Christina Crespo chalked this beautiful stoop message in the early days of the lockdown: “Thank you all who continue to help NYC get through this fight. Praying for you.”

This week we welcome Marj Kleinman. Kleinman is a visual storyteller and the founder of Stoop Stories. A lifelong Brooklynite who resides in her childhood brownstone, she has years of stoop-sitting under her belt. This symbol of Brooklyn culture became both her refuge and muse, especially during lockdown.

In addition to photography, Kleinman has more than 20 years of experience as a children’s content producer and writer, creating award-winning educational media with PBS KIDS, Sesame Workshop, Scholastic and Noggin. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Time Out New York, PBS Parents and Scary Mommy. She was also a contributing writer/photographer for Toca Boca Magazine, exploring the power of play and creativity in childhood. Kleinman holds a master’s degree in educational psychology from New York University and a bachelor’s degree in theater management from Emerson College. She has taught theater to kids and photography to grown-ups. Kleinman is mom to a very feisty black cat named Blackberry.

Qween Jean, costume designer and co-founder of Black Trans Liberation Protests, had been organizing protests on the stoop by The Stonewall Inn every Thursday for over a year in rain, shine or 10 degree weather. “This is not a binary struggle. I want people to know that trans womxn are womxn, and that we are MAGIC. I believe in Black Trans Liberation, and that vision of equality propels me and activates the flame from within.” –Qween

Stoop Stories is a documentary storytelling project designed to connect, support and celebrate our NYC neighbors, especially those hardest hit by the pandemic and systemic inequities. It honors generations of Brooklynites, past and present, who rejoice and take refuge in stoop culture.

“The iconic stoops of Brooklyn have always been the place to meet up, catch up and build community. During the 2020 lockdown, our stoops became our sanity and our solidarity. We gathered there to bang pots for essential workers, safely socialize, dine al fresco and work remotely. Some days, our stoops were our only connection to the outside world. That inspired me to venture out for a solo photographic series, visiting neighbors’ stoops from the safe sidewalk. I realized I was reviving something I had started many years prior—video interviewing elders on their stoops talking about the old days in Boerum Hill. During lockdown, it felt urgent to document these stories. 

Kalí Rodríguez-Peña and his Cuban Stoop Concert in Bedstuy

“As a lifelong Brooklynite still residing in my childhood brownstone, I explored my immediate area to create neighbors’ portraits and hear how they were coping with Covid-19. I was able to see and hear familiar neighbors on a deeper level, and get to know many I had never met. By creating colorful, vibrant environmental portraiture, I told a story of how the subject is grounded in a space—their stoop, their block, and their neighborhood. My portraits aimed at balancing authenticity and struggle with joy and upliftment.

“Over the past two years, I expanded to other parts of Brooklyn and evolved this solo experiment into a full-scale, transmedia, social impact initiative, in collaboration with a diverse community collective of contributors, along with a wonderful community of nearly 10K followers.

“Since April 2020, we have produced hundreds of features from families, essential workers, small business owners, activists, and artists throughout Brooklyn and the five boroughs. We amplify voices of BIPOC and underrepresented communities and call out injustice, while celebrating stoop life and moments of joy. Brooklynites have shared stories from their stoops, including notable natives like Shelley Worrell, founder of I Am CaribBEING and Little Caribbean, curator and community builder, Sadaf Padder, and Black Trans activist Qween Jean, who invited us to the stoop at the Stonewall Inn.

Carlo, Willow and Gretchen

Stoop Stories has been featured by the New York Times, Time Out New York, the Washington Post, NY1, PIX11 News and News12 Brooklyn. Our work has been exhibited at the International Center for Photography, Photoville, Arts Gowanus ArtWalk, Papergirl BK and Art on the Ave NYC. We designed a large solo show at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, with a companion exhibit at Photoville where we held a storymaking program with kids.

“Since not everyone has a stoop, we like to say, ‘A stoop is a state of mind.’ With that in mind, we visited sidewalks, storefronts, fire escapes, NYCHA houses, the red steps in Times Square and the grand stairway of Brooklyn Borough Hall. The idea of the stoop as a safe haven still looms large, but we also profile Brooklynites who are unhoused, evicted, in shelters or trapped at Rikers. We are constantly exploring how we can redefine ‘home’ in a more equitable way.”

View more of Kleinman’s work on her website and Instagram page. Check out Stoop Stories here

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