People of New Haven
Yale students comprise only twelve thousand of the 130,000 people who inhabit New Haven—a small, coastal city in southern Connecticut. As students, most of our lives are spent in only one of New Haven’s forty distinct neighborhoods—downtown New Haven, which, other than being home to Yale’s campus, is also New Haven’s central business district. Neighborhoods like West Haven, Westville, Dixwell and Fair Haven are rarely frequented by Yale students.
In the spaces we move around in most—the familiar restaurants and shops on Broadway, Chapel, and Hillhouse, there are some fascinating people with whom we don’t get the chance to interact. I decided to interview some unique members of the New Haven community. Each interview left me inspired, made me smile, and gave me a glimpse of the many wonderful people that surround us here in New Haven. These people are dedicated to their work, their families, and their communities in unimaginable ways.
Student at Southern Connecticut State University
Councilman for Hamden’s Fifth District and Activist
Justin Farmer is not your regular college student at Southern Connecticut State University—he’s also a Hamden City Councilman, and a prominent activist in New Haven. He lives in Newhallville, which is split between Hamden and New Haven, and says that even though he’s not technically a New Haven resident, he’s “six houses away from being one.”
“I was born a townie. I am a proud townie,” he says.
You’ll see him riding his bike, which he affectionately calls the Majority Whip and wearing noise-cancelling headphones, which aid with his Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder. He also usually wears a tie.
“My friends will make fun of me if I wear jeans,” he told me. “They say, ‘OMG! This is so amazing, what has happened!’ I have to remind them that I’m a normal person—even if I am 6’3.”
Farmer makes an effort to attend the public lectures that Yale offers, but sometimes encounters negative responses.
“Yale has tons of events and it says that they are open to public, but oftentimes to get to those events you need to get through two to three closed doors,” he explains. “Once you’re in the meeting people ask, ‘Oh, what college are you in?’ ‘Southern.’ ‘Oh is that one of the new colleges?’ And I have to say, ‘No it’s a state university in New Haven.’ Some people get weird about it.”
On the other hand, he continues, “Once someone says that I am an elected official, people get more excited.”
Farmer also says that Yale students can be “pretty insular.”
“There’s obviously [Yale students] with chips on their shoulders—I mean if you are told you’re the best and the brightest, you will have certain attitudes and behavior,” he says.
But he sees his interactions with Yale students and the New Haven community as uniquely important.
“Important people move through New Haven all the time, and oftentimes we forget to look at the people at the periphery who are as much a part of the community as any of the Yale students,” he says.
“Think of me coming to Yale as reverse gentrification and destigmatizing exclusive space.”
Luciana Q. McClure
Founder and Community Organizer at Nasty Women Connecticut
Photography Instructor at Creative Arts Workshop
Artist at Lucy Q. Photography
Three years ago, a global art and activist movement was born in New York City, as a response to Donald Trump’s use of the phrase “nasty woman” to describe his opponent, Hillary Clinton, during his campaign.
“The movement emphasized that artists could make a difference, especially female ones,” Luciana Q. McClure told me. McClure is an artist, educator and community organizer who started her own offshoot of the Nasty Women Exhibition movement in New Haven.
“I’m an immigrant, a mother, and a woman,” she explained. It was impossible for her to sit still while Trump’s rhetoric disempowered women. She knew she had to take action.
“As artists, what can we do?” she asked herself.
“One day, I sent out an email to thirty or forty people in the art community in New Haven,” she explained. “It was 10:30 p.m. The message sounded political, crazy, and desperate. I was so worried.”
But she was surprised by the reception she received. “The next day my email was flooded with support from people. I didn’t expect that,” she said. “We created this dialogue and put things in motion.”
Luciana views art as an essential tool to capture and communicate human experiences. “It’s less about what’s on the canvas as an aesthetic, and more about someone’s voice and the opportunity to express their truth through their art,” she explained.
She believes that Nasty Women Connecticut “encouraged cross generational feminism—with local, prominent, underground artists, Yale professors, and others all creating a space where everyone felt they could belong.”
Her work is everything to her. She says, “In the past three years, this work has been only thing that has given me joy, other than being a parent.”
Manager at Good Nature Market
A friendly face at GHeav
His original name is Jesang, but we all know him by his American name—Joshua, which he adopted when he immigrated to America from South Korea in 2001.“My aunt in California said that Joshua is a very good guy in the bible and so that should be my American name,” he tells me.
Joshua Ham—or Josh— is the manager for Good Nature Market on Broadway. He is also one of Yale’s most well-known and adored friendly faces. You’ll see him working his shift into the early morning hours.
“My work at G-Heav overnight is hard,” he says. “God makes the human daytime, walking and nighttime, sleeping but mine is upside down. Daytime, I sleep, and at nighttime, I work. But I am happy.”
Josh regularly posts on Facebook about what brings him happiness: Yale students. His posts include pictures with students and statuses about how much he misses them when they’re not around.
“Ninety percent of my customers are Yale students,” he says. “They’re very friendly and they’re the reason I’ve been working here for 6 years—I wouldn’t if I didn’t like Yale students.”
