by Bill Batson
On Wednesday, March 11, I showed up at Nyack Ridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center, with flowers for my mother, Daisy. That same day, a world away in Geneva, Switzerland, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The notice on the door that greeted me brought home our new reality: “out of an abundance of caution, all visitations are restricted.”
Millions of Americans who have a family member in assisted living or residential medical care confronted a similar note. The science tells us that these measures can #flattenthecurve of this infection, saving lives. But they also make the soul ache.
Many institutions have employed technology to shorten the gap created by social distancing. I recently got to Facetime with my mother. I could see in her expression that she enjoyed her first journey into cyberspace!
I asked Nyack Ridge owner Micheal Braunstein if anything in his personal or professional life prepared him for these trying times. “Living through 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy gave us a sense of what can happen out of the clear blue sky. Until then, we don’t know our capabilities. Everyday, I’m learning how amazing our staff and your aides are.”
Braunstein is a third generation nursing home operator. His grandfather bought a Nursing Home in the Bronx in 1956, serving as administrator. His grandmother was the cook. As a self-described nursing home brat, Michael would play bingo with the residents and serve tea. When Michael graduated from college, he took a position at a nursing home owned by his father, who had followed his father into the family business. “From those early years, I’ve learned that it’s important to communicate with the staff and residents. To try to understand what their needs are. For the residents, this is their home. You want to make them as comfortable as possible,” Braunstein said.
Village of Nyack Mayor Don Hammond can recite from memory the various events and local programs that Nyack Ridge is actively supporting. “Michael is a very impressive corporate citizen, said Mayor Hammond. “He didn’t call up and asked what we could do for Nyack Ridge. He called me to ask what they could do for the community.”
Braunstein has noted that the character of Nyack Ridge is shaped by a staff that includes members that have reported to work for decades. The facility manager and one of the receptionists has been on the job since the 1970s. At Nyack Ridge a staff of approximately 200 men and women work tirelessly to provide health care, food, housing and recreation up to 160 residents.
Braunstein reports that spirits at Nyack Ridge are high during the pandemic induced lockdown. “The residents are doing fine. Really well. They are little antsy. They miss their families. But we are doing our best. We are keeping them busy and entertained in settings that observe social distancing. We’ve developed hallway bingo and have a busy hand cart that goes room to room. We are keeping their thought’s positive and using Ipads to keep them in touch with their loved ones.”
Since taking the helm of Nyack Ridge in January 2018, Braunstein has built strong ties to the community. Nyack Ridge has sponsored multiple events including the Great Nyack Get-Together, The African American Day Parade, and a breast health awareness fashion show with Montefiore Nyack Hospital. Nyack Ridge also supports the Edward Hopper House Museum and Study Center, the Nyack Chamber of Commerce and Nyack football. Drawing on these networks, Braunstein has engaged some local artists to project a movie on an inflatable screen in the parking lot to break the monotony of the lockdown.
“We are all in this together. With god’s help and prayer, we will all get through this. We’ll see our families reunited.”
Godspeed and Amen that!
If you would like to help boost the spirit of the residents, send a short video greeting to the Director of Recreation, Marleny Liz at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have a family member staying at Nyack Ridge and you want to schedule a Facetime chat, call Liz at (914) 536-5383.
Nyack Ridge Rehabilitation and Nursing Center is located at 476 Christian Herald Road, Valley Cottage. To learn more click here.
by Bill Batson
On March 4, 2020, Business Insider warned that US medical workers needed 3.5 billion face masks if the coronavirus reached pandemic status. The country had 1% of that number then.
On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.
Organized by Donna Davies Timm and Bill Batson, Nyack Mask Makers is a community project providing masks to doctors, nurses and staff at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, as they serve Rockland County, New York, during the increased patient activity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Donna draws inspiration from her mother, who left her home in Dubin, Ireland during World War II to work in a sewing factory in Lincolnshire England. Timm, President of the Nyack Art Collective, is answering her generation’s call to battle, this time against COVID-19, and like her mother, provisioned with a sewing machine. Timm has helped launch this crowd sourced sewing circle that can produce up to 500 masks per week for Montefiore Nyack Hospital.
