Monday, January 14, 2013

Rant #882: Yesterday and Today

I was seven years old, a little kid with my eyes full of wonder and excitement.

We had just moved into a new housing development in Queens, brand spanking new Rochdale Village, named after the first cooperative project in England.

I didn't know anything about that at the time, all I knew is that we had moved into a place that seemed larger than anything I had ever known.

We lived in Building 9 of the project, and the other buildings were going up before my eyes. I remember building 12 being built just across from me, and eight more buildings would follow ...

As would parks, schools, shopping areas, and everything anyone would seemingly need to live a nice, almost suburban life right smack dab in the middle of one of New York City's five boroughs.

And thousands of families, like mine, moved into the development.

By 1965, all the buildings were built, all the other facilities I talked about were either built or getting there, and my family and I felt comfortable in our new neighborhood.

There were seemingly a million kids my age there, although really, there were "only" hundreds in my general age group. Most of our parents were blue collar union workers, although for many, that wasn't the case. There were plenty of school teachers, office workers and the like who lived in this development, too.

And it was racially mixed. If you know anything about the site in which the project was built, you know that Jamaica, Queens, is one of the largest ethnic neighborhoods in the U.S. It was at one time called the black Greenwich Village, and it earned that name by being the home of many artists, such as James Brown.

The development was racially mixed, too, but there was about a three to one ratio of whites to blacks during the early years of the development.

But what did I care? We just needed as many kids as we could to make up two complete teams when we played punchball.

But this was the mid to late 1960s, and the world was changing, and so was our development. There were rumblings from the beginning from people who didn't want to see the place built and with the racial makeup it was going to have. This was exacerbated when black construction workers were prohibited from working on the project.

There were many other things going on, both internally and externally, which hit at the very foundation of the project, and by 1968 or so, things went from OK to bad via the actions of one man.

When James Earl Ray murdered civil rights activist Rev. Martin Luther King, it is my opinion that the heart and soul of the development vanished, and the place was never the same.

Due to the lack of safety, the schools falling apart before our eyes, and other factors, many of the original tenants moved away between 1968 and 1976. My family moved in 1971, and the last time I was in the development was in 1976.

However, years after the downfall of the place, it continues to hold strong, pretty much blending into the surrounding area as one of the largest minority housing developments in New York City, if not the country.

And its original cooperators, both the parents and their kids, many of whom are now likely grandparents and parents of their own children, continue to stay strong, and communicate with each other via Facebook and face to face. Many of the friendships started nearly 50 years ago have endured to this day.

We all have incredible memories of the place--both positive and yes, some negative--and it has drawn us together, even when we argue like cats and dogs.

That is where I get to the point of this Rant.

Since the old neighborhood will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in December 2013--its first cooperators moved in just scant days after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated--a group of us felt that it was time to look back at the old development as we look ahead at our own lives.

I am on the committee to try to put together a reunion of all the old Rochdale Village people. I am one of five people on the committee, and we have worked out a Reunion that should be "the mother of all reunions" of Rochdale folk.

There have been other reunions--I have talked about two that I have had at my house in the past, and there have been both large and small reunions literally since the late 1970s--but the committee wants to make this one the best one possible.

Like any reunion, some people definitely want to be there, others hesitate, and others really don't want or need to see people they haven't thought about for 40 years. Some people have other things to say about the Reunion, both positive and negative, but the feedback thus far has been greatly positive.

We have a venue, a time, and a caterer. Other things will fall into place shortly.

I am really excited about this, and that is why I volunteered for this endeavor.

For me, it really is something I have wanted to do for a long time. My years spent there, between the ages of seven to 14, saw me go from a mere babe to a young teenager. I learned a lot of things while living there, saw a lot of things, and the place really has helped to shape me, to a certain degree, during my life.

I have wonderful stories of the place, some bad stories, and I am active on the several Facebook groups (and previous Delphi group) that have been created to celebrate our old neighborhood.

We are a very feisty bunch, don't often see eye to eye, but we share one thing: we grew up in Rochdale, had many of the same experiences in Rochdale, and Rochdale is part of our soul.

So it looks good for a great reunion later this year.

And I am really, really looking forward to it. It should be fun, allowing us to look back as we look ahead.

Being able to do that is the magical thing about the old neighborhood, and the reunion will give us a chance to speak with people that we haven't had a chance to speak with for decades. It will give us all a time to catch up, to compare notes and to see where we've been and where we're headed.

I guess the theme of the reunion, the unofficial theme of course, is "Yesterday and Today," and that should be enough to satisfy anybody who attends.

I personally can't wait.

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