“Rochester’s Broadway”

Photography by George Cassidy Payne

 

“Clarissa Street is one of Corn Hill’s most historic and oft-changed streets. Originally named Caledonia Avenue by Corn Hill’s early Scottish settlers, in 1844 the southern portion of this street was renamed “Clarissa,” after Clarissa Greig, the daughter of early investor John Greig. Eventually the street was altered to include all of High Street, now the northern section of Clarissa, and by 1930 all of Caledonia Avenue had been renamed Clarissa Street.” (http://cornhill.org/history-of-corn-hill/clarissa-street/)

 

 

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The original street was on the edge of the the Corn Hill area and extended into the Plymouth-Exchange (PLEX). It was a black neighborhood as early as the 1820’s. From that point on it grew as one of the centers for the Third Ward‘s black neighborhood.

 

 

“By the mid-20th century, Clarissa Street had become a main commercial district of the Third Ward. Businesses included the Gibson Hotel, Latimer’s Funeral Home, Ray’s Barbershop, Scotty’s Pool Hall, Smitty’s Birdland, LaRue’s Restaurant, and Vallot’s Tavern.” (https://rocwiki.org/Clarissa_Street)

 

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Clarissa Street became famous for jazz and for clubs such as the Pythodd Club, the Elk’s Club and Dan’s Restaurant and Grill (later Shep’s Paradise Lounge – now The Clarissa Room).

 

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Photos of jazz greats who played on Clarissa Street (taken from inside Clarissa’s)

 

Sometimes you have to play a long time to be able to play like yourself.

Miles Davis

 

 

 

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Ornate vent design in Clarissa’s

 

 

 

“The Pythodd was a jazz club in the Corn Hill neighborhood that attracted big-name musicians like Pee Wee Ellis, Ray Bryant and Wes Montgomery as well as aspiring local talent like the Mangione brothers. The Clarissa Street club was a vibrant part of a thriving neighborhood, a stop on the “jazz circuit” with a scruffy façade and a bona fide bebop vibe. Crowds jammed elbow-to-elbow seemed to sway as one in harmonious jubilance, as described in a 1970 Upstate story.

“A lot of places in Rochester have music,” wrote the author, Bill O’Brien. “A lot of places are almost in darkness while the bands play. People jiggle in drinking establishments all over town … But the Pythodd has its own kind of feeling. There’s a ribs and chicken, soul, good time Charlie, hustle me baby, drink it down and shake-all-over atmosphere at the Pythodd.”

(http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/local/rocroots/2015/06/19/whatever-happened-pythodd-club/28939711/)

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The Spirit of Clarissa Street Lives On

“In 1830 Rev. Thomas James, an escaped slave, founded the Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, then located on Favor Street. This church became a center for the Underground Railroad, for Frederick Douglass’s abolitionist newspaper, The North Star, and for the women’s suffrage movement. In 1975 the A.M.E. Zion Church was relocated to its present home on Clarissa Street, and it remains Rochester’s oldest ongoing African American institution.” (http://cornhill.org/history-of-corn-hill/clarissa-street/)

 

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Frederick Douglass’ Church

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Mt. Olivet Baptist Church from Clarissa Street

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“The Clarissa Street Reunion is an annual festival that takes place in one of the most culturally rich neighborhoods in Rochester. The event celebrates a neighborhood known for producing renowned jazz musicians in the 1940’s, 1950’s, and 1960’s. Clarissa Street, which is located in the southwest quadrant of Rochester and in the old 3rd Ward, was a true melting pot that brought together people of Black, Italian, Irish, and Jewish descent. Streets were cobblestone and trolley cars were a familiar sight. The Clarissa Street Reunion, held annually since 1996, is a wonderful celebration of the memories and the relationships that were formed in the neighborhood.” (http://www.cityofrochester.gov/ClarissaStreetReunion/)

 

 

 

Son House Memorial Plaque on Clarissa and Greig

 

Ain’t but one kind of blues and that consists of a male and female that’s in love.

