

It's where I was raised.

I've pretty much never left.

>> Brooklyn in one word?


>> It's a beautiful place, a

place of majesty, a place of


It's a place that you really,

really can't help but fall in

love with.

>> Funding for "Brooklyn Best"

has been provided by...

>> The most remarkable thing

about Brooklyn is the more it

changes, the more it changes.

Brooklynites have a sense of

positive uplift identity with

the borough.

They feel Brooklyn is


Brooklyn's on a map.

People want to come here.

People want to see it.

People want to talk about it,

and all this represents a

borough that exudes confidence

in its self-image.


With so many people living

cheek to jowl, engagement is


When so many people come here,

everybody is new, and when

everybody is new, nobody is new.

>> I grew up in the Flatbush

area of Brooklyn.

I went to Midwood High School.

It was a predominantly Jewish


I lived next to a Chinese

restaurant, and I went to school

with Jackie Robinson's niece.

And our school song was "There

is a School in Midwood; We Call

It 99."

What kind of song is that?

Oh, let me see if I can


♪ There is school in Midwood

♪ We call it 99

♪ It stands

for all that's helpful

and everything that's fine ♪

♪ Firm based

in rock foundation ♪

Yeah, because our playground

was cement.

♪ Its colors truly shine

♪ We'll honor thee

and love thee,

hooray for 99 ♪

I haven't thought about that

song in a hundred years.

>> Brooklyn was just a great

place to grow up to live and

raise a family.

My parents worked very, very


They came from Ireland and

landed here in 1948, 1949.

I remember many times putting

those Kellogg boxes in my shoes

because they had holes in the

shoes to get to and from school.

We were a poor family growing

up, but we managed to get a good

education going to some of the

local schools there, Lady of

Angels and others, and all of my

siblings went to Lady of Angels.

And then you had 40, 50 kids on

a block, and you had fun.

>> Brooklyn has a long and

storied history with many

inventive people, creative

people, corrupt people.

It's kind of a place that's

writ large.

>> I was lucky I grew up in


I counted it fortunate.

When you live in Brooklyn, you

are in another world.

New York was out there.

You can meet someone from

Brooklyn and haven't seen them

in 40 years, and the time is

gone, and immediately the

stories develop.

Brooklyn was in my fingernails.


>> What it's meant to be a

Brooklynite has changed

constantly over the course of

this borough's history.

Before Europeans even arrived

here in the 1600s, this was the

home of Lenape tribes, who

hunted, fished, and lived here

seasonally for several thousand


By the 1630s, we begin to see

our first land purchases by the

Dutch, who established small

towns here.

They brought with them a number

of Africans, some free, most

enslaved, who played an integral

part in the building of


Slavery was big business in part

because it was such an

agricultural center.

Slavery continued to be big

business up until the 19th


In the 1830s, when the

neighborhood of Weeksville was

established, there was something

of a double standard in politics

in New York.

Any man who was white could

vote in New York state and not

have to own any property at all.

On the other hand, if you were

black, you had to own a minimum

of $250 worth of property, which

was a not insignificant sum at

the time.

This is one of the major

impetuses behind the founding of


>> Weeksville was a historic

community started basically

around the mid-1830s.

It was named for James Weeks.

And he bought property from an

African-American man, who bought

property from the Lefferts,

a large, established white

family here in Brooklyn.

And partly the reason for buying

that property was to establish a

community to get people to

purchase real estate because in

order to vote, you had to own


So one of the things that made

Weeksville a very unique

community was that it had a

large population of property


>> By the 1850s, there were

about 500 people that were

living in this area.

So it was a pretty sizable


The original boundaries for

Weeksville were Fulton Street to

the north, East New York Avenue

to the south, Troy Avenue and

Ralph Avenue.

>> It tells a story that

most people have not heard about

people of African descent here

in New York or even in America.

>> Today Weeksville is a

thriving cultural center and

historical site in the

neighborhood of Crown Heights,



>> By the time we get to the

19th century, we start to see

the population of Brooklyn being

transformed by the first major

wave of immigration in American


And by the turn of the 19th

century, Brooklyn is half


Its population continues to

follow waves, patterns of

immigration and migration into

the 20th century.

[ Drum playing ]

>> In Carroll Gardens at one

time, there were many different

street feasts, festivals.

One that still continues till

this day is the the feast

procession of our Lady of

Sorrows, or

Maria Santissima Addolorata.