Coordinator at Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS)
The Yale-IRIS contact
Dennis Wilson travels to schools and organizations around New Haven to educate community members about refugees, as part of his work for Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS).
Dennis hasn’t always lived in New Haven. He moved to East Rock in 2007.. “I love the community,” he says. “ I love… that [New Haven] has this cool combination of size—a smaller city—with different facets and communities.”
For his work with IRIS, Dennis has interacted with several Yale students. “Some of my most meaningful interactions have been with extremely caring and talented students who spend a lot of time and effort providing youth services—tutoring, mentoring, helping kids who need to get into college,” he remarks. “The reason IRIS can supply many of the services it does is because of the volunteer and intern community which is largely made up of Yale students.”
Dennis’s love for New Haven and its community also arises from the interesting spaces present here. One of his favorite places is Manjares Bistro—“It’s a neighborhood spot, and there are many local people from the neighborhood, especially journalists. And you can eavesdrop on fascinating discussions!”
Attorney at Irving Pinsky Law Office
The lawyer who works out of a truck
Have you ever seen a truck roaming around New Haven with “Pinsky Law” printed on it? It’s owned by Irving Pinsky, an attorney from New Haven. Pinsky is passionate about providing legal services to populations that need it most, and believes that his truck is essential..
“A lot of people are intimidated to go to a law office because they think it’ll cost them money, and that they’ll have to fill forms and get by filters before they actually see a lawyer,” he explained. “I wanted people to know that all they had to do was call—dial a number and they’d get the help they needed.”
For Pinsky, “New Haven without Yale is too boring… Yale is fabulous,” he adds. “Previously, the Yale New Haven hospital was not getting along with the community and now there has been a huge improvement—it is very proactive with the community.”
Pinsky is always working on something new. “The case that I’m working on right now is to stop the practice of American football—I don’t want children hitting each other under state sanctioning.” He has “studied brains of children who play football” and found that “they suffer from concussive injuries and lose a lot of white brain matter.” In fact, he says, “Trump’s problem might even have come from playing football when he was young.”
Landlord at Arnold Lehrer Properties
“Arnold Lehrer properties—serving Yale with quality landlording” is printed in bold, white letters on Lehrer’s official website. Lehrer is an established landlord in New Haven and owns properties on Lynwood Place and Chapel Street.
Lehrer was “born in New Haven to a hard working immigrant family with good values.” While he was growing up, he recalls that “Yale was, and still is kind of far reaching for most people in New Haven.”
“It was a part of our world but we didn’t touch it much,” he explains.
His business started out in a unique way: in 1978, he bought a family home for himself and rented out the apartments he wasn’t using to students. ““I found myself enjoying being a landlord, interacting with and taking care of students,” he explained. A few years later, he bought the office space that he still uses today.
Though his office, located on 1214 Chapel Street, is “basically part of Yale’s campus,” it was notorious for different reasons back in the day. Lehrer tells me, “At that time it was the red light district—there were prostitutes everywhere on the street.”
Lehrer who then reflected on his concerns: “I was a poor kid, looking at this building and figuring if I could turn this place around, I had a lot to gain.”
Then, something shocking happened. He tells me, “I hired a distant cousin to the plumbing in my building and he told me that my superintendent was a pimp and that my building was a brothel.”
When I asked him what makes him so special to students, he replied, “I recognized early on that a student tenant is a little different from a regular residential tenant. A Yale student is basically an adult, and needed a certain degree of care, health and understanding and I tried to fulfill that role.”
Lehrer is devoted to his work, and still, he reports: “My business is small now though—I only have two buildings. It’s hard to grow when you want to do everything yourself, you know?”
Co-Owner of Jitter Bus Coffee
Brewing your coffee to-go
In a fast paced, vibrant area like downtown New Haven, there’s one thing that residents are always looking for: coffee. What then, can be better than a coffee truck which brews fresh coffee on HillHouse Avenue? One of the geniuses behind the infamous “Jitter Bus, Coffee” is Dan Barletta.
“The Jitter bus started as an idea in 2014 by Paul Crosby, my other partner. He came up with the original idea and thought it would be so cool if ice-cream trucks sold coffee,” he tells me.
Mr. Barletta recalls the venture starting out “as a funny idea.” But then, his friends and him began the real work. He runs through the steps: “We started with buying an espresso machine and then began to realize we were serious about this happening. We then bought a school bus off of Craigslist. We ripped all the seats out of it and started a kickstarter campaign to raise money to turn it into Jitter Bus.”
Cab Calloway’s song, “Call of the Jitterbug” was the inspiration behind the name of Mr. Barletta, and his friends’ venture. It was also inspired by “the feeling you get when you have coffee,” he adds.
Founder of Claire’s Corner Copia
New Haven’s favorite baker
Now infamous for its delectable cakes and breakfast menu, Claire’s Corner Copia has existed for forty-three years. She began this venture with her husband, but had been interested in the food business from a long time ago.
