Meet the Young Crown Heights Resident Helping Lead the Next Phase of Our Neighborhood Strength Initiative
In August 2016, Sandra Friedman joined the Foundation's Neighborhood Strength intiative as our first-ever Neighborhood Strength Fellow, working alongside our consultant and faciliator Piper Anderson of Create Forward. Here, Sandra shares what she loves about her neighborhood of Crown Heights and what she's learning along the way.
I moved to Crown Heights three years ago with my father. At the time, I was eager to put down roots, but wary of uprooting those long established by my neighbors.
One thing I immediately came to love about Crown Heights is the architecture. I’m a sucker for old buildings. I’ll take the longest, most zig zaggy route just for the sake of going down certain blocks. Sometimes I feel like a tourist in my own hood the way I get distracted, walking around all wonderstruck, looking at buildings.
But my most favorite thing about Crown Heights is definitely all the bubs (my word for children). No matter what type of day I’ve had, I’m always excited to turn down my block because I know the kids are going to hop off the stoop, and start charging towards me screaming, “get her!” Brooklyn, buildings, and bubs; practically me in a nutshell.
I sought out the opportunity to be Brooklyn Community Foundation’s first Neighborhood Strength Fellow because of my commitment to Crown Heights, and lifting up the voices of those around me. I believe the Neighborhood Strength initiative is a valuable opportunity to address community issues through the context of larger social issues, drawing this connection is necessary in working towards systemic change.
Anyone who has spent time with me knows how much I love Brooklyn. It’s a definitive aspect of my identity. For me, growing up in Brooklyn meant opportunity, exposure, and independence. There’s such a strong culture of entrepreneurism amongst NYC youth. Growing up everyone around me had a clear vision that they were actively working towards, everyone on their grind.
It’s that hustler’s mentality that’s kept me motivated during times of exasperation and cynicism, and the reason I’m eternally grateful to have grown up here. This is the experience I wish for all children growing up in Brooklyn, but I know that my ability to experience this side of Brooklyn comes from a place of privilege.
Whereas I associate Brooklyn with freedom and accessibility, others might find fear and isolation a more accurate depiction.
Most recently, in my job as an after school teacher, I asked my students, vast majority of whom live in Crown Heights, what being a Brooklynite means to them.
It pained me to hear them unanimously agree that Brooklyn is not a good place to raise children on the basis of police brutality and gang violence. Instances of alienation and internalized racism have come up numerous times in our discussions around social justice.
A lot of people who move to Brooklyn love it for its “diversity”, not seeing that many of Brooklyn’s residents don’t experience said diversity in their immediate communities. Although not a problem in itself, this becomes extremely problematic because of the gaping disparity in the allocation of city resources amongst geographic lines, often mirroring economic and racial lines.
The amount of information I’ve absorbed since the beginning of the Neighborhood Strength Fellowship has been both overwhelming and extremely encouraging. While the list of places where racially based inequity isn’t being addressed by policymakers is seemly never ending, there is a lot of amazing work happening on a community level that often goes unacknowledged.
This fellowship has enabled me to be a more informed member of my community, and I’m looking forward to sharing all that I have learned with my neighbors so that they too can make informed decisions and take advantage of all the opportunities available to them.