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A Special Place: Rob Fields, Interim President and Acting Director, Weeksville Heritage Center

Rob Fields’ job calls for him to take long walks in and out of the past while strategically managing one-and-a-half acres of landscaped beauty plus a staff of caretakers. But Mr. Fields is more than a property manager or lord of the land. On September 14, just eight short days into his new role of Interim President and Acting Director of the Weeksville Heritage Center (and on his way home after some long hours), Fields learned that Brooklyn Neighborhood Services was hosting a fundraiser with top community leaders on site. He asked board members if they needed anything and they asked him to say a few words at the opening of the event.

“How much time do I have?” he responded.

The following remarks by Mr. Fields, prepared a brief time before the start of the event, reflect the reason some leaders are hoping this scholarly history buff, Tweeter – virtual Renaissance man – will be around Weeksville, Brooklyn and nearby for a long, long, long time. Note: Mr. Fields also announced the naming of Joan Maynard Way after the Weeksville preservationist who passed at 77 in 2006. (BG)

A Special Place

Rob Fields, Interim President and Acting Director, Weeksville Heritage Center,


(spoken at Brooklyn Neighborhood Services’ 9/14/17 New Beginning “25 & 1” Reception)

Good evening everybody.

I am literally 8 days into the job so I consider it an accomplishment that I have actually figured out where they hide the staples upstairs. Seriously though, on behalf of Weeksville Heritage Center, its Board of Trustees and its staff, I wanted to welcome you all here tonight.

In fact, I want to welcome you all back because this is the 4th time you guys have been here, so welcome. As long as we are here you guys have a place to continue to celebrate your successes and accomplishments. I want to compliment the BNS board under the leadership of Jeffrey Charles Pierre and the staff under the leadership of Richard Trouth for continuing to build on the important work that was started back in the early 90s. I also want to compliment BNS on being close to completion its first year as a fully independent organization. That’s no small thanks so please give yourself a round of applause. My hats off to the honorees tonight. You would not be here had your work not risen to a certain standard so my hats off to all of you.

I want to welcome back our New York State Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright. Thank you for your ongoing support.

You know Weeksville is a special place. It’s not because of a building but rather what this place represents. It represents free black people coming together to build intentional Community like they intended to make this a community and in doing so they modeled a lot of characteristics that we can be proud of and we can carry on to this day — Self-sufficiency, self-determination, Civic engagement, political activism and Entrepreneurship.

That’s Weeksville and you are saying, “That’s great and what’s that got to do with Brooklyn Neighborhood Services?

Having access to Affordable Housing, Home Ownership means that you can focus on a few things other than “Will my family be safe and warm?”

It means you are not worrying about where your family can live but how you and your family can be a part of a neighborhood and help that become a community. Being financially literate — something that no one should really take for granted — means that you are willing to take on, and capable of taking on, the responsibility of being a homeowner.

Once you own a piece of property no one can push you out. They can’t gentrify you out. So, the original investors and families who made up Weeksville came here for that reason: To have a place of Their Own.

And they built (it). So, it is in that spirit that I wanted to applaud Brooklyn Neighborhood Services and again all of the honorees tonight. I encourage you all to — if you have not been here before — come back and see the exhibits, tour the historic houses that are from 1860, 1900 and 1930. They are sitting right there.

This is a New York City Landmark and it is on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.

This is a little jewel in the piece of Brooklyn that hopefully this time next year, so many people are going to know about Weeksville because YOU are all going to tell them what an amazing space this is. There is a couple of things coming up that I do want you to encourage checking out. Some fun things that we are doing.

On the 24th we are hosting MOCADA, 651 and Weeksville’s Soul of Brooklyn Festival.

There’s going to be films, panel discussions, live music and it is all free so come hang out with us.

On the 30th, the following Saturday, we are taking Weeksville over to Kingsborough houses and (for) a really cool interactive art installation where we are telling all of the residents of Kingsborough the reason we are here is because this is the nearest community, we are telling them to “Wear your Sunday Best. We’re going to do free portraits of either your family or yourself, and the photographer is the award-winning photographer Barron Claiborne. If you don’t know Barron you know his iconic photo of Biggie Smalls with the crown on. He’s going to be there all day taking photos and this whole project has been brought to us. by the actor Gbenga Akinnagbe. Many of you know him from The Wire. He is also very politically active artist and he has tried to spearhead programs that bring back dignity and self-awareness to the community so those are two great programs we are doing.

On October 14th and the second Saturday of every month is Weeksville Weekends and you can come out and have a tour of various activities we’ve done: Vegan food Workshop, fashion drawing workshop, oral storytelling workshops. If anybody wants to capture their family history from an oral storytelling perspective we have an oral historian on staff and he is giving a lesson about how to do that.

There will be more through our Legacy Project but the second Saturday in October, in addition to all the other cool events we are renaming the street out here Joan Maynard Way. You should all join us for that. There’s a lot more that’s going to be happening here at Weeksville. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of the rediscovery of Weeksville. We want to celebrate that in a big way and we want you all to be part of it.

I wish I could tell you all of the amazing things that are going to happen but I am kind of coming up with them right now and it is going to be an amazing, 2018. It will be even better if you all join us so please know that this place is here and know that we see ourselves as a place to convene in the neighborhood.

We often offer the space up for community-based organizations particularly on Wednesday nights and we are open late. Community-based organizations can do meetings and things like that and we also have space rentals so if you want to do fantastic events like this then you can do that too but we are here to be a part of this community, be a part of the greater New York City Cultural community and just have a great impact so again I want to welcome you here on behalf of everyone here involved with Weeksville and hey let’s get this amazing show on the road.

Thank you all.

(More on Weeksville, next week).

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