Rent Party For Weeksville Heritage Center’s Hunterfly Road Houses

CROWN HEIGHTS – Thanksgiving celebrations haven’t yet stretched to match the twelve days of Christmas, but in the last decade the holiday has been headed in that direction. First, with “doorbuster” sales designed to lure shoppers early on the morning after the Thursday feasting, retailers declared a Black Friday to extend the seasonal observance. Next, online merchants created Cyber Monday to welcome consumers back home and onto the internet to continue their holiday spending. In 2012, we saw the birth of #Giving Tuesday, a global effort to encourage philanthropy and charitable giving.

Photo from December 2017 pop-up shop courtesy of Weeksville Heritage Center

Like Cyber Monday, #Giving Tuesday was designed as an online event leveraging social media to drive donations, but this year the Weeksville Heritage Center brings the celebration off the internet with a nod to a very traditional model for community fundraising—the rent party.

Weeksville’s #Giving Tuesday Rent Party, scheduled for November 27 from 7pm to 10pm, is one of three events in the coming weeks dedicated to raising money for the Hunterfly Road Houses, the historic dwellings that are the foundation of the Center’s mission “to document, preserve and interpret the history of free African American communities in Weeksville, Brooklyn and beyond.”

James Brandon Lewis

The James Brandon Lewis Trio will kick off a free jazz residency, presented in collaboration with Arts for Arts, at a “Friend-raiser” scheduled for Thursday, December 6 from 6:45pm to 9pm ($50). Heralded by Ebony magazine as one of the “7 Young Players to Watch,” saxophonist Lewis is one of the new generation of musicians bringing the influence of hip hop to jazz with exhilarating results.

A holiday pop-up shop on Saturday, December 8, will feature handmade jewelry and clothing, books, hair and body care products, flowers, and more. After hosting vendors from noon to 6pm, the Center will bring jazz back to the spotlight with a concert featuring bassist William Parker.

Photo from December 2017 pop-up shop courtesy of Weeksville Heritage Center

The Hunterfly Road Houses are a testament to Weeksville, an African-American community founded in Brooklyn in 1838 that persisted for a century. The homes virtually disappeared until aerial photography revealed buildings in an alley alongside what had been a Native American trail. An archaeological dig at the site helped spark interest in the extraordinary history of the area, and the Weeksville Heritage Center was founded to preserve and extend the research.

Three houses were restored to showcase life in various periods of Weeksville’s history. Created to help free blacks own the $250 worth of property required to vote in 19th-century New York, it became a place of refuge from southern “slave catchers” and the Civil War draft riots in Manhattan. Weeksville was an early center of African American education, and later home to some of America’s earliest integrated schools, as Italian and German immigrants joined the black families who had founded the community.

Photo from December 2017 pop-up shop courtesy of Weeksville Heritage Center

As the Center celebrates the 50th anniversary of the houses being re-discovered, the structures now require repairs to roofs, walls, floors and cellars. The “back to basics” idea of a rent party to fund the work makes sense. DJ Very Advanced will be spinning tunes Tuesday evening. A silent auction and a quick-play Kwanza edition trivia night are also scheduled. “Donation booths,” set up to resemble voting booths, will give visitors a chance to pledge support for Weeksville in private.

Tickets for tomorrow’s rent party are available in advance or at the door. The nominal $1 fee gives rise to the event’s motto: “It’s a dollar to holler with more ways to give to follow.”

William Parker (Photo by Peter Gannushkin)

Next weekend’s pop-up shop marks the fourth time for this popular sale at Weeksville and the second time it’s been curated by The Young Brown Collective. Admission is free, with more than 20 vendors expected, as well as photos with Santa, a family fun zone, and hot cider. The event closes with a jazz concert, featuring performances by William Parker on bass with his ensemble and with poet Tracie Morris. Parker, a music educator as well as a performer, has published six books and was lauded by the Village Voice as “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time.”

Weeksville Heritage Center
158 Buffalo Road, Crown Heights

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