Biggie Smalls mural to remain in Brooklyn

Update: “We used to fuss when the landlord dissed us…” – The Notorious B.I.G.

Biggie would be proud.

A single landlord was the only thing in the way of an iconic mural in his honor remaining intact in his native Brooklyn. Everyone from fans of the late rapper, to the Brooklyn Nets to the artists who first painted the piece themseleves urged Samuel Berkowitz to change his mind about destroying it so he could install windows and increase rent prices. Eventually, their pleas came through.

The mural of Biggie Smalls will remain after Berkowitz changed his mind, according to DNA Info.

“To be honest, he just didn’t know how important Biggie is to Brooklyn,” said Naoufal “Rocko” Alaoui, who painted the mural with  Scott “Zimer” Zimmerman in 2015. “He’s not a bad guy. A lot of people offered to help financially, but he said he don’t need the money, just the respect of his neighbors.”

Thank you Brooklyn! And a very very special thanks to the landlords for recognizing the importance of Biggie in this neighborhood! First we would like to thank both the Mayor's and congressman Jeffries offices for reaching out and offering all kinds of support to keep this iconic mural where it is! We also would like to thank every single local organization for coming forward with their resources . We would like to thank all the companies for offering financial support. ATLANTA has got so much love for Biggie! Thank you TI @troubleman31 for having your team contact us on a daily basis to get the updates. Special thanks to Mr. Guevara from @brooklynnets for the daily phone calls to make sure we get all the needed resources. We would like to thank all of you who have stood besides us! PLEASE if you see the landlords, THANK them for this generous gift to our community!! ! Happy Belated Birthday, King!!! 🎂@tyanna810 @cjordanwallace @therealfaithevans #spreadloveitsthebrooklynway #spreadartnyc #bedfordandquincy #20bigyears #biggiemural #biggie #biggiesmalls

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Earlier: For two years, a mural dedicated to Brooklyn’s own Biggie Smalls could be seen on a building at Bedford Ave. and Quincy St. Sadly, due to the landlord’s determination to renovate the building, the mural is likely going to be destroyed.

The landlord, Samuel Berkowitz, told DNA Info that he has every right to do so given that he could tear the building down if he really wanted to. Residents have also complained of the foot traffic that the building brings from people looking to see the artwork.

An Instagram post published by Spread Art NYC tells an account of how the mural would be damaged so that extra windows could be put in the building to increase rent prices.

A few updates on "king Of NY" Mural: we just want everyone to know that Spread Art NYC, your humble community Art organization has been working real hard to keep this mural up for the past year! Landlord always calls us and Claims that the neighbors are complaining about the mural and the crowds it attracts. About 4 months ago, he told us about the construction he will be doing which will damage the mural in the process. He will be opening Windows on the wall to increase rent profit by $500 according to them. Today Spread Art NYC offered $5000 (which we planned to gather from the community and the fans) not to open the windows. Unfortunately, that offer was declined and it was answered by a counteroffer of $1250 a month. At this point, there is nothing Spread Art NYC can do to save this mural. We will continue to serve our neighborhoods regardless!! Community is our goal, we like to give back and we thought A biggie mural at the corner of #bedfordandquincy was needed to keep the culture alive, to keep Brooklyn Alive. We always say, Brooklyn is Biggie and Biggie is Brooklyn. A landlord can NEVER change that! We want to thank everyone for the love! We promise, we GOT YOU!!!💪💯#spreadartnyc #20bigyears #bedstuy #bedfordstuyvesant #biggie #kingofny #livefrombedfordstuyvesant #spreadloveitsthebrooklynway

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It’s sad, but not entirely surprising, that a piece of art would meet its end because someone is looking to make some extra cash.

The forgotten collateral of exhuming the Black dead through art

My best friend’s brother was murdered in 2012. We shared a birthday and the Blackness for which he was killed. My mother might say the fact that we didn’t share the same fate is only by the grace of God. I wonder what kind of God saves one mother’s Black boy just to take one away from another and calls that grace.

I am reminded of my precarious Black life, seemingly hinging on a senseless God’s whims, whenever my friend’s brother’s name is evoked. You see, Trayvon was the reason #BlackLivesMatter erupted with such force it was able to stop so many from forgetting what  makes them not matter. And, like many Black folks in my generation, Trayvon Martin’s death and his murderer’s acquittal marked a vital juncture in my social awakening. If it weren’t clear before, the disregard for Martin’s life by Zimmerman, the media, and finally, the state, made plain just how long we had been walking in place when it came to the liberation of Black communities.

6-Year-Old, Vanae James-Bey, created a coloring book to explore black Indigenous cultures

Many contemporary Black people feel a disconnect when it comes to indigenous cultures despite coming from them. This is likely a direct result of history [read: slavery]. To help reestablish this connection, a 6-year-old girl named Vanae James-Bey and her mother have created a coloring book that highlights indigenous Black cultures, according to The Atlanta Black Star.

Henrietta Lacks

Oprah Winfrey brings power and emotion to ‘The Immortal Henrietta Lacks’

By Imani J. Jackson

If nothing else, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a cautionary tale conveyed cinematically.

