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Key School Teacher’s Road Trip to Stand Against Hate

We came from Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York. We were there to stand up against hate. Here we are outside the gate leading to Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn. (Left to Right: unidentified Yankee fan, LeRoy McCarthy, Andy Katz, Mike Kearney, and Malcolm Riddle).

Annapolis Art Teacher and Hip Hop Fan Walks the Walk in NYC

Are you paying attention?  These days it isn’t enough to idly sit back and have opinions.  It is necessary to put your weight behind your convictions and make your voice heard.  These aren’t merely clichés.  It is more important now to stay informed, to find like-minded people and, shoulder to shoulder, defend what is best about our communities.

Back in November, amid an unstable, confusing, and often frustrating presidential election, hate was being wielded as a divisive and powerful tool. When concrete messages appeared in a Brooklyn children’s playground, there was a loud call to action.  This story attempts to capture the moments we chose to get involved, and the tenor of the empowered citizens who responded with action.

My Blog from November 2016 which reverberates today:

We live in interesting times.  Recently, it seems as though the events that play out in the news, or on our computer screens, couldn’t possibly be real.  No matter on which segment of the political spectrum you reside, there are incidents and stories that challenge our beliefs and humanness.  This past weekend, in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn, New York, someone scrawled some quick, poorly drawn swastikas and the slogan ‘Go Trump’ on playground equipment at Adam Yauch Park.  While this would be unacceptable and deeply concerning in any context, the timing and the placement of these divisive sentiments sent shockwaves out into the proud communities of the borough.  These waves reverberated through local bodegas, religious sermons, political discourse, and family discussions.  It didn’t take long for the news to traverse the bridges surrounding New York, and make its way out into the larger world.

On May 3, 2013, Palmetto Park was officially renamedAdam Yauch Park. Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch was a member of the Hip-Hop trio the Beastie Boys.  He had come of age in Brooklyn, New York, and played in the very streets where the park bearing his name is located.  Yauch passed away in May of 2012, and left behind an incredible legacy of love, spirituality, and music.  I was fortunate to be there for the park’s dedication and felt a great sense of warmth and happiness when the new sign was installed.

As you might imagine, many concerned friends and family members took to email and text to share the news of the ugly new messages that appeared.  Obviously, I was upset by this turn of events. Quickly, I decided to combat each message of negative news with an uplifting reminder of the day the park was dedicated. If someone sent me a link to the angry backlash, I’d post an image from the park on that May day in 2013.  I attempted to remain positive and thoughtful in my responses.  Though I was briefly successful, it was obvious, that something more needed to be done.

My son, Ethan, the day Adam Yauch Park was dedicated (I’m in the background) – 2013

Saturday morning, the 19th of November, I woke early, intent on getting started on my trimester grade reports.  I had a lot of work to do in order to meet the Monday deadline.  Instead, I began to piece together a plan to get to Brooklyn as soon as possible. By the time I was done with my shower, I had decided to hop in the car and join the clean-up and protest/rally that was planned at 11:30 am.  I figured, if I left immediately, I’d be up there just in time.  Much to my surprise, I had misread the information regarding the event. It wouldn’t be happening until Sundayat 11:30 a.m.  I had twenty-four hours to plan, and more importantly, get my grades done.

Admittedly, I was preoccupied as I entered my grade data into my laptop.  I wanted to plan an efficient and productive trip to New York.  It occurred to me to invite some friends. It would be an opportunity to reflect, discuss, and strategize on the way up. What would we do?  Who would be there?  Was this really a good idea?  I decided to throw it out there, and I texted my friend Malcolm Riddle.  If he was up for it, and replied in the affirmative, it would make the decision to go a certainty.

“Droppin’ Science Like Galileo Dropped the Orange!” – He was ‘in’.  We’d meet in my driveway at 7:00 am on Sunday morning, drive up, and play it by ear.  It had been unseasonably warm that Saturday, and I even managed to do some yard work.  So when it was cloudy, windy, blustery, and cold on Sunday morning, we were not prepared. Malcolm arrived without a jacket, and borrowed one of mine.  I threw a few extra layers in the car, MCA Day stickers, some art, my Adam Yauch Tribute Skateboard, and an extended playlist of Hip-Hop songs; enough to get us to the moon and back.  We were ready to go.

As we drove, Sirius XM was playing a ton of Tribe tracks, in honor of Phife Dawg’s birthday.  A section of Linden Boulevard in Queens had been named for him the day before.  “Back in the days, on the Boulevard of Linden…”. Man, that’s a great tribute.

We talked politics, shared our concerns on the current empowerment of the ‘alt-right’, and wondered aloud about what would be waiting for us at the park.  We wanted to stay positive, show our support, offer to help, and come back home.

We arrived in Brooklyn at 10:00. It took exactly three hours to get to the park by car, and we circled around to find a parking spot. We found a legitimate garage over by Borough Hall, and hoofed it over to the park to check things out. It was quiet, except for a few families playing with their children on the monkey bars. The offensive messages were long gone, replaced with paper hearts, and sidewalk chalk messages of love. It would be wonderful to stand together to promote this positive defiance.

