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What Is Brooklyn to Me?

Casey Perez, a graduating senior at Benjamin Banneker Academy in Clinton Hill, is the winner of the 2017 Joseph E. Mohbat Prize for Writing in Memory of Verdery Knights. The Mohbat Prize—which celebrates outstanding Brooklyn high school seniors—is awarded by the Mohbat Fund at Brooklyn Community Foundation in memory of two exceptional Brooklynites who shared a love of writing: Joe Mohbat, Associated Press reporter, and the student he inspired, Verdery Knights, a class leader at Benjamin Banneker Academy. Nancy Schuh, Joseph Mohbat’s widow, created the prize to encourage and nurture creative writing among Brooklyn public high school seniors heading to college.
Casey Perez's essay, reprinted below, earned him the award and $1500 , which will be presented to him at the 2017 Benjamin Banneker graduation on June 28th. Casey is the first male recipient of the Prize in its six-year history and the first in his family to go to college. He will be studying Natural Resource Management at SUNY ESF in Syracuse in the fall.

 

What is Brooklyn to me?

by Casey Perez

The question provokes much thought within me. It makes me reflect upon the present and the past, possibly the future. You never think of your hometown as nothing more than your home. With this question I’ve realized that Brooklyn is much more than my home. Brooklyn is my teacher, a library, and most importantly, Brooklyn is my family. Brooklyn is what has shaped me to be who I am and I will forever be thankful to the beautiful, wonderful, concrete jungle of Brooklyn.

Brooklyn is the ultimate teacher of street smarts. In the sidewalks of Brooklyn you learn where to look and how to walk. When you walk past a cop, head down, otherwise they think you’re up to no good and you’ll end up on the evening news. In normal cities you look both ways and cross when there are no cars coming. But in Brooklyn, you quickly learn that you cross when you want to cross. The light does not tell you what to do and neither do the blaring horns. Your mom is not the only one that’s going to tell you to be home at a certain time. Brooklyn and its citizens are going to teach you the lesson to be home on time. Brooklyn is your family, and just like family, Brooklyn sometimes gives you some tough love. You learn quickly in Brooklyn or you do not learn at all.

I am proud to say that my home is a library with living, breathing, books. In Brooklyn, people from all over the world visit or settle in the lovely borough. Due to this, Brooklyn is one of the most diverse places on the planet. No need to research about life in a country when its own citizen is upstairs in 3A. You can hear stories from the harsh, cold, winters of Russia, to the hot, humid summers of Brazil. Contrary to popular belief, Brooklyn is not a melting pot. All of us do not mix in to one big culture. On the other hand, we retain our culture from our native lands while exploring others. We do not lose our identity in Brooklyn but in fact we embrace it and others. Other people may try to separate us with bans or other legislation, but Brooklyn will always be the place to witness true diversity. Need a place to call home? Look no further than Brooklyn’s beautiful, concrete jungle. “Where dreams are made of”

Brooklyn is not a place I call home anymore. Brooklyn is my family. Each and every person that lies in its streets. I have brothers and sisters from East New York, brothers and sisters in Bushwick, brothers and sisters in Bed-Stuy. Brothers and sisters in all of Brooklyn. Brooklyn is my family and like most families we have a few oddballs. We have a few geniuses, a few rotten eggs, and a few angels. But what is family without all of its wacky characters? What is family without tough love? We all share laughter and tears. We all share in sick and in health. In wealth and in poverty. In Brooklyn whatever you’re experiencing, someone went through that already and came out a better person for it. Like a family, someone is bound to coach you through the tough times and congratulate you in the good ones. Brooklyn truly is my family. And I can’t imagine the world without my family.

In reality, Brooklyn can’t be described through words or pictures, they don’t do this fantastic place justice. If you truly want to find out what Brooklyn is to me? Then come visit me. I’ll take you where the streets are cold and the sun is blocked out by project buildings. Where the only thing keeping us warm is the love we share within our hearts. I’ll take you where I share all my laughs. Where I accomplished my dreams. This essay may be short but this is only the start. My answer to the question, “What is Brooklyn to me” will grow alongside me.

 

Brooklyn Community Foundation’s Memorial & Tribute Fund options are an ideal way to honor the memory of a loved one or commemorate a life milestone, such as a wedding, bar mitzvah, or the birth of a child.

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Casey Perez

2017 Mohbat Prize Winner
"Contrary to popular belief, Brooklyn is not a melting pot. All of us do not mix in to one big culture. On the other hand, we retain our culture from our native lands while exploring others. We do not lose our identity in Brooklyn but in fact we embrace it and others. Other people may try to separate us with bans or other legislation, but Brooklyn will always be the place to witness true diversity."