Donna and I realized we needed something flash mob sized…but with socially distant participants, to help blunt the local impact of the severe scarcity of medical supplies in our country. I knew Donna and several members of her family from my first Flash Sketch Mob in 2012. Nyack Mask Makers is also a Timm-family affair, with daughter Bonnie and husband Bob building websites and organizing outreach respectively. With a few Facebook posts, emails and phone calls, Nyack Mask Makers has connected 40 work stations in 4o homes across the region. With some guidance from Montefiore Nyack Hospital, we can make Level 2 masks that will help relieve stress on our life-saving health care system.
“We give our profound thanks to the Nyack Mask Makers and the amazing community in Nyack and throughout Rockland County who are rallying behind the Hospital’s dedicated staff and supporting the critical work that is being done to serve our community,” said Mark Geller, MD, President & CEO of Montefiore Nyack Hospital. “Your generous donations of food and supplies are inspiring and deeply appreciated. Your efforts and support are being received in the same spirit in which they are being given. Thank you.”
Donna’s support for the hospital is deeply personal. “It has been just under 5 years since I was a patient myself at Nyack Hospital with Stage 3 Breast cancer. I literally owe my life to the outstanding medical staff at Nyack Montefiore Hospital. I am incredibly fortunate to be in the position to assist Bill Batson and organize the Nyack Mask Makers. I am honored to give back a token of my heartfelt appreciation in this way,” Donna continued.
Our prototype mask was reviewed by the Infection Preventionist at Nyack Montefiore. We provide participants with a template pattern, materials list, elastic and arrange pick up & delivery of completed masks.
If you’d like to learn more about our efforts, visit nyackmaskmakers.com.
For additional information about supporting Nyack Mask Makers, please email Donna Davies Timm at Donna@nyackmaskmakers.com
All other inquiries regarding this project, please contact Bill Batson at Bill@nyackmaskmakers.com.
Let’s FLATTEN THE CURVE! Stay home, stay safe, and support our health care workers.
Nyack Mask Makers include:
Kathleen, Glenn, Sera and Reilly Maier
Anne Marie Mot
Maria Luisa Whittingham
I launched a GoFundMe for Nyack Mask Makers to support our production material costs.
We have 40 participants in our Flash Sew Mask Mob and a goal of making 500 masks per week.
The materials we need are elastic, fabric and ziplocks.
For $100, we can get elastic for 500 masks.
For $10 we can get enough fabric for 15 masks.
We are looking for anyone who lives in the greater Nyack area who can operate a sewing machine. If you know anyone who has a sewing machine or several, please direct them to this site at NyackMaskMakers.com.
People who do not follow pubic health guidance on social distancing and hand washing become the delivery system that COVID -19 uses to hunt down vulnerable victims: someone’s parent or grandparent.
As of Monday, March 16, COVID-19 had infected 3,244 Americans in 49 states, killing 61. The chart that our nation’s stage in spread most resembles shows exponential growth that could claim thousands of lives. Still without testing, something all other advanced democracies managed to deploy, we brace for the brunt of the infection blindfolded.
We must all shelter in place. Cavalier travel is over. Each trip from your home for food, or fuel or medical care, or essential service, most be conducted as if your life, or the life of someone you might infect, depended on it.
At the end of this pandemic, we will find an economy, and a presidency, laid low. Our health care system is being humbled by the strain this stress test has only begun to administer. But when we get the “All Clear,” we should be able to greet each other, in a post-handshake world, with a nod of satisfaction, that we made the sufficient sacrifice to flatten the curve of this tidal wave of infection.
Other generations on our soil have been asked to volunteer for combat, endure rationing, hide a runaway slave, or boycott a bus line for a year. Today, nurses are being asked to put on hazmat suits and draw blood that could be contaminated, cashiers collect currency from hands that may contain the virus, parents incorporate childcare into their telecommute and men and women who have built small business are being asked to close their doors, not knowing if the length of being shuttered will prevent them from ever being able to open their doors again.
This epic, global shared experience requires restrained movement and basic hygiene from all of us. We’re being asked to couch surf and wash our hands. Stay home, save lives! Don’t be super spreader. Twenty seconds of wetting, lathering, scrubbing, rinsing and drying, halts this deadly contagion. Never have so many, owed so much to so few – seconds.
by Bill Batson
In America, feral cats need more than nine lives to survive. While concerned animal advocates seek to employ enlightened ways to manage feral cat colonies, municipal policies to protect discarded domesticated cats have gone, pardon the pun, to the dogs.
