From Brooklyn to Harlem

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Filmmaker Monique Velez discusses family lineage with Brooklyn volunteer fire chief John Culliver; Larry Findley of Feagin’s Country Store and director Bill Fehr. The group is in Brooklyn filming the documentary, From Brooklyn to Harlem.

As they talked, the group strung family names together like the frames of the film designed to capture the history and stories of yester year.

Gathered around a wooden table, one would never imagine all claimed kinship with one another – some through blood, others through history.

And Monique Velez was there to capture it on film – “From Brooklyn to Harlem” and back again.

Velez and her crew are the latest in a group of independent filmmakers to use South Alabama as the backdrop for their productions. Velez’s quest – a documentary of her great-grandmother’s journey from Brooklyn, Ala., to Harlem, N.Y., which began in 1915.

On Monday, the group was gathering stories at the one spot designed with story telling in mind – Feagin’s Country Store.

Velez, who has a master’s degree in historical preservation, said she’s always felt a need to document her family’s history.

“This project is about how to preserve stories and places,” Velez said. “Everyone has a story, a history. We should all know where we came from, and for me, this is what this piece is about.

“Brooklyn to Harlem is a narrative in African-American history,” she said. “Moreover, it is about a reconnection to the past that has been lost. It is about the significance and power of place. It is about the tremendous affirmation of knowing one’s story and lineage.”

Velez, who left New York four years ago to move to Charlotte, N.C., said she’s learned many value pieces of family history, including tracing her ancestry to a slavery days.

“I found out that my ancestor, Ned Richardson, was a slave who fought in the Civil War,” she said. “He was given his 40 acres of bounty land in 1891 right here in Brooklyn. This is where it all started.”

She and her crew arrived in Brooklyn on Friday and will stay one week. Days are booked with interviews and trips to important locations in family history, like the church in Pensacola, Fla., where her great-grandparents were married and to the First Zion Cemetery where her ancestors are buried.

“If you think about it, life is all about connections,” she said. “Now, we’re documenting them for future generations, and hopefully, people will understand the importance of learning who they are and where they came from.

“It’s an emotional and spiritual experience to stand in the same spot where your great-great-great-grandmother or grandfather stood,” she said. “To me, that has been the greatest accomplishment of this project.”

Velez said this is the first phase of the project. Second phase will entail shooting and chronicling in New York and Connecticut. Phase three is post production, and she hopes to show the film at film festivals.