Son House

 

 

 

Flying Squirrel Community Space

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Architecture on Clarissa Street

 

It’s impossible for me to feel like there’s only one way to do a thing. There’s nothing wrong with having one way of doing it, but I think it’s a bad habit. I believe in range. Like, there’s a lot of tunes that I play all the time-sometimes I hear ’em in a different register. And if you don’t have complete freedom, or you won’t let yourself get away from that one straight line, oh, my goodness, that’s too horrible to even think about. – Wes Montgomery

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Reading List

From Faulkner

I learned perspective

From Kesey

I learned wildness

From Voltaire

I learned irony

From Heller

I learned paradox

 From Dostoyevsky

I learned patience

From Dickens

I learned mercy

From Orwell

I learned politics

From Baldwin

I learned integrity

 From Shakespeare

I learned rhyme

From Golding

I learned madness

From Hesse

I learned dignity

From Twain

I learned truth

From Thompson

I learned intuition

From Sophocles

I learned humility

From Steinbeck

I learned separation

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The Price

 

 

The Price

Torch your temples.

Bomb your libraries.

Shred your books.

Shatter your testaments.

Burn your philosophy.

Destroy your religion.

Go in search of you.

You are the search.

And your wrist-like a bar..code

will remind you of the price.

Based out of Rochester NY, George Cassidy Payne is a theologian, philosopher, poet, journalist, and social activist. He is a graduate of Colgate Rochester Crozer School of Divinity (2006) and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University (2009).

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Temple Beth El: A Community of Living Memory

Photography by George Cassidy Payne

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For years I have driven or walked by the magnificent Temple Beth El without really stopping to investigate its history and significance. So, this Holocaust Remembrance day I decided to stop by one of the most alluring architectural accomplishments in Rochester to see what I could find.

As I learned in my research the building was designed by Percival Goodman who was one of the first Jewish architects to create private and public structures for a generation of Post-War World II Jews. Goodman perfected a style which embraced the more favorable aspects of suburban life, and he maintained-especially in his religious structures- a sense of holiness, awe, and reverence that represents the more favorable aspects of Judaism.

Temple Beth El was unveiled in 1961. It is a perfect example of Goodman’s vision as an architect. It combines everything his work has come to symbolize for today’s generation of builders. It is a massive complex but no matter where one stands they feel at ease and at home in the space. Each angle and corner invites the viewer to be a participant in a feeling that predates them, sometimes challenges them, and ultimately can redeem them. It is a building that is multifaceted, formidable in scope, but above all practical. For every Jewish house of worship is also a community center, school, administrative office, playground, arts complex, garden, and more.

At Temple Beth El, there is no sign of the 6 million dead after Hitler’s sadistic rampage across Europe. There is no tangible evidence of the horror that engulfed an entire race of human beings. Instead, there is a marked feeling of everlasting faith in God, resilience in the face of evil, and a belief in human ingenuity and functionality. This is a living, breathing community that has endured for over a 100 years.

Invigorating without intimidating, Percival Goodman’s landmark Temple Beth El will endure for as long as people place their faith in the power of community, memory, and God’s eternal watch.

 

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Percival Goodman (January 13, 1904 – October 11, 1989) was an American urban theorist and architect who designed more than 50 synagogues between 1948 and 1983. He has been called the “leading theorist” of modern synagogue design,[1] and “the most prolific architect in Jewish history.”[2] (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Percival_Goodman)

 

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Temple Beth El is rooted in communal values. This is a building that emanates a spirituality for the whole person and the whole family. It is not ornate. It fits in with its idealized suburban surrounding naturally and humbly; yet the temple is an unmistakable presence that leaves viewers with an experience of remembrance and vitality.

 

 

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The bushes and trees on the property are meticulous. Temple Beth El is a space that works with the natural elements. The birch trees and oak trees spilling over from Washington Grove beyond the Kame  are handsomely integrated throughout the temple grounds.