Tina Traster, managing editor of the Rockland County Business Journal, has found her most vigorous voice as a documentary film maker exposing the plight of forgotten pets.
A film by
Catnip Nation is an hour-long documentary that explores the dichotomy between our beloved, cherished pet cats, and the equal number who live on the streets.
The ASPCA puts the number at 90 million apiece. On top of that, 1.4 million cats are euthanized in shelters annually – at a rate of 70%.
At a festival screening or on DVD, which is available from major retailers including Wal-Mart, Target, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, or visit catnipnation.com
Catnip Nation’s festival circuit continues. You can see a screening on March 29, at 3p at the Garden State Film Festival at the Asbury Hotel, in Asbury Park, NJ.
Nyack Sketch Log sat down with Traster to learn about the issue and her film, Catnip Nation, that is currently on the festival circuit and available on DVD. If you keep reading, your curiosity won’t kill any, but may save, some cats
Feral cats are described in your film as neither domesticated or wild. Is that accurate?
Yes. Feral cats are typically cats that have lived on the “streets” for too long — this could mean a kitten as young as eight weeks for lack of socialization. These cats live in colonies — they can be a few or many — and the real problem is reproduction. A female cat starts breeding at less than a year old, and can have several litters in a lifetime. That’s why TNR is critical.
What is TNR?
TNR stands for Trap Neuter Return. Literally it means to trap ferals. Get them fixed and recuperated and vaccinated, and return them to their colonies. The reason for the “R” is that many ferals cannot be socialized, although many of us cat lovers have lured a feral and turned him into a couch companion. But it takes a lot of time and work. The important thing about returning a cat to its place is that cats will go looking for their territory. You can just drop them in a field.
What is life like inside a cat colony?
In the best-case scenario, a colony has a caretaker, and that caretaker has “TNRed” the cats, which means they’ve been fixed and vaccinated against rabies. The colony caretaker typically feeds once or twice a day and in colder climes, provides some kind of makeshift shelter made of wood, plastic or cardboard. Unfortunately many feral cats die from the cold, and most kittens in a litter born in the winter months do not make it.
Would cats in a colony die without concerned citizens providing water and food?
A Darwinian question. Some will survive. Many will ultimately die. It’s man’s (and woman’s) instinct to help cats living on the street. Those who are helped along probably have a better chance of survival. Often times a caretaker will intervene when a cat is ill and get it medical treatment.
Can a colony get too big?
One could say that every colony is too big, and ultimately it would be great to eradicate this problem. The smaller the colony the more manageable. The key is TNR because it winnows down the size of the colony and disrupts the breeding cycle.
Who are some of the people that you’ll meet in Catnip Nation?
The main heroes of Catnip Nation are Stanley Lombardo, who used politics to fight for his feral colony, Ken Salerno, who fought the Seaside Heights government when it disbanded a successful TNR program, and Sue and Ray Jones, an older Kansas couple who were fined and nearly jailed for feeding ferals, and who took their case to the appeals court. No spoilers on how that turned out.
Are there any analogous animal populations to a cat colony?
Not really. Can’t think of another domesticated animal (cats domesticated themselves 10,000 years ago) who live with us and on their own.
What have you been doing in the county to advocate for cats?
For several years, I’ve worked with elected officials and the community to teach the value of TNR. We had luck in the Villages of Haverstraw and West Haverstraw, where enlightened mayors understood the problem and passed legislation. Sadly, Rockland County has been resistant to deal with this problem otherwise at the political level.
Is it illegal to feed feral cats in Rockland County?
There are no “regressive” ordinances banning the feeding of feral cats that I know of in Rockland. However, because there are only supportive TNR laws in the Villages of Haverstraw and West Haverstraw, the rest of the county essentially operates in a gray zone.
Do you have cats?
At the moment, we have four.
What are their names and what kind are they?
Mimi, Leo, Jacques, and Pascal — three American shorthairs and one Maine Coon mix. Mimi came from the streets. Leo was found in a barn, Jacques was adopted at Hi Tor and Pascal came from a rescue group.
What is the subjects of you other documentary?
My former documentary was This House Matters, which shone a light on the vulnerability of Dutch stone historic houses in Rockland County
What’s your day job?
I continue to make films, but I also am the Editor and Publisher of Rockland County Business Journal, a 24/7 news site.
