St Marks Block Association Meeting
The March 16th Meeting of the St. Marks Block Association
As someone sitting on the By-Laws Committee of the Lincoln Civic Block Association, I have developed an interest in how other block associations operate. Thus I was delighted to have Robyn Berland, the President of the Friends of Brower Park introduce me to Shirley Mondesir, who is President of the St. Marks Avenue Independent Block Association, Inc. which has the motto, “Striving toward the good and welfare of our community.” We encountered each other at the NAIA Photo Show at The Black Lady Theatre. Shirley immediately invited me to attend the next meeting of the Association on March 16 at the Brooklyn Children's Museum at 10:45am. The meeting time was an interesting difference. When I told Shirley the LCBA meets at 7pm on Thursdays, she was surprised. “How do parents with young children manage that?” And I had to answer that very often they don't. I immediately thought of five families that don't usually attend.
The St. Marks Association meets in the Mezzanine of the Museum and they sit around a long table. I counted fourteen people at the meeting with a few stragglers. The size of the meeting is smaller than LCBA, and I found out the total membership is around forty. I discovered this because the association has a list of names and one signs against one's name when one comes in. I also discovered that one becomes a member when one pays one's dues, which are $40 for a household per year. Once one pays one's dues and has one's name on the sign-in sheet, one has full rights – one votes and one can run for office, of which there are four – President, Vice President, Secretary and Treasurer. I whispered to my neighbor Kate that LCBA has a chaplain who says a prayer at the opening and close of the meeting. She was surprised and asked, “Does that help?” I had to reply, “Not really.” There is often a lot of angry shouting at the meetings. And here was another difference, despite several disagreements, the meeting was always civil. People often deferred to their neighbors and built consensus. Shirley only had to intervene when the meeting turned into neighborly chatting. She keeps a little hammer to bang on the table to refocus members. The most aggressive thing that was said was by Nubiaa who began a sentence, “As usual, as the only realist here, I have to say....” No one took offense and they ended up agreeing with what she said, that asking a food truck vendor to pay $20 to come to the Block Fair on a Saturday would not work.
The agenda was a familiar one and Shirley began by giving some history relevant to the upcoming Women's Month, mentioning figures from the 19th Century up to Billie Holliday. I was introduced as a guest and said a few words about my interest, the minutes were read and there was a Treasurer's Report. That revealed another major difference. LCBA has about $40,000 in the bank, but St. Marks has $856 in their account and nothing equivalent to the building at 284 New York Avenue that LCBA owns.
The meeting worked its way through the rest of the agenda that was mostly about a Block Fair to be held May 4th. Various people volunteered to do various things. Helena, The Treasurer, said she would provide a red carpet for a children's event. The biggest issue was food. Derek said that food would be the main attraction and that no one would be willing to buy it. He offered to finance a simple menu of hot dogs and other items. Adrian and Nubiaa agreed to buy the food and there was debate about how many would come. Everyone finally settled on about 200-300. Shirley had the idea of getting Amira Karaoud, who took photographs at the NAIA Photo Show, to come take pictures of the children in their costumes. Finally, all the details of the Fair were settled.
At the end of the meeting Robyn Berland gave an account of events coming up with Friends of Brower Park. Then Shirley went over some of what she had heard at the recent meeting of Community Board 8. She mentioned Diana Richardson's Civic Minded meeting on March 23 and the upcoming vote on Participatory Budgeting in Robert Cornegy's District 36 and Laurie Cumbo's District 35. I spoke about the Trees Proposal that NAIA is promoting.
The meeting adjourned a bit over an hour after it began, another remarkable thing compared to Lincoln Place where meetings drag on for two hours or more.
It is a great pleasure to travel to foreign countries because one can see different ways of doing things – cafe au lait in the morning, a siesta mid-day, tea at four in the afternoon. So is it a pleasure, on a different scale, to see another Block Association at work – perhaps smaller and less wealthy but also far more respectful and friendly in its attitude. Not once at St. Marks did I hear one member make a personal attack on another. That was indeed a pleasure.
– John DeWind