By AMBER ALEXANDER
Flatbush Avenue is home to a cool cultural space dedicated to preserving and showcasing Caribbean heritage. The CaribBeing House, as it’s cleverly titled, is the brainchild of Shelley Worrell, a Trinidadian American and life-long resident of the neighborhood.
The space lies inside a red trailer situated in the Flatbush Caton Market, a place where local merchants in Flatbush have sold their goods for over a decade. While the market itself has multiple booths with vendors selling items such as West Indian jewelry, flags, food and skincare products, CaribBeing House has a more modern and artsty vibe.
To the right of a plank leading to the entrance is a square wooden sign that says “Be social.” Inside, a blue neon light that says “I am CaribBeing” hangs against the wooden wall. There is pop art with symbols that represent Caribbean and New York culture. There are also tote bags emblazoned with the CaribBeing logo and more art work for purchase and a giant sheet in the back for visitors to sign.
“I chose the Caton Market because it’s in the heart of the community,” Worrell said. “I see Flatbush as one of the most important cultural centers of the Caribbean and the Caton Market is a Caribbean market—it is situated right on Flatbush Avenue. “So, when the opportunity presented itself to us, we decided that we couldn’t turn it down.”
CaribBeing House offers the annual Flatbush Film Festival, art exhibitions, different types of cultural presentations, artist talks, dance performances, trunk shows. “The space is going to be constantly changing and we could even have a dinner party here if we wanted, so the whole concept is that the space will continue to evolve overtime,” said Worrell, who conceived of the organization in 1999 while studying at Brooklyn College.
Worrell was born three blocks from the market and has lived in Flatbush for most of her life. It was not too far away, at the library on Linden Boulevard, that the organization began to take shape.
“I think that’s another reason why I wanted to have a presence here,” she said. “We started CaribBeing at the Flatbush branch of the Brooklyn Public Library so, for me, this particular corner and this particular neighborhood has a lot of cultural significance but also, it’s very personally significant to me as well,” she said.
The name CaribBeing came to be when Worrell was an undergraduate. “It was like a play on words,” she said. “We didn’t have a definition back then. The definition actually just came about in the last six months as we’ve just gotten deeper into our work but it was just something that I thought about back then and I didn’t know what it would be. I didn’t know that it would become a viable non-profit organization.
As Brooklyn undergoes a transformation due to gentrification, ethnic communities such as Flatbush are changing rapidly. Worrell is confident that CaribBeing will continue to thrive.
“I think, right now, it’s about preservation and presentation of Caribbean cultural heritage as Brooklyn is changing very quickly,” she said. “I do see CaribBeing as one of those gatekeepers and preservers of our rich cultural heritage as well as our contributions to New York City and the United States.”
Photo: Shelley Worrell helps preserve Caribbean culture in Flatbush. (Amber Alexander Photo)