“My grandparents immigrated from Amalfi, Italy. We all grew up eating traditional Italian food. I had never had a pudding out of a box until I went to college,” she tells me. “My mother was a purist and everything had to be fresh,” she added. The tipping point for Claire was when she went to college at the University of Bridgeport, and “saw what food in the real world was like.”
Claire then met her husband in nursing school and together, they decided “to open a restaurant and make real food.” Other than her passion for fresh food, she reports having a “crazy idea that if we all share meals together, we’ll realize that as humans, we all want the same thing: we want our parents to live to old ages, we all want children to have a better life than we had, and mostly, we want joy.”
Claire’s Corner Copia serves the New Haven community in more ways than one. “Aside from the fact that we make people understand the importance of organic food, we also do a good job proving that eating well matters. We are also big donors to child guidance clinics, New Haven Reeds,” Claire tells me.
In the last forty-three years, Claire has seen a noticeable change in the dynamic of Yale students that frequent her restaurant. “Before, I used to see groups of white students coming into my cafe. But, it’s such a blessing now—here’s so much racial interaction. To me, there’s nothing more joyful than seeing people of different faiths, and races, in our dining room.”
Joe Ballaro and David Negreiro
Founders of Fussy Coffee
Catering to the most moody amongst us
Tucked away in Winchester Avenue, a little away from downtown New Haven is the new, hip cafe—Fussy Coffee. It’s co owners are two brother-in-laws, Joe Ballaro and David Negreiro, who are both from Shelton, Connecticut.
“Joe has owned a bar in Shelton, and I used to own a bakery in Milford,” David tells me. “The idea of “fussy coffee” has been a joke between Joe and I. After a big meal we’d get lethargic and we’d say we want a coffee, but not a junky coffee. We wanted a nice coffee, for which we’d be willing to drive an hour away—and hence it would be a fussy coffee.”
Fussy Coffee “is unique because it has a strong focus on the coffee program.” David explains: “we were inspired by the Third wave of coffee which demanded control over the harvesting and roasting process of coffee to produce a high-quality coffee. We also offer original coffee—Ethiopian, Kenyan, Columbian—and try to give more character to the coffee.”
But at Fussy Coffee, it’s not just about the coffee. David tells me, “we even have a cocktail program and are working through an extensive wine list. We didn’t think there was a place where you could go and get all that stuff that you might want.” They expand on their vision: “we wanted to find a place for the community to go—hub for people to meet and a place where they feel comfortable and where they could get work done or meet up with friends.”
Founder of House of Naan
Harry Singh grew up in New Haven, but was born in Punjab, India. He grew up in the restaurant business, and so he decided to open up New Haven’s favourite Indian fusion restaurant: House of Naan which is “intended to bring a new twist to Indian cuisine.” As an example, Mr. Singh tells me about House of Naan’s “most special dish—” chicken tikka fries, “because everybody likes chicken tikka masala and everybody likes french fries!“
Mr. Singh reflects on how New Haven serves his business. “I’ve lived in New Haven all my life and I think it’s a city which is growing and going to continue to grow tremendously. It’s between Boston and New York so it’s an ideal spot for young professionals, business people and entrepreneurs, which makes access to entertainment and restaurants important,” he says.
House of Naan is unique for numerous reasons. Mr. Singh explains: “The restaurant is designed in a way where people can relate to the restaurant even if they’re not South Asian. It’s almost like an American restaurant but with Indian food. Usually at authentic Indian restaurants, people can’t understand the menu and staff but our employees are trained to be approachable.” Consequently, “everybody comes in excited to try something new and people are always happy and in a good mood,” he claims.
Employee at Donut Crazy and Community Organizer
Kamairi Cooper is one of the managers of Donut Crazy. You’ll almost always see him smiling or cracking witty jokes. However, there’s more to him than you know—he runs two, successful NGO’s in New Haven.
“What I find to be very important in New Haven is the need for mentorship for young people,” he tells me. From that understanding came his inspiration to open up his non-profit ’Ignite The Voice’ “which is based around providing young people with an artistic outlet, and a place where they can learn with how to deal with their stress.” He believes that in doing this, “we can eliminate the amount of crime and violence and some of the low self esteem issues that plague our inner cities.”
While Mr. Cooper recognized the struggles of children, he also knew that their issues “come from somewhere and most of the times it’s family related—be it a lack of someone in the home or a lack of support from someone in the family.” Hence, he started his other non-profit ‘Mindful Men Motivate,’ “which is a group of men who go out into the community, be it in school, or right around the corner of the street and give kids some motivation or advice on what they can do to become more successful.”
In his work with the community, and “as a resident of this city” Kamairi has “noticed that the Yale community carries itself on a higher plateau than anyone else: their priorities are more important than anything else.” Essentially, he says that ”the business community accepts the Yale community well because they bring revenue. But, when it comes to the everyday relationships, it’s different.”
He gives an example: “If you just look at downtown and you go down broadway, and towards Marriott hotel, you see that beyond it, New Haven looks like a desolate land. That’s part of why New Haven residents feel a particular way—they feel neglected.” Kamairi admits that “the university does financially invest in the New Haven community,” but—he adds— “it can’t just be about the dollar, it has to be about the human relationships.”