And our Lady of Sorrows is the

patroness of Mola di Bari,

little town in the Puglia


In 1948 enough of the Italian

immigrants from this town had

settled in this area of

Carroll Gardens in south

Brooklyn and had an image

commissioned in the town of

Mola di Bari, which was a

replica of the statue of their

patron saint.

That statue made everyone feel

safe because they could look at

it, and not only did they see a

statue of the Virgin Mary, but

they saw the generations and the

family that they left behind.

They saw their mother.

They saw their father.

They saw the piazza in the


>> The story of Brooklyn is one

of change and engagement.

We have 71 square miles, but in

no way, shape, or form are the

people in the areas living as

though they were alone on an


You have different ethnic

groups mixing.

>> I love Brooklyn because it's

so colorful, and you have all

these cultures mixed together.

And I think that's really neat

that you can be somewhere and

see, like, Hasidic Jews and

Puerto Ricans and Mexicans and

Polish people, and they're

all working together.

>> I'm Neal Shapiro.

Here's my connection to


My mother was born there and

grew up on Millford Street.

She loved Coney Island and

Ebbets Field.

She ran her student paper at

Thomas Jefferson High School and

was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate

from Brooklyn College.

She raised her family and built

a career in Albany.

But no matter what she did or

where she went, she would say,

"You can take the girl out of

Brooklyn, but you can never take

Brooklyn out of the girl."

>> Memory is the most important

thing that keeps a community

alive and vibrant.

And as long as the Dodgers live

in the memory of the people who

lived through that era, it will

forever be a part of Brooklyn


But, you see, people need heroes

to worship that are


They need heroes to worship

that mean something to them.

And the only way in which that

can be done is if you have real,

live baseball players.

So enter the Cyclones of

Coney Island.

>> Can I have your attention,


Now pitching for the

Brooklyn Cyclones, number 23,

Hamilton Bennett!

>> I came from a small town

called Tega Cay, South Carolina.

I was playing summer ball, and I

was actually pitching in a game,

and after the game I looked at

my phone and had a bunch of text

messages from my college


Checked voicemail and sure

enough a scout called me and

said, "Hey, the Mets selected

you in the 29th round."

Never been to New York in my


The only thing I know from

New York is movies.

It's absolutely beautiful.

I wouldn't change one thing.

>> I was born and raised in

the Lower East Side.

It was kind of rough, you know.

We learned to deal with that.

And, you know, I did that until

I got old enough to decide that

I wanted to leave, and then

Brooklyn became my second home.

I currently train two world

champions, two sisters, Cindy

and Amanda Serrano.

>> Both of us were born in

Carolina, Puerto Rico.

>> We were raised in

Bushwick, Brooklyn, which is

supposed to be known as a tough


Just knowing that we come from

Bushwick, we probably in the

ring, we act a little more

tough, like, "Yeah, we from

Bushwick in Brooklyn.

Yeah, you deal with that."


>> Brooklyn has among the

largest concentration of urban

community gardens.

These community gardens provide

work, hope, and inspiration to

the residents.

>> My name's Olufemi Sonubi.

I'm a resident of east New York

and an avid composter.

I have a lot of friends that

work out a lot, and we have

protein drinks after our


I noticed we were collecting a

lot of protein powder


I drilled some holes in the top

of one and created a compost bin

for my home.

Then I came up with the idea to

pass them out here at east

New York farmers' market just so

I can get the community into

composting a lot more.

I collected coffee grounds

every day from, like, a coffee

kiosk in my school.

And on Saturdays I would bring

it to the community gardens.

It's really important because

those coffee grounds would've

just been thrown in the garbage,

and why, when we grow fruit


And the community eats off of

this food.

So, you know, it's pretty cool.

I think so.

>> My name is Grace Henry.

We're on the 300 block between

Clarendon and Avenue D on

East 25th Street --

Flatbush neighborhood.

We just won the Greenest Block

in Brooklyn competition for


>> That's my favorite of all --

crepe myrtle.

>> Oh, it's a crepe myrtle.

In the island it's called a

June Rose.

>> The Greenest Block in

Brooklyn competition is a

friendly block-by-block greening

competition, and it's part of

the community horticulture

program of Brooklyn Botanic


>> Absolutely friendly.

It's one of those competitions

that just brings joy and eye


>> Brooklyn Botanic Garden is

looking for green -- plants,

flowers, excellent horticulture.

The biggest component that I

think is very special about this

contest is we're looking for

community participation.

We're looking for blocks that

are greening together.

>> When you work together,

you can accomplish anything.