How is Catnip Nation being received?
It’s been wonderful. We’ve won three awards on the festival circuit: Best Doc at the Big Apple Film Festival and the Hoboken Film Festival, and Audience Award at the Kansas International Film Festival. We’ve screened at six festivals and have two more on tap: The Garden State Film Festival on March 29th at 3 pm at The Asbury Hotel in New Jersey, and later this summer at the New Hope Film Festival.
How did you fund Catnip Nation?
We had two executive producer, Ron Sherman and the late Lynn Boone from Piermont (who recently passed away). We also ran several fundraising campaigns and raised several rounds of capital.
Have you always been a cat person?
I have always had an incredible empathy for animals — from the smallest bug to the most majestic creatures. I think, in part, I see them as voiceless — needing our help. But I also view animals as a purer version of humans — driven by instincts, love, sentient needs. They are the purer forms of us.
Were you ever a dog person?
Yes! My first “baby” was a dog I loved more than rainbows. When he died, a piece of me died too. Oddly, a kitten saved me, and that kitten led to another and another, and before I knew it, more. Cats are like that. Contagious.
There will be a fundraiser brunch to benefit Four Legs Good and T-N-R efforts.
March 15, 2020
12pm – 4pm
Double Tree by Hilton Hotel
$40 per person
Mayor Michael F. Kohut – Village of Haverstraw, & Mayor Robert D’Amelio – Village of W. Haverstraw will be honored for their extraordinary commitment to improving the lives of community.
by Bill Batson
As generations of teenagers could tell you, there are few therapeutic interventions as powerful as a Fender guitar, a few friends, an amp and an audience. Music for Life’s Jeffrey Friedberg has figured this out, and the band created from his workshops, The Rock ‘n’ Rollers are taking their positive results on the road.
While music is magic for children of all needs, the populations that Jeffrey serves at his creative arts therapy program on Depew Avenue have shown extraordinary progress during practice and live performance sessions. Young people who have struggled with loud, crowded spaces and social interaction are now commanding center stage like rock stars. Before an A-lister sits in on a session, making a ticket price out of reach, I suggest you check out The Rock ‘N’ Rollers at their next gig at the Nyack Center on Sunday, March 8 at 4p.
Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the Rock ‘n’ Rollers and their manager/creative arts therapist, Jeffrey Friedberg.
The Rock ‘n’ Rollers
live in Concert!
On Sunday, March 8th at 4p, you can see the Rock ’n’ Rollers live on stage at the Nyack Center.
These 6 young adults, who rock the world with the joy and inspiration, have performed throughout Rockland County over the last 5 years.
The Nyack Center is located at 58 Depew Ave
Suggested donation $5 per person.
Reserve you tickets with Jeffrey Friedberg at email@example.com or (845) 642-0859 or pay at the door cash or check
Testimonial from a family member:
“The best thing about Rock ‘n’ Rollers has been the friendships. Finding close social connections for special needs teens is not easy. Ties that no longer need parental help to facilitate. The chances are high they will be friends for life.
Testimonials the band:
- “Being in the band makes me feel happy. When I perform I feel loved by the audience. Jeffery encourages me to be my best.”
- “I enjoyed music my whole life; now I get to perform in a band and make people happy. I get to sing and not just play guitar and made a ton of friends. We all get along and music is important to young individuals like us.”
- “I like singing in the band and playing the bongos and playing the piano. I think The Rock ’n’ Rollers are happy to see me in the Bossy Frog studio. I am happy to see them.”
- ” I like playing music with my friends. I like that we all suggest songs, and that some of us like rock ‘n’ roll songs, and some like slow music – ballads.
It’s nice to see my friends every Tuesday, and after that we go out.”
Who are The Rock and Rollers?
The Rock ’n’ Rollers are a band of 6 young adults who perform rock and pop music. They rehearse once per week for 90 minutes at Music For Life Creative Arts Therapy PLLC.
The Rock ’n’ Rollers started in 2016, but most of the current group of 6 musicians have been together for 4 years. They perform in the community once per month. They have performed at the Palisades Center, The Great Nyack Get Together in Nyack’s Memorial Park, Rittershausen Theater at the Old Nyack High School, The Whiskey Kitchen, Lynch’s Restaurant, Joe and Joe’s Restaurant in Nyack, Tappan Zee High School, for the Sinead’s Green Heart Foundation as well as other venues. They opened twice for grammy award winning Dan and Claudia Zanes.
