‘Brick City’ Reunion Planned for July 6, 7, and 8
June 22nd 2012 · 1 Comment
Have you ever heard that expression ‘you can never go home again?’ Most people have, as it refers to the futility of trying to recapture a feeling of growing up after friends, family, and loved ones have moved away, and on to bigger and better things. However, for Tyra McKinsey and Ricky Woods, hosting the 1st ever “Brick City Reunion” that thought has never entered their minds.
The Reunion is aimed at reuniting families and residents from two locations in Historic Utica – the Washington Courts and Goldbas Apartments-nicknamed ‘Brick City,’ whose residents were disbanded and the building ultimately demolished in 2006. However, that sense of family, community, and closeness that the residents of these low-income housing complexes established, has lived on in the hearts of the residents even after moving to different locations, many leaving Utica. It is this sense of family and community that McKinsey and Woods are planning to reestablish.
“The main focus is to bring everyone together,” said Woods.
Woods elaborated that the Reunion, which is scheduled for July 6, 7 & 8, at the old apartment complex grounds near the Utica Aud., already has 200 RSVP’d guests, spanning from Florida, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, New York, Connecticut, and more. However, the event is about more than the states that former residents are coming from. It’s about reconnection and rekindling.
Woods stated that one Reunion attendee, a mother, makes it a point to go to Utica every year to revisit her past, but that her husband, who is attending the Brick City Reunion, hasn’t been in 12 years. Another woman, however, has a brother she has never met, and they are planning to meet at the Reunion for the first time.
“We like people who are excited about this and want to participate,” Woods said. “The event is about reconnecting the families. When it [Washington Courts and Goldbas Apartments] was torn down, it separated a lot of families.”
Understanding the Spirit
Seeing the spirit that the Reunion has already brought to the table, one has to wonder what it was about these two apartment complexes that harbored such love, connection, and unity among its residents.
Goldbas and Washington Courts were low-income housing, but held special meaning for its families because, if for no other reason, it was their home. However, Utica back in the 1940s and 50s was a segregated town, and Black people were not allowed to live in other places in the city. But, as Woods himself stated, people gained a togetherness at these locations that fused in them a tremendous pride to say ‘I’m from Washington Courts,’ or ‘I’m from Goldbas.’
“When Black people could move to other parts of the City that they wanted to, they didn’t want to,” Woods said.
McKinsey mirrored this sentiment.
“I’m a proud resident of Washington Courts,” she said. “It built character, to help me become the woman I am today.”
To understand this pride, one has to understand the climate, and the rapport, that the residents of these two apartment complexes had with, and shared with one another. People looked out for one another. According to Woods, unlike other notorious ‘projects’ in other cities, the older residents would look out for youths, ‘redirecting them’ if they were going in the wrong direction. It was not a high crime neighborhood.
“We want to bring children back to that idea. It takes a village to raise a child. There are a lot of children today that don’t have guidance, that don’t respect their elders. The reunion is about showing the kids, that although the apartments are knocked down, we are still here, and that we stick together. What it means to say, ‘My roots are Brick City.’
However, part of the goal of the Reunion is also aimed at repairing the hurt feelings that occurred when residents of these locations were made to find new, foreign places to live.
“There’s a lot of hurt,” Woods said.
“Our home was taken away without warning. When it was torn down, we weren’t asked.”
Woods, 33, understands this hurt, and how important it is to try and repair it. He shared a story of his grandfather, who loved to barbeque, who had a special tree that he use to rush out to, calling it his own, to prepare his delicious feast. However, it wasn’t long before everyone in the complex no longer used this tree — out of respect.
“They would know that he was hosting this event and that it was going to be excellent,” Woods said. “Cookouts might start as only immediate family, but then almost every family would come, and everyone was welcome.
“Whatever he had was for everybody. The cookouts brought them together. If someone [from Goldbas] had an argument, the cookout brought them together — it was like the argument never happened. The cookout settled that. We are hoping this reunion will take it back to that cookout feeling and get back to the love. We want to be happy when we see one another and love one another again.”
McKinsey added to this sentiment, showing that the cookouts were definitely about more than food.
“When you invite someone, it’s good, but there’s a big difference when someone FEELS welcome. You felt welcome at the people’s houses, and the cookouts. It’s different when you can feel that love. When people had cookouts, everyone knew that they were welcome. Kids looked at parents strangely if someone told them not to go. It was almost like a magnet.”
The Brick City Reunion is planned as a three-day event, but will include enough activities to give its participants a lifetime of memories.
According to McKinsey and Woods, Friday is going to be entitled “Welcome Home,” and will have a number of different activities such as: Brick City Olympics, entertainment, local bands, DJs, guest speakers, and local talent. Additional activities include: a Spades tournament, basketball games, family kickball, potato sack race, a three legged race, and more.
“If you’ve ever been to a family reunion,” Woods said, “just think of 50 families having their reunion at the same time.”
The following day, Saturday, is scheduled to be more of a family day, with more of the same activities and tournaments that went on Friday. However, according to Woods and McKinsey, there will be some adult-only after-parties. (Location to be announced).
The event is scheduled to conclude on Sunday, with a Mega Church Service, bringing people back to the foundation of what living in Brick City was all about from a biblical principle. There is also to be an awards ceremony, honoring people that participated in the Reunion’s events, but also for Brick City legends and positive role models from the past and present.
Brick City has many success stories. Woods elaborated that he has a cousin, Ernest Jones, who made it to the NFL. But many other success stories exist, ranging from all walks of life. Some examples include: Military Personnel, Mixed Martial Artists, boxers, graphic designers, artists, councilmen, musicians, barbers, chefs, hunters, fishermen, ministers, songwriters, good mothers, and good fathers.
One thing that both McKinsey and Woods agree on is that Woods, although young, was the perfect man for the vision of the Brick City Reunion.
“This reunion is bigger than us,” Woods said. “I’m not perfect; I was known as a bad kid in the projects. I’m not that guy anymore – God chose me for this vision.”
To help with that vision, McKinsey and Woods are looking for sponsors. The admission price of $50, according to McKinsey, is not to discourage attendees, but to help fund the Reunion.
“It’s not about the money,” McKinsey said. “We understand some families don’t have it. We are still working on sponsors. We want everyone to be there, not only to have a good time, but to leave with a message.”
Given the amount of pride, hard work, and passion that McKinsey, Woods, and others involved in the Brick City Reunion have put into the project, it is bound to be a success. Anyone who is interested in attending the event is urged to fill out a registration form. For more information on how to receive a form, contact Tyra McKinsey at (315) 542-6191 or Ricky Woods at (315) 219-7473, or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mark Ziobro