Thirty years ago this month, Crown Heights erupted in a three-day conflict that would shake the city, and leave lasting wounds on the neighborhood.

On Sunday, three decades later, Crown Heights is set to hold a festival that acknowledges the anniversary of the riots, while focusing on unity in the community today.

The One Crown Heights Neighborhood Festival will be held at Brower Park, and is hosted by a coalition of diverse community leaders.

“Today, the goal is to continue moving forward with mutual respect for differences and community building,” its organizers say.

Dark days

The festival first kicked off five years ago, on the 25th anniversary of the Crown Heights riots.

In August 1991, a riot broke out in Crown Heights after 7-year-old Gavin Cato was struck and killed by a car in a rabbi’s motorcade. His father, Carmel Cato, an immigrant from Guyana, was just a few feet way at the time, but could not lift the car from his son.

Hours later, a Jewish doctoral student from Australia, Yankel Rosenbaum, was surrounded by a group of teens on President Street, beaten and stabbed. He died hours later in hospital.

770 Eastern Parkway. Photo: Google Maps

Over the next three days, Crown Heights was roiled in violence, the Daily News reported. Members of the Black and Jewish communities clashed over and over again around 770 Eastern Parkway, President Street and Utica Avenue.

The riots shone a light on the deteriorating relations between Black and Jewish neighbors in the area, with blame being placed on New York City’s top politicians and police officers for not acting sooner to ease tensions.

30 years on

Sunday’s event is set to continue the trend of trust-building in the community since the riots 30 years ago.

“#OneCrownHeights Neighborhood Festival has become a paradigm of ways for a community to heal and move forward while fully recognizing the past and the diversity of issues facing us as neighbors today,” The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York Executive Director Rabbi Bob Kaplan said.

He is one of the founders of Project CARE, a coalition of community leaders formed shortly after the events of 1991, that created One Crown Heights.

The festival will kick off with a drum line, followed by stilt walkers, steel pan performers, musical acts including duet violin, a magician and a live DJ.

Kids can also expect a basketball clinic, bounce house, arts and crafts and other activities. Brooklyn Children’s Museum will be open and free for all visitors throughout the day. 

The details

The event is run in partnership with the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Repair the World, Neighbors in Action, and the Jewish Children’s Museum.

Also attending the event will be NYC Council member Laurie Cumbo, Rabbi Eli Cohen of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Center, Richard Green of the Crown Heights Youth Collective and Stephanie Wilchfort of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum.

“Our partner groups are excited to hold the event in person after a one-year absence, coming together again as a community and engaging in culturally diverse activities, entertainment, and resources,” American Jewish Committee Board Member Elissa Bernstein said.

The festival is this Sunday, August 15, from 12:00pm to 5:00pm in Brower Park. 

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Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is a freelance writer based in Bushwick. Originally from New Zealand, she has written for the BBC, Rolling Stone, NBC New York, CNBC and her hometown newspaper, The Dominion Post, among others.

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  1. Something wonderful to come from tragedy. One correction: Jews and Blacks did not “clash,” implying that both sides were fighting. That was not the case. Jews were attacked, there was no reported violence by Jews against Blacks (some of whom came from outside the neighborhood). I believe in reconciliation and healing, but it is also important to remember and report the facts accurately.

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