What led to the formation of The Rock n’ Rollers
As a music therapist for over 20 years, I knew that a band offered participants an opportunity to share their love of music with others, make friends and learn how to work together as a group.
The band named themselves! For their first year and half they were called the “Tuesday Rock Band” as that’s when they rehearsed. After a years and a half of playing together and their first few performances, I asked them what they wanted to be called. They took several months to ponder this and, on their own, came up with “The Rock ’n’ Rollers.
When and Where was their first concert?
Their first concert was at Music For Life Creative Arts Therapy in Nyack in 2016. They performed in front of friends and family. Their first public performance was at The Whiskey Kitchen in Valley Cottage in late 2016. The Whiskey Kitchen opened their doors to all members of Music For Life Creative Arts Therapy to have a “music sharing day” there. Since then, we have performed at The Whiskey Kitchen twice per year.
How do audiences react to their performances?
Audiences are filled with joy at their performances. The Rock ’n’ Rollers have a big fan base that includes friends, family, teachers as well as fans they have picked up from people hearing them. People sing and dance along. There are many cheers. It’s quite an amazing experience. People also purchase many of their swag including T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts.
What are the therapeutic benefits of playing an instrument?
Learning to play an instrument can help build many skills including concentration, focus, short and long term memory, fine and gross motor skills, and self-expression and regulation. When we play music we are engaging many different areas of our brains. We are using motor, emotional, and cognitive skills. We are learning how to express our feelings and focus our attention. We are learning how to manipulate our fingers and breath. We are using short and long-term memory. We are engaging in a teaching relationship with another person.
How are those benefits impacted by performing in a band?
Learning to play music with other people involves learning how to listen, cooperate, give and receive feedback, present oneself in public, join with others, assert self, take turns, and share. When we are in a band, we have a responsibility to others to learn and play our part. Everybody has a different role to play.
We have to learn how to practice on our own, and then rehearse and perform with others. We have to learn how to manage our feelings in order to work towards a common goals while maintaining our individuality.
Being in a band is also an opportunity to make lasting friendships. Research shows that when we sing together we release more social bonding hormone, oxytocin, and less stress hormone, cortisol, than when just talking together. Being in a band with others helps people form intimate caring relationships.
The Rock ’n’ Rollers have each grown tremendously as individuals, as a group and have built a huge caring and supportive community of family, friends and fans. When they perform, audiences are consistently reminded to focus on what people can do, rather than what they have difficulty doing.
The “band” also helps bring people together. This includes the band members, their families and the community.
Are there other groups like the Rock n Rollers?
I have led other performance-type of groups in other music therapy settings, but none with the cohesion and joy that this group consistently demonstrates. I have also seen videos of other wonderful groups similar to the Rock ’n’ Rollers. But there is something remarkable about this group as they are a wonderful collection of passionate and talented musicians with unique, interesting and fun personalities with a passion and talent for making and sharing their music. And they truly care about each other as well as with sharing their music with others.
What are some of the crowd favorites?
There are so many crowd favorites that it’s hard to pin down any one song. Most of the band members sing, so we try to give as many of them opportunities to have the spotlight each show. But even those who don’t take a lead on vocals shine on their particular instruments.
Some of the real crowd pleasers are:
Living On a Prayer
Heather Song (an original by one of the guitarists)
Sweet Child of Mine
I Love You Like a Love Song
But there are many other songs that they play that people love.
The band is interested in expanding its roster of venues and audiences. This spring they will perform at the Rockland Center for the Arts for the first time on June 13th. The March 8th show at The Nyack Center is their biggest concert where they are the featured performer. Every time they perform they get asked to play at new venues and they hope to continue to share their love of music throughout the Hudson Valley.
They have started to increase the complexity of their musical arrangements. Vocally, they now sometimes have 4 singers singing at the same time doing different parts. The band recently had a 11 1/2 year old saxophone player sit in with them and they are excited about adding this element to their music.
Any plans for a tour or an album?
The Rock ’n’ Rollers are currently on a 2019-2020 tour with one show per month. It is a local tour as many of them are still in school or programs during the weekdays.
Many of the band members have been asking for an album! They hope to work on one soon. But there is a film in the works!
