Mendel Letters 71 — United Community Centers

Your grandson Solomon on the left with friends at the UCC East New York Street Fair

April 2, 2022

Dear Mendel,

Once when my teenaged son Solomon was driving me particularly nuts we were talking and I tried to get some advice on what you thought I should do. You didn’t have any immediate solutions other than giving me someone to complain to, but you did have a longer-term answer. Solomon had to find his own United Community Center. I immediately knew what you meant.

In high school and my first year in college I was generally unhappy and a little wild, details that don’t have to be rehashed here. In the fall of my sophomore year at CCNY, I met a new staff member working at the City College House Plan. Joe had previously worked with a community group as an organizer and youth worker, the United Community Centers in East New York, Brooklyn. We became friendly and organized a political group on campus committed to racial integration and the idea of bringing the anti-war movement off of the college campuses and out into the communities. Although City College was located in Harlem its student population was overwhelmingly white.

Joe eventually introduced me to the community center and its youth programs, including its summer sleep away camp. What I liked most about the Center was its interracial membership, I had grown up in a predominately Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx and the students in the schools I attended were almost all white. The Center also appealed to me because it had strong families and was not only a group of college students. As I learned more I realized that many in the leadership core, including its director and the President of its Board, were active in the Communist Party in the 1930s and the African American Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s and their goals were rooted in these earlier experiences.

United Community Centers members march for social justice.

In my junior year, our student group officially affiliated with the Center and became the City College Chapter of the United Community Centers. We eventually had about fifty members, many of whom became counselor in the summer camp. At a time when campuses were increasingly polarized along racial lines, the UCC-CCNY group was a voice for building bridges across differences and working together.

While I later developed significant disagreements with the rigidity of some of the older leadership, I remained active in the United Community Center for the next thirty years. I had found mentors, friends, and a political home. I worked in the camp, organized street fairs and educational programs, edited a community newspaper, worked in local schools, married, and raised a family there.

You were right Dad. Solomon needed to find his own United Community Centers.

Your son

Hard copies of these typed letters were discovered in an old camp trunk in the basement storage facility of one of the few buildings that remain standing in this Brooklyn neighborhood. The building is quite decrepit and is scheduled for demolition. The letters were found in November 2048 by a teenager who believes they were written by his great-grandfather. The letters are addressed to Mendel, the letter writer’s father, who appears to have been dead for at least six years when his son, whose name we are unsure of, started to write him. The son appears very agitated in some of the letters. With permission from the family, we are publishing them on the date they were written, only 28 years later.

Follow Alan Singer on twitter at https://twitter.com/AlanJSinger1

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