Studio Apartment in Late-1960s Building


Location Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn

Rent $597 (sublet)

Square feet 375

Occupant Yanna Thomas (vendor, clothing designer, Reiki practitioner and healer)

There are a lot of ancestral spirits in here!

I’m always in a state of ceremony, all the time. The oldest piece is a funerary clay bust from Ghana, 1700s. There’s a hole in the back of the head so the spirit can be released. That doll with the turquoise body, white skirt, and owl feathers on its head is a kachina doll. A lot of people don’t want to deal with owls. In Native American mythology, owls tend to represent messengers of death. But I love owls. I will tell you this—there are never any women kachinas. That owl is a manna kachina, a man dressed as a woman who comes to entertain the men. He’s in drag.

You also have peacock feathers on the wall, layers of white silk, lace, raffia, and cowrie shells floating down over your bed, deacon and pastor chairs from a church, a serigraph of . . .

He’s Medicine Crow, a medicine man. I’ve always had things around me to reflect both my African and my Cherokee and Blackfoot ancestry. My grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-grandfather from South Carolina were healers. I’ve always been interested in the metaphysical and occult side of life.

Everything is so perfectly placed in your apartment. Nothing is random.

I cleaned up! I tend to change things around twice a year. Though certain things I don’t move at all. They’re quite contented where they are. I don’t want to disturb their energy.

When most people think of Bedford-Stuyvesant, they think of brownstones.
My apartment is not typical. I live over a pizza shop. Fried chicken is to the right of me. I’ve been here going on four years. It’s one of the buildings that are part of Restoration Plaza across the street, where Billie Holiday Theater is.

I read that Restoration was founded in ’67, the first not-for-profit community development corporation in the States.

It was Ethel Kennedy’s baby. Later, Restoration started to sell the buildings off to individual landlords, like the one I’m in. I’ve been subletting my apartment from a friend. I used to live in Fort Greene in a brownstone—$625 when I went in, in ’92. In ’97 it was $950. I said, let me out.

Your building has a beautiful courtyard, so late-’60s—brown brick, orange hallways. Six days a week, you walk around to the front, on Fulton Street, the most rocking marketplace around, and set up your vending table and sell your wares—silver pyrite that looks like it’s from the moon, pieces of crystalline quartz.

The quartz can be generated to bring peace to the home. I had a shop for years a few blocks away. I grew up about 20 blocks from here in a tenement. My father was a laborer. He came up north from South Carolina to look for work. When he found a job, he sent for my mother and my siblings. She was pregnant with me. My father worked very hard to buy a house for us on Boerum Street. I lived there from the time I was 13 to 18. Then I left to seek my fortune in the world. My sisters are social workers; one brother works for the sanitation department. I’m the exception. I’ve traveled a little bit to the Caribbean. I have two children. I’m a grandmother.

Would you like to travel more? Or, well, you sort of have the world in here.

I could just put a knapsack over my shoulder like the little boy in the Norman Rockwell painting. I’d go to India, to the Himalayas. I dream of monks and ceremonies.

Do you entertain a lot?

Not really. I visit other people a lot, do my Reiki healing. I come back at night. I meditate, read, or I’m in my cradle—that’s what I call my bed. Sometimes I feel like a little child. Sometimes I feel very old and wise.