Episode 11

Interview with Mathylde Frontus

Mathylde Frontus posing with Mary

With primary petitioning underway (again) and all of our local campaigns in full swing, we’re taking one more dive into local and state elections in an interview with Mathylde Frontus, running for New York’s 46th State Assembly District. The district covers the southern portion of Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach, and all of Coney Island west of Brighton Beach. Mathylde is a nonprofit director, scholar, and organizer who grew up in Coney Island. She has focused her life and studies on Social Services, mental health, community organizing and education.

Mary and Dan sat down to interview Mathylde and talk about what it’s like to run a storefront community services organization in the district, as well as her history organizing and guiding local grassroots non-violence projects in the district. The most recent of these has been the Coney Island Anti-Violence Collaborative, which recently joined local groups for rallies in front of the infamous Knights of Columbus NRA Meeting this past April, as well as a large March For Our Lives rally on the Coney Island Boardwalk in March.

We also went over what is driving Mathylde’s candidacy: a desire to systematically reform government. This includes improving community feedback (by creating new mechanisms such as a community think-tank), encouraging residents to become more aware of their government (by creating new civic workshops to help people run for office), and by pushing for more transparency in the Albany budget process to uncover corruption and improve accountability. We also discuss specific issues, such as education and mental health services.

Finally, we take some time to go over the local news. It’s been a busy week in Bay Ridge, with the arrest by ICE of pizza deliveryman Pablo Villavicencio Calderon at the Fort Hamilton Army Base resulting in local arrests and protests. In addition, there’s been a short-notice Community Board Transportation Committee meeting on Bike Lanes that deals with the DOT 92nd street proposed lanes. Finally, there is the chaotic overlap of the NY-11 (Staten Island and South Brooklyn) federal congressional primary election on June 26th with the petiti0ning throughout June for candidates running in local elections (Including Ross Barkan, Andrew Gournardes, and Mathylde Frontus.) Get your walking shoes ready and volunteer!

Get in touch with Mathylde Frontus:
Website: www.FrontusForNY.com
Facebook: www.Facebook.com/FrontusForNY
Twitter: @FrontusForNY

Show Notes

Recent News

ICE Arrests in Bay Ridge

We opened the show with some recent news about Bay Ridge for the week of June 3rd, 2018. We started off by mentioning the recent arrest and detainment of Pablo Villavicencio Calderon. Pablo is a pizza deliveryman who was delivering catering to the Fort Hamilton Army Base when, unlike the previous times he had delivered to the base, he was detained despite showing his municipal IDNYC card. He was able to access the base as usual, but another guard stopped him inside the base asking for more identification, which is not standard. The guard may have had a personal issue with Pablo. Pablo also stated to the NY Post that he did not authorize the base to conduct a background check, which generally requires written permission upon entering the base.

The arrest was reported in El Diario on June 4th, which sparked a press conference early in the day on June 5th with local elected officials, and a major protest by activists later that evening, which resulted in the arrests of seven Bay Ridge residents and neighbors who were participating in a coalition that responds to ICE detainment and arrests.

The coalition is organized by the Immigrant Justice working group of NYC Democratic Socialists of America and the New Sanctuary Coalition, and includes local activist groups as participants, including Bay Ridge for Social Justice and South Brooklyn Progressive Resistance.

We’ll have more information on the protest, how you can help Pablo, and ways that you can get involved and defend your neighbors in an upcoming episode.

For more up-to-date news, follow @RadioFreeBR on Twitter.

The NY-11 Election and Petitioning

June is a busy electoral month! From June 6th through July 9th, candidates for state office will be collecting petitions to earn their place on the primary ballot. This includes our Mathylde Frontus, as well as our two most recent interviewees, Andrew Gournardes and Ross Barkan.

Remember, you can sign a petition for one candidate per race. For the 22nd Senate District Democratic primary, you can choose either Ross Barkan or Andrew Gournardes. For the 46th Assembly District, you can choose between Mathylde, Ethan Lustig-Elgrably, or Chris McCreight. Both Ethan and Chris come from rival Democratic clubs in the district, representing Coney Island and Bay Ridge, respectively.

Also, June 26th is election day for the NY-11 race! We covered all the candidates in the race this past March, so listen in on those previous episodes if you haven’t decided yet. We also highly encourage you to check out the wonderful voter guide that Fight Back Bay Ridge developed. 

The guide is also available in Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Spanish.

Community Board 10 and Bike Lanes

Dan also mentions at the top of the episode that Community Board 10‘s Transportation Committee recently met to listen to a DOT proposal for bike lanes along 92nd street.

The meeting resulted in the committee pushing back on the DOT proposal, citing a few issues. First, that 91st/92nd do not line up at 3rd Avenue. Also, that the 92nd street corridor between 5th and 7th Avenue is adjacent to many schools, and that the 92nd Street overpass is dangerous for a painted lane without signal improvements and more bicyclist protections. Finally, residents were concerned that 91st and 92nd were too steep, and that bicyclists would thus be unable to get out of the way of frequent emergency services vehicles that use the route to get to the senior housing facility at Shore Hill.

