Ruthy Lopez (a.k.a. Reck Millz) found Educated Little Monsters at a time when she didn't have much more of a community. She was young, gay and homeless, and at times suicidal. Her parents had kicked her and her girlfriend out of their apartment, and they bounced between friend's couches and homeless shelters. She said her father was abusive, and she has had a hard time being around men.
Lopez raps as a part of Educated Little Monsters, a youth group for performative visual arts and music that focuses on hip hop. She teaches younger students how to play the drums.
"It just gives me live. I love seeing people that I know. I love creating with other people. I love making music, in general," said Lopez. "I feel like this space gives me that platform.
The group is led by Yazmin Colon (a.k.a. Jazo Brooklyn). When Colon first moved to Bushwick, it looked different than today.
"Bushwick is a very Latino community, a very Black and Brown community. And the changes, I started seeing them, it was probably around 2007," said Colon, who grew up a couple neighborhoods over, in East New York. "I'm not gonna lie, the changes intrigued me, you know? Because you're talking about a girl from the community where we never have galleries, bars, cafés."
The changes came relatively quickly, and drastically. Between 2000 and 2015, the white population in Bushwick grew from 2% to 19%, and a neighborhood once known for its family vibe became an internationally-recognized hotbed for hipster creatives. Over time, her excitement about the new developments in her community started to dwindle.
"All these beautiful places and all these things that they decided to bring in to beautify our neighborhood weren't inclusive. I felt like a tourist. Everyone would be looking at you like you're crazy. And I'm like, 'I've been living on this block for 12 years, you just got here,' type of thing," said Colon. "Then I really started understanding how racist gentrification is. Gentrification is just modern-day colonialism, it just really is. Because if you look around a community, they're building over this community that very much still exists and is thriving. That's when I started realizing that these changes weren't made for people like me."
Colon decided that she needed to stake a claim for her neighbors, family and community. She started Educated Little Monsters, which is now almost six years old. She initially started it as a poetry group with her son and some other kids from the neighborhood. The kids can dabble in musical theater, live instruments, dance, and rapping. They also learn how to record records, film music videos, and book performances. According to Colon, every youth member of the group is a New York native.
"Safe spaces is the most important thing that we can give the youth, especially youth of color who are no longer identifying with the changes in their community," said Colon.
Educated Little Monsters meets most Sunday afternoons at Silent Barn, a collectively-run performance and art space. Silent Barn first opened in Ridgewood, Queens in 2006, and moved to Bushwick in 2012. It is, according to Colon, "a very DIY hipster punk venue," and regularly hosts all ages concerts.
"She basically just takes over this whole space with all these kids and they just hang out and have a lot of space to do whatever they want," said Sarah Marie, a resident of Silent Barn who moved to New York from California. "I think that's really, really special because they deserve that. It's cool to see kids from this neighborhood interacting and being taken care of by somebody from this neighborhood in a space that definitely belongs to this neighborhood, and not me."
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