BRC is one of our city’s most effective providers of housing and services to vulnerable New Yorkers experiencing homelessness. For the last couple of years, we have been moving forward with plans to purchase a site at 3966 Tenth Avenue, currently a site of an auto repair shop, to build and then operate a high-quality shelter for people experiencing homelessness. Very recently, we became aware of the site’s history as a cemetery for enslaved people that also adjoined a ceremonial site used by the Lenape people. In 1903, as the neighborhood was being developed, the burial ground was destroyed and the remains of those who had been buried there were dishonored and discarded, and there is currently no recognition of any of the site’s history in the immediate area or acknowledgment of those who were previously buried there.
Learning the history of this site, BRC stopped development activity to reflect and assess how to proceed. A horrible injustice happened there, and we want to see justice served; we recognize from our own work that the traumas of homelessness and impoverishment are intertwined with the ongoing effects of centuries of racist oppression and erasure of BIPOC communities.
We started our assessment – and will continue – by listening: seeking the wisdom and input of various stakeholders. This includes the descendants of enslaved and indigenous peoples, Inwood’s community residents and leaders, as well as historians, advocates, and BRC staff and clients. We convened a series of facilitated listening sessions including staff town halls held in December, and 3 community conversations in January and February co-sponsored by the Office of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum.
We have also created the Advisory Group for the Inwood Sacred Site (AGISS). The AGISS was formed to provide recommendations to BRC regarding how best to develop the site in a way that appropriately honors the African and Indigenous peoples who once lived and honored the land. AGISS is comprised of descendants of African and Indigenous peoples, Inwood’s community residents and leaders, historians, advocates, BRC staff and clients and is chaired by Meredith Horsford, Executive Director of the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum.
To assist us in this process, BRC has engaged Peggy King-Jorde , an expert who was the driving force behind the establishment of the African Burial Ground National Monument that exists today in lower Manhattan. We are also working with La-Verna Fountain, Founder of Meaningful Communications Matter, LLC, a professional facilitator experienced in leading Sacred Listening Sessions.