We’ve heard about a documentary. When is it coming out?
ArtsRock, under the direction of Elliott Forrest is currently making a documentary about the band. Elliott was so inspired and moved by their performances that he wanted to share this with others. Elliott and his crew have been filming the band throughout the year. You will be the first to know when the film is ready for release!
Tell me about Music For Life?
My philosophy is that music is a uniquely human activity that helps us throughout our lifespans to grow as individuals, to make and manage relationships and to build community. As a music therapist, I focus on the process of music making, rather than the product. I use music to help children, teens and adults in all areas of their lives, not just musically.
I have been a board-certified music therapist since 1994 and I am also a NY State licensed creative arts therapist (LCAT). I have worked in hospitals, day treatment programs and schools. I started Music For Life Creative Arts Therapy PLLC in 2015 in order to provide music therapy services to children, teens and adults in Rockland County with a variety of needs and challenges.
Music For Life Creative Arts Therapy currently provides music lessons and therapy to over 150 people weekly in Rockland County. We have 4 staff and provide music therapy and lessons at 4 sites. Our main office is in Nyack. We also run the music therapy program at the Rockland Conservatory of Music where we provide a variety of music therapy and lessons. In addition, we provide music therapy at 2 school sites.
We provide one to one and group musical experiences that help participants learn, grow and develop functional as well as musical skills. We use music to help with social-emotional growth, cognitive skills, speech and language skills, motor skills as well as with learning how to play instruments.
We also have an active musical theater program that serves elementary school age, Middle and High School and adults. We just started a Middle/High School Chorus as well.
And how about the music of Jeffrey Friedberg?
In addition to Bossy Frog Band, I am in a bluegrass band called The Crusty Gentlemen.
For more info and to reserve tickets to the March 8th show please contact Jeffrey Friedberg:
phone: (845) 642-0859
To learn more about Music for Life, click here.
by Bill Batson
Meet Brenda Ross
Brenda Ross will conduct a book talk and signing on Saturday, February 29, 2020 at 1pm at the Orangeburg Library, located at 20 Greenbush Rd, Orangeburg, NY 10962.
Brenda will be introduced by Nyack Sketch Log author and illustrator Bill Batson
Women of Leadership & Vision Brunch
Brenda will present a memoriam for the Historical Honoree, Toni Morrison at the Nyack Center’s annual Women of Leadership & Vision Brunch on March 14, 2020 from 10a-12 (doors open at 9:30a). Hon. Nita Lowey, Ginny Norfleet & Jill Warner will be given this year’s honors. The Nyack Center is located at the 59 Depew Avenue at the corner of South Broadway. Click here for tickets.
Toni Morrison: a Retrospective
In her capacity as a Trustee of the Historical Society of the Nyack, Brenda is curating an exhibition on the life of Toni Morrison that will be on display from March 28 through July 25 at the society’s museum located at 50 Piermont Avenue, behind the library.
In Brenda Ross’ historical novel, Bibsy’s life changes forever when she falls in love after a chance meeting in a Harlem bar in 1952. The tranquil, free-spirited lifestyle she casually enters into with Jake Turner collides with intractable memories of a difficult past, a new community fated for development and heartbreaking loss.
This multifaceted and riveting historical novel gives greater insight into the complexity of African American lives. With New York State’s major road and bridge construction in the background, rural enclaves become casualties of suburbanization.
Imagine a writer so determined to attend a workshop to hone her craft, she’d accelerate the weaning of her child. Sometimes the backstory of a book has as many compelling characters, including the author, as the narrative itself. Brenda Ross’ first novel, Bibsy, would not exist without a phalanx of midwives and muses. The co-parents of her prose include her daughters who grew up along side the 34-year literary journey, the women whose lives inspired the storyline, and those who served as editor and academic advisor.
It will take another novel to tell the full story of the making of Bibsy. But for now, here is her Nyack Sketch Log treatment. For those who want to meet and speak with the author, Brenda will be at the Orangeburg Library on Saturday, February 29 from 1-2p for a book talk and signing.
When did you know you were a writer?
In 1980, when I was standing in the hallway of Letitia Grierson’s campus dorm room at Skidmore College getting positive feedback from a few pages I had written that evening. Grierson was leading a writing workshop. Everyone at Skidmore held her in such high regard, so I figured there must be “something” there worth pursuing when she acknowledged my talent. She taught me the craft of writing, and to be constantly open to refining it.