 

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This is a building that was erected for the generations. The front is totally open to the public, while many parts of the building are walled off from the rest of the community. At once, this effect gives the space a sensation of both individuality and universality; it models the spiritual essence of the very faith it invites people to encounter.

 

 

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The Courtyard Out Back

Garden Beds in April

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Goodman’s Windows

 

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A View of the Temple From the Top of the Kame Below Washington Grove

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Make no little plans: they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we have gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty.‎ –

Percival Goodman

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The Graffiti Towers of Washington Grove: A Photographic Gallery

 

All Photography by George Cassidy Payne

For a long time I have been interested in the debate over graffiti. On one side it has been called a revolutionary art form that breaks boundaries and upends social narratives about beauty, professionalism, property, freedom, law, order, and so much more. On the other side, it is seen as an obnoxious impostor in the art world-one that makes a mockery of painting and a juvenile enterprise of outdoor expressionism. By the way, it is also illegal.

Those who say that graffiti is not just a real art form but art at its most fundamental, would find the water towers at “Washington Grove” enthralling. Those who say that graffiti is not a real art form but a menace to society, will see the towers as appalling, vandalized relics of a more mature and temperate age.

But isn’t that what art is all about? Pick a side. Make a stand. Declare your position. Fight for your beliefs. Defend them at all costs. Make your life your art. Make every declaration an artistic one. Do not succumb to platitudes and verbiage. Do not be an imitated version of your best self. The very fact that graffiti makes us ask these questions and pursue these existential problems, is proof enough that it is a genuine art form that must be reckoned with.

All good art challenges the notions of who we want to be. The best art changes who we want to be without our permission. It makes us see another possibility of ourselves whether we want to or not. It forces us to grow.

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Graffiti is one of the few tools you have if you have almost nothing. And even if you don’t come up with a picture to cure world poverty you can make someone smile while they’re having a piss. 
Banksy, Banging Your Head Against a Brick Wall

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“Some people become cops because they want to make the world a better place. Some people become vandals because they want to make the world a better looking place.”
Banksy, Wall and Piece

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“Speak softly, but carry a big can of paint.”
Banksy, Wall and Piece

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People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish… but that’s only if it’s done properly.
Banksy, Wall and Piece

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“I was here but now I’m gone
I left my name to carry on
Those who liked me
Liked me well
Those who didn’t can go to hell'”
-The bathroom wall”
E.M. Crane, Skin Deep

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“If it takes more than 5 minutes, its not graffiti.”
Mint Serf

Freedom and Order: Two Perspectives on American Justice

 

The purpose of the law is to mitigate against self-interest. If it were up to individuals, the law would always work in their favor. The dice would be loaded. Fate would twist in their direction, and the coin would invariably land on the side picked. The odds would be as irrelevant as yesterday’s sports section. If it were up to individuals, every police officer would let us go without a speeding ticket, and every judge would dismiss our case without looking at the evidence.

But, is this actually the justice system that rational citizens want? Are these the expectations that we want to hold our police officers and judges accountable to? Do we really want a world where each case is decided based on the whims of individuals, rather than the ideal objectivity of the law?

What makes a single person so special? Why do they deserve to get off when their neighbor is caught for the same crime? Why should a police officer charge one person with speeding, and the next person with a seat belt violation? Why does one person get pulled over, and another person get a courteous wave? Why does one boy get shot for waving a toy gun, and another boy get a thumbs up?

Don’t we want our police officers to treat every single person the same way? Don’t we want our judges to sentence every single person the same way? Don’t we want our congresspersons to vote with the interests of society at large in mind? Don’t we want our teachers to raise our youth to believe that every mind is given the same attention? Don’t we want our doctors to treat every person with the same level of urgent care? Isn’t this what we call blind justice? Isn’t this American Justice?