As a result, the Transportation Committee set up a supplemental meeting at the District Office on 5th Avenue for June 12th at 7 pm. They’ll discuss how they intend to move forward and to discuss the possibility of whether the Community Board would be interested in organizing a visioning session with local cyclists to come up with a possible bike plan for Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights.

It’s a public meeting, so feel free to show up and lend your voice!

Interview with Mathylde Frontus

District Boundaries

We started out our interview with Mathylde by talking about the exact boundaries of New York’s 46th Assembly District, which includes most of southern Bay Ridge. The dividing line zigs and zags from the water to 3rd avenue, but generally lies along 79th street. If you live in the 80’s or 90’s, you certainly live in Mathylde’s district.

Languages in the 46th Assembly District

Mathylde mentions her early childhood in Crown Heights, and that she speaks fluent Haitian Creole. According to the government’s 2015 American Community Survey, the number of residents in the 46th Assembly District that speak a form of Creole is estimated to be over 12,000, the second most spoken dialect in the district. Only Russian is higher at an estimated 25,000 residents. Chinese accounts for about 9,000 residents, Arabic at 4,000, Greek at 3,000, and Italian at 2,000.

However, Mathylde’s (passable) French puts her in a more rarified category: only about 300 residents speak it!

Nature versus Nurture

Mathylde talks about how growing up in Coney Island affected her future and guided her towards social work, community organizing, and more. She mentions that where we grow up often has a major effect on who we are and what we choose to focus on as we grow older.

Researchers in 2012 did an interesting study comparing two liberal, waterfront cities: San Francisco and Boston, and found dramatic sociological differences that defied traditional socio-economic distinctions. You can read a brief overview of the study over at CityLab.

Educational History

Edward R. Murrow High School

Mathylde briefly shocked Dan during the interview by mentioning that she attended Edward R. Murrow High School, graduating in 1994. Dan is also an alumnus of the sprawling 4,000+ student public school, which has an odd history.

It was designed to experiment with the teaching methodology of John Dewey, and had a number of peculiar quirks. While Mathylde and Dan were students, the school was divided into four quarters, rather than semesters. Dan mentions OPTA’s, which were “Optional Time Activities” that students could schedule when they did not have class in a particular “band” (period).

Grades were also different from the rest of the public school system. Murrow used a letter-based system rather than numerical grades, which was designed to keep students from getting overly concerned about small differences in each other’s scores. Bells were not used at the school, and students were trusted to keep track of their own schedule… a difficult task since classes changed in start time, duration, and placement throughout the week without ” homerooms.”

Higher Education

Mathylde briefly mentions her educational background in a few spots throughout the episode.

By the way, you heard right! Mathylde mentions briefly that she attended NYU at the age of 16. Her entire educational history has been exceptional. According to a 2011 interview with the Brooklyn Paper (where she won one of Brooklyn’s ‘Women of Distinction’ awards), Mathylde was able to read at age 2 and started first grade at age 4. She entered high school at age 12! 

While attending NYU, Mathylde commuted from Coney Island, and while there helped start a chapter of the Council for Unity. It was another early example of her commitment to social justice, violence prevention, and community organizing.

Mathylde also makes brief mention of her post-graduate work, after getting her Bachelors and Masters in Social Work from NYU. She also received a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University’s Teacher’s College (2000), and then went straight into an interdisciplinary program at Harvard, sharing her course load between the Divinity School and the Psychology department, where she earned her Masters in Theological Studies in the Psychology of Religion (2002).

Thesis and Doctorate

At this point, with three Masters degrees, Mathylde returned to NYC and briefly lived up at Columbia University while pursuing her Ph.D. from the School of Social Work. Her thesis fused all her various degrees in psychology, social work, and divinity: it was an analysis of how clergy view themselves and their role in the field of mental health services. Clergy are (and historically have been) “frontline sources of mental health information” in their communities.

Her findings showed that while clergy viewed their role as mental health providers very seriously, few had formal communication with or training from professional mental health providers. This is critical since clergy are on the front lines of tackling roadblocks that prevent people from seeking treatment, such as the stigmatization of mental health. Mathylde’s research can hopefully bridge the gap between professional social workers and spiritual advisors in the community, and encourage collaboration.

Urban Neighborhood Services

On her return to Coney Island and while working on her Doctorate, Mathylde decided to found Urban Neighborhood Services in 2004. The idea had been kicking around in her head since High School.

Mathylde mentions that the office is right on the main drag of Mermaid Avenue, a block away from MCU Park and three blocks west of the subway. She mentions that everyone would need to walk past her doors while heading to Stillwell Ave. This would include everyone west of W19th street, including all of the NYCHA facilities in Coney Island, such as O’Dwyer Gardens, Carey Gardens, Surfside, Gravesend and more. These housing facilities account for over 8,000 people alone.

  • More show notes coming soon!

This episode was recorded in our Bay Ridge studio with co-hosts Mary Hetteix and Daniel Hetteix. Post-production and editing are by Daniel Hetteix.

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