Extreme Home Makeover + First Lady Michele Obama + Brownstoners of BedStuy

By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned it, but my favorite TV show is Extreme Makeover - Home Edition. I generally make it my business to watch it every Sunday night. However, I had not watched it during the summer because of the reruns.

I missed the opening edition last week because I was still in DC for the Congressional Black Caucus, so I watched it online this Sunday, and boy, was I totally blown away by their season opener!

It centered around Ms. Marshall, a wonderful woman who was a 15 year veteran in the armed forces, who, along with her husband, a former US Marine, had returned to their home town of Fayetteville, NC to live; only to find that there were other women veterans who had served their country who, upon returning, subsequent to their tour of duty, could neither find a job or a home, and so, ended up homeless, living on the streets in the very communities they had risked their lives to serve.

Ms. Marshall, herself a former Chaplain in the armed forces, decided to open her home to these unfortunate women, some of whom had children of their own, and were living without hope or help. The episode was called the JUBILEE MARSHALL FAMILY episode.

Ty Pennington, the host and driving force behind the show, and the rest of the crew really outdid themselves in this episode. The meager homes, which provided shelter for three families and their children, were in deplorable conditions, despite Ms.Marshall's efforts to repair them. Her husband, who had maintained the upkeep on the properties - which consisted of mobile homes, small spaces shared by these families - had passed; and it seemed as though the deterioration had accelerated since then.

Ms. Marshall and the women had written an appeal to Extreme Make Over, Home Edition for assistance, and they responded in such an overwhelming manner it brought tears to my eyes (and to the eyes of anyone else who watched this who had any sense of humanity).

Not only did they transform those little facilities into the most spacious, symbolic and elegant living environments, but they brought the artist Rihanna, and none other than Michelle Obama, the First Lady of the United States of America, to participate in the décor and honoring of this truly wonderful woman, her family, and the women who are the beneficiaries of her generosity.

I urge you to go on line and watch this particular show - Extreme Makeover Home Edition on Hulu, or online ABCTV.Com/Extrememakeover home edition - Season 9, episode 1, and watch it for yourself. (It’s also on ABC-TV every Sunday 8:00 EST/PAC; 7:00 Central).

President Obama and the First Lady both love this show, as do I. I love it for the creativity, the generosity, the demonstration that nothing is impossible when it comes to transforming a negative into a positive. Some of the homes they have re-designed have been true masterpieces. In the space of one week they have turned tragedy into triumph.

The First Lady gave the homeless women the benefit of her wisdom, kindness, and compassion; as well as a great deal of woman to woman, mother to mother bonding. She mentioned her own garden that she maintains at the White House, and personally gave the women seeds to plant in their victory garden. It was an absolutely phenomenal, tear jerker - well, at least for me. I love it when things turn out beautifully - I do believe in happily ever after. I love to receive it, but I am just as happy when others receive it, as well.

And Ms. Marshall more than deserved to have those wonderful things manifest in her life. She and those women were truly blessed (and highly favored).

I have heard some mean spirited commentaries made about Extreme Makeover - Home Edition, by people who know about the cost of everything and the value of nothing. They gripe that everything is too extravagant; that the homes are too elegant, where something simply and perfunctory would suffice. True, we can live quite well in a hovel; but the human spirit deserves a boost, and the Extreme Makeover-Home Edition crew have been in the business of morale boosting, while others more penurious tend to shave their fingernails to hold onto a dime, and end up with nothing.

I absolutely love this show because it soars like the human spirit, and gives the recipient an opportunity to have their dreams come true in real time, rather than waiting for someone else’s proscribed version of when they deem it’s their turn to receive.

If you’re selfish, stingy and narrow, perhaps watching the show will help you come out of that malady and, like the Grinch, enlarge your heart a little. If you are for the “underdog” and like to see others win for a change, then this show is right up your alley, and you’re probably already watching it anyway, so I don’t have to tell you how great it is.

