Story originally posted on October 19, 2016.
Anthony Geathers was introduced to photography as a teenager growing up near Nostrand Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Now he is a young and rising photographer, most recently featured in The Fader for his work with Randy ‘Rudeboy’ Brown, a UFC Prize Fighter; his coverage of basketball on the streets of New York; and his coverage of this year’s AfroPunk, the Brooklyn-based music festival. Geathers left Brooklyn in 2008 to enlist in the United States Marine Corps, and returned in 2012 to find the signs of gentrification and change were everywhere.
To see the impact of gentrification as Geathers sees it, The Brooklyn Inkaccompanied him on a walk through his former neighborhood. Geathers walked tall, his camera gear packed full in his backpack behind him. The sun had just appeared over the vibrant Nostrand Avenue. To the left were signs of construction, a symbol that the neighborhood was transforming. “They never used to fix up Brooklyn back then,” Geathers said, over the sounds of machines and drills.
Success Academy Prospect Heights, also known as PS 138, was Geathers’ stomping grounds when he attended the school from kindergarten to the eighth grade. “I was drawing and was very interested in comic book, anime, and mixed martial arts,” he said. In seventh grade, Geathers had his introduction to photography, when his history teacher entered him in the Washington Mutual photography contest. Without much experience in photography, Geathers finished the contest in, as he says with a smile, “nineteenth place.” The real prize was his growing interest in photography.
“I took lots of pictures of everyone I could find in the neighborhood,” he said. “I became very interested in taking pictures and meeting people.” So after graduating from eighth grade and moving into high school, he took up more studies in photography. Geathers dropped drawing, instead using the camera as his canvas. He had found passion.
Geathers stood outside the school and paused to reflect on how much it has changed. “It’s more colorful now. I remember it being just grey,” he said, pausing a moment. “I haven’t been here in years. I was a bit of a troublemaker.”
Growing up, Geathers and his friends were interested in mixed martial arts, which led to some fights on the playground. But in those days, “Everyone knew each other then,” he said. “If you misbehaved everyone heard. People would hear if you did good or bad.” Geathers laughed, recalling how classmates would call out one another knowing when one received a grounding or punishment for acting out. “This school raised me to be tough,” he said, but added, “We were taught to be smart, taught how to survive, and were taught how to be creative. We were exposed to art, film, and music. Not just about writing papers, or math, but to be creative. The ’90s was a good time to be kids because we used our imagination.”
Geathers continued on the walk towards the Brooklyn Public Library, at 725 St. Marks. “This was my third home, especially in the summer,” he said. Inside, he instantly remembered where his beloved comic books and anime were stored. “I used to make sure I read at least one hundred books for myself per summer. Being the badass kid I was, being young, I would sometimes steal the comic books, graphic novels, and videotapes from here, and take them home. I drew inspiration from what I read, though—especially with the graphic novels and videotapes. I would watch mixed martial arts. They inspired me to shoot boxers.” Besides comic books and graphic novelizations, Geathers said he consumed a wide array of stories, starting in the third grade when he began reading newspapers.
It was silent in the middle of the library except for the click-clack of fingers on the computer keyboards over the whirring of the air conditioner. “Kids used to come here a lot when I was younger, especially in the summer. It was a cornerstone spot for the community. We would come in and draw sketches based on the comic books we would read. We would go on the computers and not work,” Geathers said with a laugh. “We would watch Youtube on computers and make lots of noise.”
Bed-Stuy’s gentrification has been gradual. New York magazine citing it as “one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods” in 2005. By July 2008, The New York Times wrote that “a number of empty lots have been developed for the first time in decades, and there is far less crime than in years past. Private developers, community development corporations like the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation and the city’s housing agency are planning new co-op, rental, and condo units, including several projects that allow developers to build at greater than usual density in exchange for setting aside units for low- or middle-income tenants.” In recent years, the changes have been more rapid, with the New York Post writing that “the median price for Bed-Stuy homes jumped from $575,000 in 2013 to $890,000 in 2015, according to StreetEasy.”
Geathers notes some of these changes. “Around here there used to be block parties. Lots of them,” he said. “But, as the people changed that stopped. Another change I noticed after moving back here in 2012 was more police presence. Growing up there were often shoot outs in the area, but there was not much police. Now, the police are here.”
A few doors from the library, Geathers arrived at, nearly stumbled upon, where he was born. “This is where the first cries were at,” he said.
Geathers was born in a bathtub at 76 St. Marks on the night of April 15, 1990. He had his share of guardians and homes. “My brother and I were in foster care from 1999 until 2001. Between my mom and my step-dad, and the financial strain, things got hard. We got evicted from our home and we were homeless. My brother and I were placed in foster care and had two placements while in the system. As a foster child, you receive money but, it’s not much. We didn’t even get clothes. At the first placement, we were unhappy and drove the foster lady crazy, and at the second home again, we were not being taken care of.”
Still, foster care gave Geathers the time to focus more on photography. Using the camera given to him after the contest he had entered as a child, he was able to focus his energy and passion on what he loved most.
We next arrived at Brower Park, as empty and desolate as the library. Geathers shook his head again. He said he was saddened by what he sees as a loss of community, even on the basketball courts of Brower Park. “In the 90s this is where a lot the games happened. Especially the late night games from 6 to 11 p.m. The games would draw in big crowds, large crowds. Now it’s just…” Geathers paused to look around the park. A lone basketball hit the ground as three young boys played in the distance. “I’m disappointed, you know? Like, What happened? Brooklyn has become like Manhattan.”
Geathers continued: “Maybe it’s because the community changed. Once people stopped knowing one another, the parks got empty. The rent increased, people were forced out of their homes, the neighborhood was torn apart, more police on the streets, the area is just changing. It’s hard not having the people you grew up with stay. Back then there were no coffee shops and rent was $600 or $800. No one wanted to live here in Brooklyn because of the perceived notion that it was violent. And now? Everyone wants to be in Brooklyn.” The lone basketball bounced again. The young boy missed the net.
We sauntered back to Nostrand Avenue. Books-N-Things, a Black-owned business, could be seen to the right. “Most of these stores were Black-owned then. Now there’s a loss of mom and pop stores and so there’s a loss of economic empowerment. Books-N-Things is one of the last few Black-owned businesses here.” The drill from the construction on Nostrand echoed again as the renovations continued.