Perhaps. But not everyone sees justice this way. The urge to expect that each individual will be viewed in the eyes of the law as a unique personality is quite powerful. There is a reason that this mindset has so much support: after all, it is founded on sacred values such as freedom, creativity, flexibility, open mindedness, and dynamic love (which is always uncontrolled and unpredictable). This form of justice is never caught in semantic traps. It is never dragged down by the chains of a system. It does not need to respond in a prescribed way. Since all people are unique, spontaneous, and mysterious beings, the law should, ideally speaking, view single incidents as single incidents; and every single person should be judged differently, based on the current state of their singular affairs.

This form of justice makes a difference when you are the one being charged with a crime or forced up against the wall of systemic exploitation. You want the cop to see you and not your skin color or gender. You want to be accounted for as a real person, and not a symbol. You want to be a name with a story, and not a stereotypical representative of a group.

In America today, these two ideas about justice are always contesting. They jostle back and forth like two gladiators pitted in a ring. Some days, the side of personalized-restorative based justice wins out. On other days, the side of societal-retributive based justice wins out. There is no easy compromise between the two, and it is never very clear which side is more in harmony with the needs of our time.

Take, for instance, genocidal slavery in the Americas. The criminal justice system in today’s United States will only serve and protect African Americans if it can abide by universal moral guidelines which pertain to every citizen in equal measure. (Precisely what was absent in the 18th and 19th centuries.) Discrimination will never ease the pain and suffering of more discrimination. Hate will never kill hate. Only love can do that.

Echoing the good doctor’s words, we also need to accept that every situation in life is unique. There is not a single person, or single event, that is not shaped and influenced by an infinite number of variables-all of which make punishing someone an arbitrary charade that tarnishes the reputation of justice in the minds and hearts of those who rely on it most.

In the speech of speeches, MLK said it better than any American who has ever dared to think and act as a morally free individual guided by a determined social conscience:

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

 

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Photo by George Cassidy Payne

 

 

Who is Teaching Whom? A New Father Reflects on 10 Months

Emily Dickinson once wrote: “Truth must dazzle gradually or every man be blind.”

Gradually, the truth has begun to dawn on me that my 10 month old son lives a much healthier lifestyle than I do.

Take for instance Mendon’s diet. He eats only organic fruits and vegetables. These delicious and wholesome purees are painstakingly prepared by his doting mother several days in advance. Dinner is served at the same time everyday, and he eats breakfast and lunch on a clockwork schedule as well.

Regarding sleep, he has a strict bedtime that is rarely upended or deviated from. Come 7:00 pm, he is in bed drifting away to soothing instrumentals on Pandora. Come 7:00 am, he is up and ready to greet the day with a Brooklyn Bridge wide smile.

What is more, he has absolutely no drugs or alcohol in his system. He does not take prescription medicine, and he has no need for mood altering substances. His system is chemical free, pure of all intoxicants, and fueled by nature’s balanced allotment of serotonin.

He takes one step at a time. He has nowhere to go in particular, so everywhere he crawls is where he wants to be.

He always makes time for play. He laughs at the simplest things. He adores animals; and other children thrill him.

He has no politics. He says what he feels and feels what he says. He sees everyone through an unbiased lens, and he embodies the noblest characteristics of humility, acceptance, and carelessness. To put it succinctly: he is happy.

So who is teaching whom? Who is modeling how to live? Who is the real mentor in this relationship? I doubt very much that it is I who am doing the majority of the teaching.

When I consider our two lives in contrast, I see that he is the model and I am the pupil. For why am I so often hampered by anxiety and discontentment? Why am I so often preoccupied with tomorrow while today slips away untended and untried? Why do I drink to take the edge off? Why do I smoke to relax? Why do I not play with animals more? Why do I not laugh just for the fun of it more? Why do I stay up past midnight? Why do I eat processed foods? Why do I watch so much TV? Why do I listen to others at the expense of my own intuition? Why do I so often perceive people through the lens of my own fear and judgement?

Yes, indeed. Who is teaching whom?

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