If my neighbors go away, they

don't have to worry if their

garden is gonna suffer 'cause

each neighbor looks out for each


It's green. It's lush.

It's vibrant. It's bodacious.

It's excited.

It's colorful.

And that's our neighborhood.

>> My dad decided he wanted to

keep a store in Bensonhurst on

24th Avenue and 86th street.

It was just a grocery store, an

Italian grocery store.

They had all the Italian food.

And we actually were all

brought up into that store.

We all kind of worked there.

I've been working since I'm

eight years old.

Don't tell anybody.

It was more of a family


It wasn't work.

It was being there with my dad

and my uncle and my cousins and

my siblings, as well.

It was that home away from


>> This is opening up the gates

of heaven.


>> My name is George Esposito.

I'm third generation of famous

Esposito's pork store in

Carroll Gardens, which used to

be Red Hook, which is now

Carroll Gardens.

The salted ones are over there.

My grandfather came from Italy,

Naples in 1922.

And he opened up the store on

Columbia Street, which is a few

blocks away from here.

This is Grandpa Esposito.

My grandfather started it, and

then my dad took it over.

Actually, my dad used to have

workers pick me up from school,

and I used to be playing fist

ball and stoop ball and stuff

after school, and I didn't want

to go to the store.

I wanted to stay and play.

But, you know, these guys that

pick me up, they brought me to

the store, and I started helping

with the littlest things, like

selling garlic.

You know, whatever little things

that I could have done is

what I did.


>> One of the great things

about living in a place like

Brooklyn is people talk about

living in the neighborhood as

though it were on my block.

It's not their block.

They don't own the block.

But they feel they own the


And so when you talk really

about Brooklyn culture, the

difference between living in a

community in Nebraska is that

you can't go 10 blocks and be in

another community.

Here you can.

>> The building that I grew up

in, my mom and dad and myself

lived on one floor.

My grandfather and grandmother

lived next door on the top


My uncle and his children lived

on the first floor.

My great aunt lived on the

first floor of the one next door

with my grandparents, and my

cousin lived next door to that.

So, it was definitely a family

neighborhood, and that was not

just true of my family but of

all the families.

So, when I went to school, not

only was I in class with

Joe Russo, but I was in class

with his cousin Lou Vadissio and

his cousin Margie.

As children you don't

understand what that all means

and how unique it is in a big

city like New York.

But today I definitely look

back on it with great fondness

and longing, as well, to be


>> Brooklyn remains authentic

enough with the brownstone

neighborhoods of Cobble Hill, of

Boerum Hill, of Carroll Gardens.

>> Hello. How are you?

I came here purely by accident.

I was looking to buy a house,

and I had described to a broker

exactly what I wanted, and he

said to me, "I have the house

for you.

It's in Bedford-Stuyvesant."

So, that is how I wound up in

Bed-Stuy, and it has been just a

great community of friends and


And I'll see you tomorrow.

>> Okay, great.

>> I am one of the founders

of the Bedford-Stuyvesant

Society for Historic


This movement is more about, it

is a combination of saving the

historic character of the

neighborhood but also saving the

sense of place of the


Maintaining these buildings for

future generations is important

so they understand history, they

understand how communities

develop in New York City.

If you erase all of these

buildings, you do not see how

this community developed.


>> Brooklyn Navy Yard is

symbolic of Brooklyn today.

It's a phoenix.

It has had a renaissance.

The navy yard was founded in


And after World War II, it sort

of went into retirement.

And it's a vast campus with all

these buildings and old navy


Picturesque enough to be a

stage set, but abandoned.

So, maybe 10 or 15 years ago,

plans began to be formulated to

transform the Brooklyn Navy


And it's really, really


And there's cultural life there

and views of Manhattan you can't

get anywhere else.

>> One of the remarkable things

about Brooklyn is that it's

constantly evolving.

You go to a place, and then it's

no longer there, only to be

replaced by something more


You go to a neighborhood that

didn't have a single kayak in

Greenpoint, and then, three

weeks later, there are people

kayaking there.

Now let's also consider that

the Gowanus Canal, which runs

along the eastern part of

Carroll Gardens, is undergoing

very, very rapid change.


>> New Yorkers are so

disconnected to their shoreline.

You ask many people in Brooklyn

if they live on an island.

Most will say no.

Most people in this neighborhood

don't think they live in a

waterfront community.

That's changing because people

come down to the shoreline now,

you know, to relax after a hard

day's work or even to hang out

with a bunch of friends.


>> One mural is not going to

change Brownsville.

