BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — An almost 40-year-old grassroots organization started by a legendary and controversial Bedford-Stuyvesant community activist was evicted from its headquarters after years of alleged unpaid rent and misuse of their office, according to reports.
Now the organization's president says the group was evicted unfairly.
"They expect us to go away quietly," said CEO Ali Lamont. "I'm not going away quietly. I have just as much a right to be there as anyone else."
The Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, who own Restoration Plaza, did not return multiple requests for comment. But in an interview with Our Time Press, BSRC President and CEO Colvin Grannum said that the organization, founded in 1975 by the late Sonny Carson, allegedly signed a lease for "a very nominal rent" and never paid up.
"Our goal is not to kick people out, but to be of assistance to them," Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation President Colvin Grannum told the paper. "For a decade, we tried to be patient with Heroes, but it didn’t work and at some point you have to take action for the well-being of the other tenants.”
Carson, who died in 2002 and was influential in the creation of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, helped create Black Heroes as a way to encourage and promote African American culture in the community.
Carson is also a controversial figure in the city's history, who rose to prominence in the 1960s as a militant activist who fought for community control of public schools, according to his New York Times obituary.
After Carson's death, the group was taken over by Lamont, who moved offices to the fourth floor. That's when the group allegedly stopped paying rent, Grannum told the paper.
“We are respectful of the work they [CHBH] do, but you can’t let one tenant disregard the rules,” Grannum told the paper.
Grannum also told the paper that the Committee to Honor Black Heroes let people sleep in the office and use the community bathrooms in the morning to wash up.
But in an interview with DNAinfo.com New York, Lamont said that his organization traditionally did not have to pay rent, and that Grannum and BSRC had promised to let the organization stay in the building rent free.
"He welched on it," Lamont said of the alleged deal. "Grannum told us don't worry about it, we'll take care of you."
Lamont also said the people who allegedly lived in the office were simply people who were left without any other options. The Committee to Honor Black Heroes allowed them stay there at no cost until they could get back on their feet, Lamont said.
"The whole thing they put on us is bogus," Lamont said. "We have people who come to us from the community who are losing their property. A lot of them are seniors, a lot of them are veterans."
The Committee to Honor Black Heroes has since found a temporary home on Macon Street, Lamont said.
Lamont is a controversial figure in his own right. In 1990, he was found guilty of attacking a Bedford-Stuyvesant school principal, and in 1974, Lamont and Carson were both convicted of kidnapping a man named Henry Manley.
He was also a pivotal figure in Carson's fight for community control of the schools.
Now 74, Lamont said those days are behind him.
"It is what it is," Lamont said. "I was involved in a lot of activism and demonstrations down through the years."
Lamont has for years criticized BSRC. In a roughly two-hour video uploaded to YouTube in 2011, he and others accused the organization of mismanagement and corporate greed.
"Restoration was on the ball at one time, but they have since headed in another direction," Lamont said. "They weren't supposed to get rich on this community. That's a tragedy."
In the interview with Our Time, Grannum dismissed Lamont's assertions, and said the organization remains committed to its stated purpose of helping the residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant.
“The goal is to get people into qualified jobs where they can move up the career ladder," Grannum said. "Earning a living wage is a key component to economic stability and it helps in preventing displacement from the community.”