November 25, 2020

Community Organizer Fellowship Spotlight: Red Hook Initiative

An Interview With Kiyana Slade at the Red Hook Initiative

In 2019, Enterprise launched the Community Organizer Fellowship, a program funding three community-based organizations across New York State to further their community organizing priorities. The fellowship seeks to empower these organizations to address pressing issues including displacement and increasing the supply of affordable housing. In this blog post series, we will provide space for each organization's community organizer fellow to reflect on their work.

This week we are featuring Red Hook Initiative (RHI),  an organization based in Red Hook, Brooklyn that seeks to address systemic issues facing the community through youth empowerment. ”Red Hook Initiative (RHI) believes that social change to overcome systemic inequities begins with empowered youth. In partnership with community adults, we nurture young people in Red Hook to be inspired, resilient and healthy, and to envision themselves as co-creators of their lives, community and society. We envision a Red Hook where all young people can pursue their dreams and grow into independent adults who contribute to their families and community.” Their fellow, Kiyana Slade, is working to create a multi-generational organizing approach to raise needed funds for the New York City Housing Authority's (NYCHA) Red Hook Houses through RHI's newly created Intergenerational Organizing Academy.

Briefly describe your professional and personal background and how that led to your current role at Red Hook Initiative as a community organizer?

KS: As a resident of Red Hook Houses since the age of 4, I have witnessed my community change in a lot of ways. I’ve seen changes in the population of who lives here, infrastructure, and growth.

I have experienced the importance of public housing by having my own NYCHA apartment and I want the youth to have the same opportunity that I was given. RHI is a part of the reason for being where I am now. Being a part of RHI as a young person, I was able to identify the words for the work that I do and that I wanted to be a community organizer. I identified that there was a gap with young people being at the table for decisions that affect them and engaging them in the organizing work. Throughout my work I have been able to build up young people to do this work alongside me.

What is the general state of community organizing in the Red Hook area?

KS: Red Hook is home to the second largest public housing development in New York City, the Red Hook Houses, home to close to 10,000 people. Red Hook is historically an industrial area and has been geographically cut off from the rest of Brooklyn by the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. NYCHA is currently $40 billion in debt and needs funding to improve infrastructure. Our organizing at RHI focuses on getting Red Hook Houses the resources needed and building the leadership skills of youth and adults to advocate for their neighborhood. Our newly created intergenerational Organizing Academy brought together high school youth, young adults, and older adults to learn about issues facing NYCHA and how to organize in their community.

What is needed to further the progress you've already made, especially considering the obstacles posed by Covid-19 and and where do you see community organizing going looking into the future for the Red Hook community/area and yourself?

KS: Despite Covid-19, our community was still able to come together and support each other in the time of need. We strengthened our relationships with community partners and organizations in our work. The work ahead for organizing in Red Hook is to continue advocating for funding for the Red Hook Initiative and to build out our campaign, bring new youth into this work, and bring the neighborhood together. This summer the NYCHA chair introduced a new plan for funding public housing, we are working to ensure residents are aware of this proposal and have a seat at the table when these plans are being discussed. We will continue to work with residents to ensure their voice is heard in planning and implementing any changes in the community.

What big takeaways/lessons have you learned from the first year?

KS: Over the past year, I recruited and trained a cohort of youth organizers who went on to attend tenant association meetings, went to city and state rallies and protests, lobbied in Albany, and planned and conducted workshops with their peers. I worked with the lead organizer at RHI to implement an Organizing Academy for 25 residents, and launched the Fully Fund Red Hook Houses campaign. What stands out to me the most and makes me want to continue this work is knowing I am able to have the space to share power with the young people in my community and see them step up and watching them share the power with their peers.

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