How did you learn about the workshop?
I learned about the workshop through an ad in Ms. Magazine that I came across in the late 1970s. What caught my attention was the title “How to turn family histories into fiction.” The workshop title so resonated with me I knew I had to be there. The workshop was offered by Letty. I knew something was brewing inside me; I just didn’t know what.
Letty eventually became my editor, then my friend. We didn’t always agree, but more importantly, we respected each other’s opinions.
How would you describe Letty’s method?
Letty was first and foremost an editor, which is what I paid her to do from the beginning. I still have her correspondence including receipts for $15/hr. However we never worked with an outline. She was happy accepting whatever pages I presented each week. She wasn’t pushy and never “suggested” anything.”
Most importantly, throughout our years of working together, she only tried to steer the storyline twice. And because it had been so infrequent, l gave her suggestions careful consideration; I agreed with one suggestion and not the other. In both instances I believe I made the right choice.
Who else informed or inspired Bibsy?
Mayra Bloom was the other person integral to Bibsy because she saw academic value in the writing and research I’d done and helped me use it towards a BA degree in creative writing from SUNY Empire State College. She was also responsible for me being enrolled in the Sarah Lawrence College writing course where I was able to complete Bibsy.
Who was Bibsy?
Bibsy was the name of one of my aunts. She was one of my mother’s younger siblings who grew up in a Catholic orphanage. Because she was outspoken and opinionated and didn’t conform to familial or social norms for women of her period, as a child she commanded my attention. As a writer, I wanted to use the essence of who she was to explore a possible character.
How long did you work on Bibsy?
I worked on Bibsy off and on, mostly off, from 1981 until I took my sister Evelyn’s advice and self-published in 2015. I kept putting the manuscript down, including about 10 years after Letty died in 1991, but the story kept calling me back, demanding to be told and would not leave me alone. It stayed in my psyche.
What role did your daughter, Tasha, play in the creation of Bibsy?
In order to attend the Skidmore workshop, I had to find child care for Tasha, who was just six-months old and my eldest daughter, Nicole. (Mercifully, my mom held down the fort while I was away.) So Tasha and Bibsy are almost the same age. Tasha has lived with this story in the background her entire life, and thankfully has always embraced it and encouraged me.
Even to the point of arranging a reading of one of the scenes in the book at a downtown NYC cafe by a SAG actor, as part of a production requirement for her Masters in Playwrighting degree from Columbia University. She also has read several versions of the story and took the fabulous cover photo during a walk we took along the Hook Mountain trail.
Who are some of your favorite writers?
I don’t have a “favorite writer” but there are some works of writers I admire for different reasons. Obviously I’m very interested in Toni Morrison’s thought process, character development, scene selection, and overarching themes. My favorite works of hers are Beloved and The Bluest Eye. That James Baldwin dared to write a love story choosing the setting of an abandoned building (If Beale Street Could Talk) influenced my daring to attempt to use The Beach in the same way. Afro-6 by Hank Lopez began my reading odyssey. I loved that he just jumped into the action and kept my attention throughout.
What were some of the books that informed your local history research?
Reading local history, incorporating the African American version, and conducting oral histories inform my writing. You have to meld them together because there’s rarely a single source in which it all resides. I belonged to the Rockland Historical Society for years and received their monthly South of the Mountains publications. I joined the African American Historical Society in the late 1980s and early 1990s when they met at St. Charles AME Zion Church in Sparkill. Spent a lot of time in the local history room of the Nyack Library. And I’ve conducted a number of oral histories locally, all rich in details that would have never been captured any other way.
What gets recorded matters, and it begins with our own family histories that rarely get into “official” documents. That’s why we must take responsibility ourselves and get it done.
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
The best advice I can give to aspiring writers is to read. I believe avid readers become critical readers, and within that process if there’s a story burning for expression it will materialize.
Brenda Ross photo: Collette Fournier
Bibsy Cover Photo: Tasha Ross
by Bill Batson
The much beloved and indelible pastor of Pilgrim Baptist Church, Rev. Dr. Willie L. Hairston, recently announced his retirement. A banquet in his honor, which also commemorates his 30th year in the pulpit, will be held on April 25th at the Nyack Seaport.