But what I especially like, and more to the point, is that the First Lady took time out of her busy schedule, without pomp and circumstance and fanfare, and went down to North Carolina, and spent the time going through that home, writing words of encouragement, helping with the décor and other tasks BECAUSE SHE CARES!! And so does President Obama. I think it can be assumed that the President and First Lady do not watch junk shows, and this would be an example of a good family show that would be well worth watching in our own homes as well. Check it out for yourselves. You can definitely get some good ideas from the show, and see what it means to think outside the proverbial box.

It is this very principle of thinking outside the box that makes me reach forward and tie this show in with a much celebrated event that takes place in Brooklyn each year in October: the THE BEDSTUY BROWNSTONERS TOUR. This year’s event takes place on Saturday, October 15, and is perhaps the best local example of an Extreme Home Makeover, put together by proud Black families who are homeowners in the Bedford Stuyvesant community of Brooklyn(a/k/a Bed Stuy, do or die).

The Tour (as it’s called by the insiders) starts at 11:00 AM and runs to 4:00 PM; there is a concomitant BedStuy Bazaar which starts at 10:30 AM at Old Boys High, located at Marcy and Putnam Avenues; and a free Home Ownership Workshop which commences at 9:00AM in the Old Boys High Auditorium. Tix are $15.00 in Advance and $20.00 on the day of the tour, the proceeds of which go to fund scholarships. Those interested can contact the organization online at www.brownstonersofbedstuy.org.

These featured families have either taken run down brownstones and transformed them into absolute masterpieces, using their own funds, time, talent, creativity and imagination; or they have had them in their families for years and maintained them in their true, original elegance. These are not the impersonal, gutted out monstrosities that have popped up as of late, where the original ambiance and craftsmanship have been ripped out via gut reno, borne of investors looking to make a fast buck. These invaders have absolutely no taste except in their mouths.

No, these homes - and I do mean homes - have, for the most part, been lovingly cared for, with attention to quality and detail. The Brownstoners of BedStuy meet on a regular basis to share information, resources, skills. They are who have kept the Black community together during economic downturns, drugs, thugs, and a concerted effort to drive Black people from Brooklyn. In other words, they are the Blackbone of Brooklyn’s BedStuy community. They represent stability and growth.

Some of the masterpieces you see wrought in these fine, stately monuments to architecture weren’t done in seven days, with a crew of thousands, but over a period of time, by a husband and wife team who came home after a long day’s work, changed their clothes, and began that soul-satisfying task of transforming their home into a thing of beauty. In some case they went beyond beauty to “shock and awe” to “How did you do that????”

I have never left that tour without my head filled with respect, ideas, concepts (and, yes, envy) for those who have had the great good fortune to be blessed with those amazing beauties. I have definitely wished that the great god of brownsones would somehow endow me with my own brownstone masterpiece, where I can likewise be a part of that stellar group, showing off my own creativity and genius (yeah, I decorate, too - you know how we do - Black people invented multi-tasking and multi-talented).

And, as I write this piece, I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful if First Lady Michele Obama could likewise stop through Brooklyn on October 15, and look at the wonderful work these Brothers and Sisters have done, and continue to do. I think she would be in awe of how cohesive, supportive and life affirming this whole thing is. And in turn, her presence would be a wonderful affirmation and morale booster for those here who may think no one is noticing or cares.

So, I’m going to ask those of you who read this on my blog, or anywhere else it may be circulated, if you are in touch with the First Lady, send her a copy. I can’t officially invite her, since I’m not a member of the Brownstoners of Bedstuy. But as a citizen, and supporter, I am urging her to take a look, and maybe swing by to see the wonderful homes our people have derived from what others may have considered obsolete and condemned.

The Brownstoners of Brooklyn are truly wonderful people, and this info should be shared and transmitted to other predominantly Black communities Harlem, the Bronx, Queens, the US, the Caribbean and Africa. This is what it looks like when we work together collaboratively, creatively, and congenially. I just love it. I think you will, too.

See you on the tour.

Stay Blessed &
Gloria Dulan-Wilson

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