I texted Mike Kearney, creator and curator of MCA Day, to let him know we had arrived. He and Nicole Waters-Minervino were holed up in a nearby eatery.  I took a couple of pictures, and we headed over to meet them.

My Adam Yauch Tribute Deck – at Adam Yauch Park 11.20.16

We found Mike, Nicole, and Nicole’s son Carlo at a table about one hundred yards from the park, itself.  We pulled up a few chairs, and caught up on the plans for the day.  In case he was asked, Mike was crafting a speech to address the crowd. He would speak to those in attendance who were most familiar with Adam Yauch; those who wanted reassurance that his legacy would be defended and upheld.  We wordsmithed a bit, and got ready to head back over.  It was great to be reunited with the passionate people who had inspired me to find this place again.  We were going to be representing all those who were unable to attend.

As we walked back over, I changed into my emerald green Adidas firebird track jacket. This had been a gift from Mike to the crew who helped put on the MCA Day event. It’s an empowering reminder that we are part of a larger group; a family. As we rounded the bend at the end of the street, the park came back into view. It was now filled with hundreds of people. It was exhilarating and emotional to see such a genuine and formidable response to the hateful messages that had been left.  We entered the park and took in the hand-made signs, the faces of the like-minded strangers, and the welcoming vibe.

Not long after we arrived, Senator Daniel Squadron used a megaphone to welcome us all. He made clear declarations that hate speech and acts of divisiveness would not be tolerated in Brooklyn. He invited other elected officials and clergy to offer words of encouragement and direction.  Two Imams, a Rabbi, and several local politicians took turns inspiring the crowd with their notions of peace, unity, and strength.  Together we sang the Star Spangled Banner, and This Land is Your Land. I was caught up in the sights and sounds of the day, when Malcolm tapped me on the shoulder. Wordlessly, he motioned to his right. Making his way through the crowd, on his way to the center of the circle was Adam Horovitz (AdRock, former member of the Beastie Boys), and his wife Kathleen Hanna.  Once they made it to the center of the crowd, Squadron ‘passed the mic’ to our brother Adrock and he ‘shined like a light’:

AdRock Addressing the crowd at Adam Yauch Park – Brooklyn, New York – 11.20.16

AdRock making his way through the crowd

When the singing faded, and the speeches were complete, the crowd began to disperse. Those who needed more interaction and those who wanted to hold onto the vibe stuck around for pictures and introductions.  Malcolm, a former resident of Flint, Michigan, wanted to thank AdRock for including some thoughts about the city of his youth. Like a magnet, Adam attracted each member of the eager crowd. Some of the people making their way towards Horovitz included musical collaborators DJ Hurricane, Dante Ross, and ‘Money Mark’ Nishita; who had come directly from the airport, as evidenced from his rolling luggage that was trailing behind him. In a strange swirling dance, of sorts, the crowd ebbed and flowed, as AdRock posed for countless selfies and not-so-subtly looked for a quick exit.  Each time he thought he was done, someone else would grab him for a picture.  Once again, Malcolm tapped me on the shoulder, and simply said – “Ben Stiller”.  He was there with his daughter, and cheerfully approached AdRock to offer his appreciation. The pictures and discussions went on for another twenty minutes or so, when the crowd finally began to thin.  Everyone was patient, polite, and good-natured.

One of my favorite moments came when I finally caught up with ‘Money Mark’.  The gifted keyboardist of the extended Beastie Boys family of musicians, he was incredibly gracious when I asked him for a quick flick. 20161120_124658

It was finally time to head for the gate, and go our separate ways.  As we walked down Columbia Place, we noticed that AdRock and DJ Hurricane were still hanging around, slowly making their way away from the park.  We quickly caught up, and managed to thank them for coming out and getting us all together.  When we approached, fans and friends were still asking for autographs and pictures. Somebody handed AdRock a silver Sharpie marker that summarily exploded in his hand. He began looking around to find some way to clean off the marker ink. Johnny-on-the-spot, Malcolm said, “Hey, I got you.  I have some baby wipes”.  AdRock lit up. “Oh wow!  Really?  You have a kid, too? I have a three-year-old.  How old is your baby?”  “15”, Malcolm said, flatly. “Are you kidding me? I have twelve more years of this?”, lamented AdRock. It was a great moment of levity, and allowed for some much-needed laughter.

Katz, Horovitz, and Riddle (after the baby wipe incident)

We made our way to Luzzo BK Pizzeria on Atlantic Avenue and reflected on the day. Malcolm and I said our goodbyes, and walked back towards Borough Hall.  We hopped in the car, and immediately began sorting through all that had taken place.

On our drive home, we successfully archived our trip by laying down a new American Riddle podcast. It made a lot of sense to capture everything while it was fresh. I don’t want to forget any details from this special day. Thanks to all those who showed up; either at the park or on social media.  Together, we really are stronger.  – AJK

Andrew Katz is a hip-hop loving art teacher at the Key School in Annapolis.

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