Interviewers: Mark Naison and Natasha Lightfoot
Interviewee: Donna Brindle
Date: May 23, 2005
Summarized by Leigh Waterbury
Donna Brindle was born in 1953 in the Bronx and lived on Intervale Avenue until around the age of 11. Her parents initially moved to the Bronx because other friends of theirs were, and those socializations became an important part of Donna’s upbringing. Both of her parents were musicians, her father was a concert pianist and one of the founders of The Symphony of the New World in the 1950‘s. Her parents were also politically active. Her mother worked with NAACP as well as Youth Houses for Boys. Donna says one of the most defining aspects of her family life was politics and that well-known people would frequently visit their home and discuss music, arts, and politics, although to her their status in society was not important. The families they would travel with on summer vacations were usually connected through politics or music, so much of the emphasis of her early childhood seems to have been centered around those topics. Race was also an important discussion topic in her household. Her parents had a very multiracial social circle and they frequently got into discussions on racial politics and discrimination. It was also something Donna and her brother experienced in education. She says she was aware of racial perceptions in learning environments, especially in attending PS 11 in University Heights. Both Donna and her brother attended the school which had previously been a white school. They began to attend at the time when schools were just beginning to be integrated and they were bussed to the school.
Even though her parents divorced when she was 1 year old and her mother eventually remarried, both parents were involved in her life. She lived with her mother and brother in the Bronx, but spent weekends with her father in Harlem. Her mother and stepfather moved the family to the new Butler Houses in Claremont Village around 1964 and stayed there until the early 70’s. She discussed the differences in living in the small tenement buildings on Intervale and the projects of Butler Houses. Although she was growing up during the emergence of the drug era she says she was not personally effected by it and was not really all that aware of those things going on around her.
Education was very important to Donna and she admits she was a bit of a nerd, which is probably why she was not aware of the drugs and gangs going on in the projects around her. She attended Taft High School in the late 60’s where she was a part of the College Bound Program which was just beginning at Taft and included 100 students. She says that the level of instruction was much higher in school back then than it is now and says she has a difficult time choosing a school for her own children because she feels that none are adequate. She also believes that race politics are worse now than they were when she was in school, which is interesting considering the time period she was in school. She was very involved in politics as a young adult as well, but never was one to go to marches or demonstrations. Donna went on to graduate from Lehman College and is now a psychotherapist and still lives in the Bronx.