Umar Jordan and the Youth of Bedsty

Revised Final Audio Project for Columbia University’s Journalism School:

Visit the basketball courts next to the Marcy Housing Complex, in Bedford-Stuyvesant, New York, and you will likely find an old man named Umar Jordan working with the youth of the community. Reporter, Jack Knych, talks with Umar one summer night about Umar’s work and about Bedford-Stuyvesant as a neighborhood in flux:

3 minute Soundcloud Interview Click Here to Listen

Special thanks to Tracy Collins (here’s his website) for providing the photograph above.

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Interview Transcript:

Jack Knych 1 (Narration): At the basketball courts next to the Marcy Projects in Bedsty, New York, you will often find an old man working with the youth of the community. Today he is wearing blue jeans, a red shirt, and a gold chain necklace.

Umar Jordan 1: My name is Umar Jordan, better known as grandad, from Grandad’s Put’em Up Boxing Camp.

Jack Knych 2: And you live in Bedsty?

Umar Jordan 2: Since 1957.

Jack Knych 3: So you’ve seen Bedsty change enormously?

Umar Jordan 3: I’ve seen Bedsty go from…Jim Crowe…to Jackass. This community is divided from home-owners to people who live in the projects. People that live in the projects don’t have a…and I can say this…we don’t have enough respect for where we live. We shoot, we piss in the elevators, we don’t…we throw garbage all over the ground. So a guy like you that bought a brownstone in this neighborhood, you…I’m your enemy. So until we understand that…that the elected officials, they gonna go with the people that pay mortgage as opposed to the people that pay rent. Bedsty is gone. Bedsty-do-or-die, most people that say that don’t even know what it meant. I grew up here. Bedsty-do-or-die meant you gonna do the right thing. You couldn’t play hooky in this neighborhood back in the day because the wino on the corner would tell your mother. The wino on the corner see you cursing he would check you. Now, mothers hanging out with the kids, kids hanging out doing whatever they wanna do, principles and morals are out of the window.

Jack Knych 4: What’s the best way to maintain the culture of Bedsty?

Umar Jordan 4: You can’t do it. Because the new generation, young people, they…too much T.V. too much in the house playing X-box. They been deceived by so many people that they don’t wanna believe, ah….the person that know’s the truth. The problem with the youth in our community today is where do they go? There’s not a rollerskating rink, movie theatre, nothing for them.

My whole goal is to prepare some of these little guys, these younger guys, for the future. Listen, take them behind the school, your role models…are not a good…you know Big Chains, I wanna be Jay-Z I wanna be EEEEAAAAHHH. EEAAAHH. That’s not important. You know it’s…who are you? Who do you wanna be? You understand? So I take them on trips, like, to the morgue. Take a bunch of kids to the morgue, let them see a body laying up there and see how real is that, when you pull that trigger there’s no reset button. This is not X-box. You understand? So you have to speak in the language of the people. You at the person where they at. You can’t take them from kindergarten to college. So you gotta bend down, slow down, move real slow.

So it’s like a…a constant battle, an uphill battle, but I don’t give up. And nor do I weaken. You know, I just…just makes me stronger. Listen, I walked with Malcolm X. I had to escort Mandela when he came to Boys and Girls High. I seen Martin Luther King preach. I danced with Shirley Chisholm the day she got sworn in. I am in the history book. And it’s to give it to y’all freely. But you stuck on Jay-Z and the rappers and the Beyonce and all that other bull-job, you will never recover what Bedsty was.

I did 72 prayer vigils from 09′ to 2011. 72 prayer vigils where somebody got shot across the city. I used to bring out all the car clubs and truck clubs until I found out that that’s when the politicians come and wanna stand next to you. So I just…I just back up. I don’t do it for the…for the sight of man. I do it for the glory of God, you understand? It’s about your spiritual growth, that, when you’re put on, when….there’s two most important days, and I’m gonna end on this, of your life, is the day you born. And the day you learn your purpose. That’s it.

Jack Knych 5 (narration): Jack Knych Columbia University Radio.

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