In 1994, three years before I moved from my hometown of Chicago to Bedford-Stuyvesant, I spent a summer in Brooklyn with my aunt who lived on Bushwick and Gates Avenues. I had secured an internship at CBS News in Manhattan, right before my last semester of graduate school.
This wasn’t my first trip to Brooklyn; I had family all throughout the borough. And although Bushwick was where we normally landed during our family visits to New York City, almost immediately, I fell in love with Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The summer of 1994 was no exception. Bushwick was where I was staying, with my aunt, but Bed-Stuy seemed to be where it was happening. The block parties, the open hydrants, the beautiful brownstones, the friendly residents who smiled and nodded from outside their stoops, the Notorious B.I.G. pumping out the windows on virtually every block...
But what struck me most were these t-shirts and baseball hats so many of the neighborhood’s residents were donning that read, “Bed-Stuy, Do or Die!” I bought a hat and wore it every day on the train on my way into work, before coolly tucking it away in my purse as I walked inside of CBS’s doors. But on the train ride home, without fail, I’d have it on again.
I now live in Bed-Stuy. Been here 15 years, and it is my home.
But a lot has changed. For one, the term “Bed-Stuy Do or Die” no longer is the battle cry it once was, but instead considered a vestige of a time many choose to forget.
“We don’t use that term anymore,” I was told two years ago, at a community board meeting by a group of women. I had planned to use the phrase as part of the title for a story I was writing on a food bank program. But they informed me soon enough, “It doesn’t represent who we are as a community, and it’s not the image we want to continue projecting.”
I had to respect that. And really, I had little problem with it (After all, almost twenty years later, I had pretty much outgrown labels).
And even though the moniker has died down significantly in the past two decades, increasingly, the chatter on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr is beginning to tell a different story: “I’m from the Do or Die, son, what’s up!” or “Bed-Stuy Do or Die, BK Represent!” or “Live from Bedford-Stuyvesant, where you either Do or Die!” More and more, these are the tweets shared across cyberspace by residents.
Even Spike Lee has defended the term, recently stating on Twitter that he didn’t feel "Bed-Stuy Do or Die" was a negative term at all; it meant “go hard or go home,” and “It signifies the hustle and resilience of the neighborhood’s people.”
In fact, after the term’s slow fadeaway over the past twenty years, there seems to be a resurgence in its popularity, as the neighborhood begins to experience a renaissance.
What do you think? Should we feel free to once again embrace the “Bed-Stuy Do or Die” moniker, or should we do away with it altogether?
Take our poll, and tell us what you think in the comments.