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On the second floor of the historic stone avenue branch of the Brooklyn public library in Brownsville one can find a hidden treasure – the Brownsville Heritage House. It was the budding dream of Rosetta  “mother” Gaston (1885-1981). A community activist who devoted her life to teaching African American children about their culture and who, despite the tragic lose of her own two children, opened her arms and heart to the children of the Brownsville community. Now that dream is being kept alive by Patricia deans. The heritage house was founded in 1981 and has for years opened its doors with the goal of educating both young and old about black culture. The heritage house functions as a library/museum and is home to a variety of books by, and historical photographs of, prominent African-Americans. Art includes sculptures, graffiti by local artist, and photo collages depicting the history of Brownsville, among other things. All exhibits are set up with full descriptions of their historical significance in easy-to-understand language for the benefit of the children they serve. Mrs. deans, a New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) resident for over 40 years, and a resident association president of Glenmore plaza houses, has been running the heritage house since 1992. This knowledgeable and resourceful woman has taken on the responsibility of chairperson of the board, director, curator, grant writer, teacher, and researcher of the Brownsville heritage house. She explained how challenging it has been to keep this “beacon of hope” alive and serving the community. Despite having not-for-profit status and being an institution that focuses on educating the community. The heritage house does not count on private funding or grants to cover the costs of exhibits and lectures or the day-to-day upkeep of the space. I operate [the heritage house] the same way I’ve gone through my life; I’ve always had faith, grace and mercy. “Mrs. Deans said. “Most of this is hands-on for me. I do this myself. See, I see not the condition but the completion. It is like taking a photograph and you see it as it should be, not as is” Mrs. Deans has been know to stay up all night finishing projects and framing photographs, or preparing for lectures, which she delivers to the children, some as young as four years old, who visit heritage house. With so many challenges, keeping the doors open to the public being the biggest one, it is obvious that Mrs. Deans is answering a sort of calling. She said she began working at the heritage house as a volunteer because she realized that there was a great need in her community, which has always been overshadowed by notoriety and negativity. “A new kind of character education is necessary and that’s been my study-how to reach the population.” Brownsville was predominantly a Jewish neighborhood from the 1880’s to the 1950s, but today the majority of the residents are Caribbean, Puerto Rican and African-American. Unfortunately, this neighborhood has been known through the years for crime and a disproportionate concentration of poverty. And although community development efforts are slowly becoming evident, according to Mrs. Deans there is still a lot of work to be done. “Brownsville is a city within a city without resources. Up until recently we didn’t even have a high school,” she added. Once she came back to work in the community, Mrs. Deans said she was astonished to see the lack of growth and development that had taken place in Brownsville. “I was in culture shock. I couldn’t believe the state of disrepair in the schools.” Despite working full time and raising three children on her own, one who she lost a couple of years ago, Mrs. Deans always found time to help the less fortunate. It was during a visit to a homeless shelter on Atlantic Avenue to deliver left-over food and seeing “able-bodied men” run towards her for a scrap to eat that she realized that more had to be done in the community. Mrs. Deans said that was a life changing moment, when “the veil was lifted” and she decided to play a more active role in her community. It’s been 15 years since then and she’s still at it. A proud grandmother of 14 and great-grandmother to one, Mrs. Deans expressed she has a “vested interest in the future” and that’s why her mission is to empower the young people in her community by educating them culturally. Her motto is, each one teach one; I just don’t see people having to live like they live when education can make a difference, “she said. The exhibits and lectures at the Brownsville heritage house are free and open to the public. For more information, please call (718) 385-1111

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