It's the impulse behind

wanting to use creativity to

positively affect the community

that will change Brownsville.


>> At the beginning, we really

wanted to understand what we

were dealing with and the way we

wanted to approach it.

But we're collaborating with

Brownsville's community center.

I can honestly see the social

change that's really going on.

>> I have to say it's better

now then when I grew up because

it is more family-oriented.

So I did more with my son as a

child than my mom did with me in

Brooklyn because the parks are

cleaner, the neighborhoods are

safer, the trains are better.

>> People used to live in this

neighborhood to be close to the


Now people live in the

East Village to be close to this


>> Having lived here, I wouldn't

want to live in Manhattan.

I like coming across the


There's more space.

There's more air.

And I prefer hanging out here.

>> New York has 55 million

tourists who come to see it.

And increasingly these tourists

are venturing beyond Manhattan,

and when they venture beyond

Manhattan, the next place they

go to is Brooklyn.

>> The festival really started

because we have a phenomenal

collection of flowering Japanese

cherry trees.

We have 220 trees here at the

garden, and it's been a way for

people that don't have access to

travel to Japan to really just

get a very beautiful, peaceful

moment, and it's this really

unifying moment that for me is

really, really special.

>> There are so many things that

people come to Brooklyn for.

And one of them is of course

Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

>> Prospect Park on Sundays is

the best time to come.

Prospect Park, they have

drummers, they have dancers and

come down on Sunday afternoon.

You could just have fun all

night long.


>> I'm Dave Herman, founder of

the City Reliquary Museum, which

was founded in 2002.

It originally began as a small

window display as a way to sort

of prompt interaction among the

people of the neighborhood, some

of which were newcomers or new

arrivals, and some of which had

been around for their whole


We have all kinds of things,

from Statue of Liberty figurines

to seltzer bottles and exhibits

from the World's Fairs.

A lot of the things are what

some people may see as

commonplace, but it has a way to

tell a much deeper story.

All of these sort of tell a

lot about the local history and

the different population that

lived in the neighborhood and

how they change from generation

to generation.

>> As cities grow, so, too, do

the number of people who die


And Green-Wood Cemetery,

established in 1838, represents


>> There's nothing like

Green-Wood Cemetery that's been

established anywhere in the


It is actually unique,

fascinating, and endlessly


>> Green-Wood Cemetery is in the

heart of urban Brooklyn --

478 acres of rolling hills in

Sunset Park.

The cemetery in its earliest

years really was an open house.

And so the cemetery really

became a great tourist

attraction, one of the greatest

tourist attractions in America.

We have people who wrote from

Europe and said, "Someday I'd

like to visit America and see

Niagara Falls and see Green-Wood


There are people who, "Ooh,

a cemetery?"

And then they'll come in here on

a tour and say, "Wow, this was


Who knew?"


>> Coney Island -- the world's

greatest fun frolic, with its

beach miles long, all peppered

with people, the place where

merriment is king.

Coney Island's greatest eating

invention is the frankfurter.


It's Coney Island caviar!


>> Everybody comes to

Coney Island to have a good


They come to the Cyclone.

They want to be whipped around.

We're going to give it to them.

I've never been on this ride in

my life.

I never rode it.

I climb it.

I used to climb it.

I don't do that no more, but I

covered every inch of this ride.

Never took a ride.

I just don't like drops.

[ All screaming ]


>> I think the dynamic of

Brooklyn will always be there.

And there's just something

different in the water that

makes you very proud to be from


It's got its own brand, you


>> Brooklyn today is as global

a brand as Paris, as London.

What's really, really most

fascinating about Brooklyn is

that a place that once started

out as a separate city has again

become a separate city but in

the most positive and unique


>> I just love being a part of


I love to see the city on fire.

But most of all the way


Brooklyn is on fire.

>> I am so glad that Brooklyn

is revitalized now.

People can't get into Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is in.

Brooklyn is hip.

Brooklyn has got a basketball


You never forget Brooklyn.

>> Funding for "Brooklyn Best"

was provided by...

>> ♪ And everything looks

so much better than it does

in the real world, baby ♪

>> ♪ Coney Island mojo

>> ♪ I conjure up the spirits

of dreamland ♪

>> ♪ Ooh-ooh-ooh

>> ♪ Steeplechase

and Luna Park ♪

♪ They'll carry us away

from this day-to-day madness

when they come out after dark ♪

♪ I've been working

on my Coney Island mojo ♪

♪ You just got to believe

that it's true ♪

♪ Coney Island mojo


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