30th Anniversary and Retirement Banquet for Rev. Dr. Willie L. Hairston
The banquet will be held at the Nyack Seaport, 21 Burd Street in Nyack on April 25, 2020 from 1 – 5pm.
Tickets at $100 per person. payable to Pilgrim Baptist Church.
Deadline April 10, 2020
Mail checks to: Pilgrim Baptist Church c/o Anniversary Committee. 80 North Franklin Street, Nyack, NY 10960
For information on obtaining an ad in the journal contact Mike Roy at
If you have any questions call (917) 662-4969 or (914) 419-9097
Pilgrim Baptist Church has found a safe harbor at the corner of High Avenue and North Franklin Street for the last 59 years. The building has multiple slanted roofs and high arched windows that look like the peaks of cresting waves. The pulpit is on the north side of the nave facing south, under a series of massive wooden beams that shelter the pews as the hull does the precious cargo of a sturdy ship. But the pulpit didn’t always face south and Pilgrim Baptist Church did not always rest at this spot. The spiritual voyage of this flock began in 1875 above a carriage shop on Burd Street.
Reverend Charles Mayo, Mr. & Mrs. Travis Armstead and Mrs. Kassie Whines were the souls that launched the first Pilgrim Baptist Church. When the Armstead’s daughter Katie became the congregation’s first pianist, the sounds of wagon wheels being repaired and horses being re-shoed accompanied her musical selections.
By the time the spirit and size of the faithful outgrew their humble dwelling, the second floor above Spector’s Dry goods store on Main Street and Bridge was secured. Twenty-Eight years of patience and perseverance at this equally modest location was rewarded when a building at 187 Main Street was purchased in 1903 for $1,600 under the leadership of Rev. John Robinson.
Having their own building must have created a fertile environment for the growth of the church. In 1938, a mortgage-burning banquet was presided over by Rev. W.C Taylor. By 1955, before the parishioners could get comfortable, the Pilgrim family required a larger house of worship and the search began again.
On May 1, 1961 the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of the State of New York laid a cornerstone for the congregation at a new church on North Franklin Street. The dwindling attendance of a German Presbyterian parish provided Pilgrim this new sanctuary. The chapel on Main Street was sold to Hollingswood Memorial Temple for $5,000.
After decades of temporary accommodations and transitions, Pilgrim had found a permanent home. A program of reconstruction and renovation was undertaken to make sure that spatial limitations would not necessitate another move. Some of those changes included changing the orientation of the pulpit from east to south and moving the entrance from Franklin Street to High Avenue. In 1994 the church observed another mortgage burning celebration. The sojourn was finally over: Pilgrim had its home.
A period of tranquility was further cemented by the arrival of a new pastor in 1990. Rev. Dr. Willie L. Hairston first stepped into the pulpit at Pilgrim as a guest preacher from Mount Nebo Baptist Church in the Bronx, New York. When the pulpit was later declared vacant, the membership of Pilgrim voted to make Rev. Hairston their leader. Rev. Hairston’s tenure has brought both dynamic programming and institutional stability to Pilgrim.
In a transcript of an oral history project at Nyack Library the late Hezekiah Easter, a prominent Pilgrim member, and Rockland County’s first African American elected official, described his childhood memories at Pilgrim. Easter recalled activities for young people that ran from early in the morning until night. Today, Pilgrim continues to focus on the needs of its youngest members. Children are supported in their spiritual education through Sunday school and choir, their academic development with scholarships and their professional aspirations with special services that encourage entrepreneurship.
Every January on the day that the Nations celebrates the life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Pilgrim holds a service. As the standing room only event, Rev. Hairston shared the pulpit with community leaders and local clergy including St. Philips AME Zion Church, and the Congregation Sons of Israel, presided over by Dr. Frances Pratt, president of the Nyack Branch of the NAACP.
African American churches have served as anchors for a community that has been buffeted by unpredictable and unforgiving political and economic forces. Even when this congregation lacked a formal tabernacle, they continued to serve as an additional safe haven for generations of African American families in Nyack. This church building is a monument to the dedication and sacrifice of a small group of Baptists who gathered in prayer 137 years ago in a wooden clapboard walk up. They selected the perfect name for their congregation that would sojourn for almost 100 years before finding a spiritual home: Pilgrim.
Special thanks to Brian Jennings.
Photos courtesy of the Nyack Library