the group chat

An Oasis in Fort Greene Park

Photo: Hamadi Prince

The Lay Out creates space for the Black community to be outside. The spontaneous event series happens at the top of the hill next to the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene Park. Picture it: a cloudy-ish afternoon in the middle of summer; you are riding your bike down DeKalb Avenue toward downtown Brooklyn. You glance up and notice crowds of beautiful Black people flowing into the park’s southeast side entrance, so of course you follow them. You might run into friends along the way. As you approach the tennis courts you are greeted by hundreds of Black people hanging out — laughing, dancing, lounging on picnic blankets intimately engaging with old and new friends, and serving their Sunday best. Suddenly everyone is singing the lyrics to your auntie’s favorite song, “Candy Rain.” It’s not a dream. It’s my first time at The Lay Out, around 3 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon in June.

Photo: Hamadi Price/Courtesy of The Lay Out

The Lay Out founders Manushka Magloire, Emily Anadu, Briyonah Mcclain, Michael Oloyede, Cyrus Aaron first created this safe space in Fort Greene park for Black people to experience joy on June 7, 2020, following the murder of George Floyd. The founders, friends and friends-of-friends, were all part of a group chat created during the pandemic as a place for people to virtually connect when they couldn’t physically.

The Cut spoke with founders Anadu and Magloire about how they translated text messages into a joy-affirming reality.

Tell me the origin story behind The Lay Out.

Emily Anadu: Last year the world was upside down. First it was COVID-19 — I live right on Fort Greene Park and, for my sanity, I was taking at least two- to three-hour-long walks every day, a lot of times just lapping the park. Then there was the murder of George Floyd. When the city put in place the curfews it felt like, at night you would see protests on the streets and news, then the next morning you would see 99 percent white faces in the park like it had never happened. The night Manushka and I met was the night of the protest that started at Barclays Center and ended on DeKalb Avenue by the park with the police van having the Molotov cocktail thrown into it. It was a Friday night and it literally looked like a Jerry Bruckheimer movie out there.

Manushka Magloire: That thing that was interesting that we kept commenting on was that you could tell that there was tension between the residents, indigenous Black folks that you could tell were probably from NYCHA, coupled with these young white kids that just wanted to be, rah rah; it was a sense of like what are you even talking about? This isn’t even your neighborhood. You are caught up in the rapture—

Anadu: You want to be on Instagram.

Magloire: Exactly! It’s not even your life; it’s not even your actual existence as a white person to be running around here. You just want to be able to yell ACAB. Like, great, cool, but you get to leave, this is our home. And like Emily said, that was the first night we met in person. We had been on a group chat throughout the lockdown; it was a connection point for a group of amazing women that were brought together. The Lay Out was bred out of our group chat that night .

Photo: Hamadi Price/Courtesy of The Lay Out

Anadu: Later that week, I reconnected with a woman, one of the other founders, and we were sitting in the park on a beautiful day looking around again at all these white faces. And I had this idea, so I put it in the chat. We literally put out the first flyer the next day at noon. It came together in less than 72 hours. Our first event didn’t have any music because the idea was just peace is a form of resistance; it was just about Black bodies together taking up space in the park.

How do you define The Lay Out’s impact on the community?

Anadu: We always joke that people think of us as a day party, but more importantly we’ve tried to leave either permanent or kind of ephemeral marks on the community. In terms of permanent marks, there’s a bench that is dedicated to George Floyd, which sits at the bottom of the hill where we congregate.

We’ve also partnered with a group called One Love Community Fridge, and through the work we’ve done with them this summer, we’ve ended up funding  three fridges in Clinton Hill and Fort Greene for about two months, stocking them three times a day, five days a week, with fresh food.

Our Juneteenth celebration this year was the full manifestation of everything we would like to be: we had spoken word, an all female jazz band, One Love community fridge did a mobile soup kitchen with 2,000 probiotic juices and 200 meals given out.

Magloire: It’s collaborative solidarity, the community coming together.

Photo: Hamadi Price/Courtesy of The Lay Out

Why the park?

Magloire: The outdoors component is very important to us because it’s the physical representation of us reclaiming space, Black visibility. Black presence is really crucial, especially in areas where you feel the violence of gentrification. In that park there is a clear line of demarcation and this is why we position ourselves, front and center at the top of that hill, you’re going to see us, you’re going to hear us, and you’re going to feel us as we are here. The park is an open shared space. Air is free.

So what’s next?

Magloire: There’s a lot of planning we’re looking at for the fall and we want some time to get the house in order before we formally come out with what we are going to do. But the thing I can say is that we have so much heart for how we harness this energy, how we can drive actual meaningful impact that is tangible, that is helpful to communities and extends and radiates out. Using that lens of culture intentionally and not for marketing, not for evaluation, not for capitalizing because it’s the right thing to do. We know our force and as a cultural currency, why not use that paradigm shift to really start reimagining how we take up a space and what effects that has in our community.

Photo: Hamadi Price/Courtesy of The Lay Out

Anadu: While outdoors is obviously foundational and very important, over the next several months we want to see what it looks like when we go indoors because our people stay on us when we’re not talking to them enough and we’re not giving them places and things to do.
As we move into our next chapter, we are trying to formalize ourselves more as an organization and also making sure when we do get to the point of asking people to help contribute that it is very clear what it is being used for and what it’s going to.

An Oasis in Fort Greene Park