Breaking Barriers through Community Building

In South East Brooklyn, sort of sandwiched in between East New York & Mill Basin, is the low income working class neighborhood, Canarsie. Its resident's are predominantly Caribbean immigrants who've worked towards the "American Dream". Its’ houses and homes, are fenced with white picket fences, some featuring driveways and manicured lawns, all signifiers of their strive toward this "dream". Canarsie is where I was born and raised, Canarsie is where I first understood possibility. Whether it was the community organized block parties, the bright expansive murals painted by hopeful youth, or the regularly scheduled council meetings at the community center - possibility was evident here, possibility was once a driving force.

Over the past decade, there has been a shift in the atmosphere of the neighborhood of Canarsie. Obscure and seemingly impenetrable, impossibility now hangs over the neighborhood like thick fog. Efforts toward wholly obtaining this “American dream” seem tired and derailed. Most residents here are just trying to survive. Surely this feeling of impossibility isn’t unique to this neighborhood. Impossibility is a reality for poor black & brown neighborhoods & families across the country. A reality created by the institutions we look towards to help us achieve a whole, fulfilling life have just left us broken, overworked, and hopeless. The effects of this seem to not only seep into our homes, neighborhoods, and communities but into every facet of our lives - physical, mental, and spiritual. Healthy, supportive communities is so essential to our growth and well being, but how exactly do we begin to rebuild our neighborhoods and communities from the effects of institutional injustice? What did they leave us with and what do we make of it?

My life purpose is to sustainably rebuild poor black & brown communities - with a specific focus on food justice and youth empowerment. Youth are the backbones of their communities and neighborhoods. They are our builders, educators, innovators, scientists, artists, and so much more. They embody eagerness and brilliance, they are our hope for the future. However, youth - specifically girls, aren’t always given the tools and safe spaces they need in order to grow, lead, and make decisions that benefit and sustain their well-being and communities.

In response to this issue, I created and facilitated the workshop series “Soil & Soul”. The workshop series, created for young girls aged 10-18 in my neighborhood, focused on self-care, community care, and food justice. This experience really affirmed my belief of just how integral youth are to community building. Firstly, the power of intergenerational dialogue cannot be underestimated. Each session, the participants discussed with keen awareness the issues that existed in Canarsie. Their ability to connect and relate on topics (body image, catcalling, student-teacher relations etc.) really broke a barrier that initially existed between the pre-teens and the teens that came to the workshops.

I believe this is so important to sustainable community building, breaking the barrier that exists between age groups. Secondly, their lack of access to information and language to describe their experiences with such issues by no means stopped them from effectively doing so and furthermore brainstorming solutions. The girls worked with such fervor and passion in investigating the how, why, and what of issues in Canarsie. We need this. If we are to rebuild healthier, happier communities, We need the curiosity, passion, and brainpower of black and brown youth. I am committed to rebuilding and revolutionizing poor black & brown neighborhoods and creating safe spaces that support youth agency & advocacy.

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