Q + A: Brooklyn Youth Activists on Working for Change in Their Communities (Part 1)
Brooklyn Community Foundation is committed to supporting the leadership and agency of youth in creating community change. The Brooklyn Youth Activists is a youth-led grantmaking and advocacy program that sees youth as experts and central players in making decisions around supporting youth-centered and youth-led projects. The Activists are hosting a youth conference on April 20, 2019 and have opened the application for the Youth Voice Awards.
We spoke to activists, Peace Titilawo and Alexander Davis about the positive and transformative work they are doing in their Brooklyn communities.
Here in part one, we hear from Peace, who's work focuses largely on community empowerment through a food justice lens. Peace is a former intern and present staff member at East New York Farms!, a project of the United Community Centers that works with youth, gardeners, farmers, and entrepreneurs to build a more just and sustainable community since 1998.
Can you tell us about your role as a youth fellow and activist in Brooklyn?
I’ve been a Brooklyn Youth Activist for four years now and an activist for over eleven years. I’m part of a group of youth activists that works on grant-making and advocacy over a 10-month period. We come together to make decisions on youth-centered and youth-lead projects. We have a strong interest in Brooklyn and the world entirely. I come from the food justice background, but others come from a racial justice, economic justice, and other focused backgrounds. What we found is that all our backgrounds in social justice come together.
We designed the Youth-Voice Awards. Here, we get to decide what projects will go toward helping the community. We are the youth experiencing the problems and strengths of our community directly. We see what’s wrong and we know how to go out and make a difference. We create an annual conference for young people to speak about how to organize and come together. We’re having another conference at the end of April where youth activists lead and direct workshops.
What does racial justice/equity mean to you?
I think racial justice and equity means that no matter where you live, either a lower income or higher income community, everyone should have access to healthy and fresh food. In low income communities, there’s a higher risk of disease and obesity. This stops people from living healthy lives. I think that definitely plays into racial justice, too. Access to public spaces and green spaces for communities to gather as well as access to fresh fruit and vegetables is so important.
How did you get involved with East New York Farms?
My story starts around the time of my last year of junior high school. When I would walk around my neighborhood, I noticed at a young age, the disadvantages of being in a low-income community. I never knew that there were gardens and farms around East New York… You just see a lot of vacant lots, fast food restaurants, and bodegas most of the time.
The farm was recruiting at my school, IS 218 in East New York, and it was immediately a match. I was thirteen and looking to work. I put in my application and got accepted as a first year intern. Coming from Nigeria, my family always gardened and farmed for our fresh fruits and vegetables. After the first year, I kept on applying and assumed many leadership roles; I was the crew leader, market manager intern, the volunteer coordinator, Farm and Education assistant, and Urban Agriculture Coordinator. After my four years, I applied for an externship and got it. Then I became part of the staff at East New York Farms! I also got my parents involved. They started as community gardeners then became vendors during our markets (on Wednesday afternoons and Saturdays). I got my sisters involved too, so it became a family affair. I finished the 4 year internship program and it led me to so many other organizations. I learned how to grow food for the community of East New York, I learned leadership skills, time management skills… everything that I use now in my professional life and in the ways that I work for community justice.
What advice do you have for others who want to get more involved in their community?
I think programs like East New York Farms and Brooklyn Community Foundation will propel you to speak up. It’s not that young people don’t want to speak up, it’s just that they need a space to do so. Young people have powerful voices and being around others making change empowers and strengthens those voices. These are meaningful spaces because they give people an opportunity to speak.
What do you bring to social justice work in Brooklyn? What is your lens? Can you talk about your experience working with the issues you are involved with or a moment that’s been impactful to the work that you do?
Just being in this line of work is so powerful. My minor in college was public policy and I was doing my capstone project on food insecurity. Getting out there and doing the work made my project so much stronger. I felt like I was a part of the solution rather than just writing about it or speaking about it. I’m so passionate about this that it is no longer a project, it’s personal. Living in this community, there’s still more change that needs to be done but I’m a part of the solution. I know there is hope.
If interested in volunteering or interning at East New York Farms, call 718.649.7979