The HBO film, which premiered Saturday, April 22nd, and is based on Rebecca Skloot’s bestselling book of the same name, presented an incrementally improving story about Lacks, an African American woman whose cells changed history.

George C. Wolfe directed the film, which presented Lacks’ life primarily through her daughter Deborah, portrayed by Oprah Winfrey and partially through Skloot, portrayed by Rose Byrne. The Immortal Life demonstrated personal power along with a story about medical misrepresentation, female friendship and race.

Initially, I was unsure whether this film would live up to expectation. Would the star-studded team project an intricate and intimate story of a Black woman whose cells innovated medical science  — including in vitro fertilization, the AIDS cocktail, the impacts of radiation and toxic substances and more? Would they render Lacks human, even though her cells continuously multiply, as if a higher power placed limitless potential in her?

At first blush, the characters seemed like stereotypes on steroids. But, as time continued, the utility of the stereotypes came to the forefront. Viewers saw cackling medical experts (read: mad scientists). Viewers saw Skloot as a harried white female reporter who was sometimes savior and sometimes sisterly. Viewers saw a religious, respectable, angry, close-knit and skeptical Black family with every reason to have each of these characteristics and then some. As the story unfolded, I was reminded that stereotypes do not fit everyone. However, they certainly fit some.

The medical experts seemed to compromise Lacks’ humanity through taking her cancerous cells without her or her family’s permission. They did not offer or award financial compensation for the human matter from which many of them profited. Instead, their actions offered a commentary on Columbusing and its scope.

More than just the feigned discovery of people or places that already have histories, Johns Hopkins Hospital staff extended their exploration into biomedical human material. These medical professionals’ cell harvesting can be likened to “ghost values”, when white settlers affixed prices to enslaved African people’s bodies after the Africans died.

When Johns Hopkins staffers said things like, “Would you patent the Sun?” in relation to stealthily stealing from Lacks, white medical professionals’ privilege and immoral practices were re-emphasized. And yet, these actions simultaneously reflected the experts’ own inhumanity.

The Immortal Life showed medical communities’ poisonous histories of negligence and malfeasance in vulnerable communities. The film referenced the American government’s unethical experiment on another group of Black people in the South, the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” In The Immortal Life, the doctors and hospital employees were portrayed in ugly ways because their actions were ugly.

Conversely, Oprah Winfrey’s performance was beautiful. She brought depth, vitality and community wisdom to Deborah, Lacks’s daughter. Winfrey conveyed inter-racial tensions, that smart people are not always formally educated, and a spiritual connection with her deceased mother and sister.

By having the world’s most respected journalist amplify a Black woman whose cells propelled science into uncharted terrain, Winfrey reminded viewers and creators to dig deeper for stories. Further, unlike those who profited from the Lacks family without their blessing, Deborah actually wanted Oprah to portray her, since Oprah could not play Henrietta. (Watch around the 6:40 minute mark).

Thematically the film portrayed female friendship. Viewers spent substantial time with Deborah and Rebecca. So much emphasis was placed here that a legitimate concern arose: whether Skloot is centered, instead of Lacks in Lacks’ story.

Skloot showed curiosity and journalistic diligence. She was also an overly eager to record reporter. Her character was crafted toward likability in that she was not moneyed. Skloot did not seem to have much beyond the ordinary capital of whiteness. The reporter’s bill-juggling, document diving and late nights positioned her as a good white person, which contrasted with the others whose careers sketchily jumped off from HeLa cells.

I understand frustration with Deborah and Rebecca’s relationship, but also understand white viewers want to see white characters deploy their whiteness and work ethics to help people of color. To that end, the relationship seemed well intentioned albeit obligatory.

One of the more relatable race dynamics played out when Skloot was irritatingly casual with the Black family she grew to know and researched alongside. But that lack of formality is truthful. Rebecca often called Black people old enough to be her parents by their first names, even when they called her “Ms. Rebecca.” For all her friendship and persistence, she still reflected privilege.

Renée Elise Goldsberry portrayed Henrietta Lacks as a stunning, family-oriented and vibrant woman. I loved that Henrietta practiced self-care through beauty routines and displayed southern hospitality to people in her home. Henrietta was shown to viewers through flashbacks as an everyday Black beauty who knew her body and her family and lived with grace.

In the end, this story was necessary. However, the presentation was not faultless. The relationship between Deborah and Rebecca could have been deeper. The remaining Lacks family members could have seemed less knee-jerk. While I would award the film generally three stars out of five, Winfrey and Goldsberry’s performances deserve five stars out of five.


Imani J. Jackson is a columnist and policy adviser with Dynamic Education Foundation. She earned a mass communication B.A., with a journalism focus and psychology minor, from Grambling State University and a J.D. from Florida A&M University College of Law. She has written for a variety of publications including the Black Youth Project, USA Today, Teen Vogue and Politic365. 

Wiki Commons

Black Writers Shine As Pulitzer Prize Winners Announced

Some would say that we’re living in a renaissance of Black art. Whether it be in music, painting or literature, black artists seem to be excelling even more than usual. This belief was further supported on Monday as Pulitzer Prize winners were announced. Out of the 21 writers awarded in New York City for their work, four of them – Colson Whitehead, Lynn Nottage, Tyehimba Jess and Hilton Als – were Black.