Sasha Phyars-Burgess, 2014 Fellow, sent us this photo essay about Hunts Point.
There is a youth, a stinging vibrancy in Hunt’s Point that belies its often desolate settings. Dead end corners lead to parks and abandoned lots turn into gardens. It’s not too much to say that there is a struggle here, but it’s merely indicative of the circumstances. The tide is turning. You can hear it on the streets sometimes, you definitely see it. The organizations that pop up, the hints of green busting through corners. You can feel people asking… Why can’t we have it too? What will our communities look like when we live equitably? And instead of waiting, people are doing. Taking ownership of space, claiming rights and sharing, and as always it starts first, with the kids.
Join Sasha and other Fellows on Field Day this Saturday, September 20th for Grow Love at the Kelly Street Garden (924 Kelly Street) Read more here.
Katherine Toukhy, Create Change Fellow, submitted this blog post during her recent travels to Cairo and Beirut. Read on for her thoughts connecting the response to police violence in Ferguson, the crisis in Gaza, and the struggle for environmental justice both locally and globally:
“she gathers clippings plants shrapnel/ scraps of sense floral fragile damaged/ wild eyed terrified girl is running/ searching for living room/ ringing bells for ghosts to follow” (Suheir Hammad)
There is definitely a feeling of urgency this summer. My summer has been caught in the barrage of daily news reports from the Middle East about ongoing unrest and war, particularly the crisis in Gaza. But the urgency is not a feeling only for seemingly remote places and people, but for the people in my neighborhood and this country. It seems there is no shortage of stories on gun violence, and more chillingly, military violence both here and abroad. It’s not hard to see the connections, considering our nation was founded on the genocide of Native American peoples and built on the backs of African slaves, and is now being maintained by illegal cheap immigrant labor. These are the same groups that some in our nation would like to vilify today in order to somehow justify the use of military artillery in the suppression of the riots in Ferguson, for example.
A few weeks ago, I had this nightmare:
a giant black steel army tank came through a Brooklyn playground. The only human trace was the driver’s nubby black head sticking out from the top. This tank extended heavy mechanical claws to pick up an entire brick school building in front of us. It was filled with young people—black and brown—lined against the windows, their backs turned to us. The mechanical arms slammed the entire building Up and Down, Up and Down… Then bodies inside started to break and shatter. And we, outside, were frozen with terror.
Naturally, my mind’s been caught up in it all. Against this political backdrop, I have been making a lot of art. My own, and with others, including teenagers I teach and four other brilliant souls, who are part of a fellowship I am doing with The Laundromat Project. We are working together to create a community art event in Harlem for September. After spending time in Harlem and being particularly inspired by the work of Brotherhood Sister Sol, our group decided to align our efforts with people in Harlem already creating and organizing around the nationwide Peoples Climate March on September 21.
But what does climate justice have to do with military and police violence? The answers might be clear to some, and I think others have more insight than me. But for me, thinking about climate justice means coming to think about environmental justice as a whole. What kind of justice is there in a local or global society where someone is cleaning up the body of even one unarmed son shot and killed by the police six times, or the bodies of two thousand, including unarmed mothers, sons, and daughters, bombed to pieces?
“I don’t want to think of who will go out on her hands and knees to scrub what’s left of the boy’s blood from the concrete. It will probably be a loved one, her hands idle after hours of clenching them into fists, watching what used to be her breathing boy lie lifeless, as she waited and waited and waited for the police and the coroner and the county to get their stories straight and their shit together and their privilege, sitting crooked as a ten-dollar wig, readjusted till it was firmly intact.”
Whose stories is this society working overtime to keep intact? And who works in the service of keeping these grand narratives intact?
I have been seeing more and more police on the streets in Brooklyn. Spending time in Harlem, another rapidly gentrifying area of the city, we have heard many stories mirroring the situation and power dynamic in Ferguson.
Many of us know there are other stories being told. They are bubbling fast now to the surface. For me, environmental justice starts with the telling and sharing and linking of these stories that connect Harlem to Ferguson to Gaza, from the ground up.
There are always great efforts made to keep those stories separate and hidden. But whatever is forced into hiding burns, if it’s not burned up first.
“Who does violence turn into / her heart is crater analysis/ a body of proof disregarded / balance of a world off axis / beauty molting steel/ a girl a flame consuming”
Meet our executive director Kemi Ilesanmi, who celebrates her two-year anniversary on the job today. Congratulations, Kemi, and thanks for your incredible leadership. Here’s to many more!
You’ve been involved with The LP in various ways: as an early member of the board, on the Artist & Community Council, and now as first-ever paid, full-time executive director. Congratulations on your two-year anniversary! What excited you the most about taking on this position?
I met (LP founder) Risë Wilson at a mutual friend’s brunch exactly two weeks after I moved to New York City in 2004. A year later, she invited me onto the board, and it’s been a magic love affair ever since! I served on the board for 4 ½ years and then stepped down to focus on graduate school. In every class, I would use The LP as a case study, and I served on the Artists and Community Council as well.
In other words, I drank deeply of The LP kool-aid and wanted to be a part of our ongoing success and growth. The most exciting part about becoming ED was recognizing both how much had already been accomplished by Risë, Petrushka, and others as well as how much more we were poised to do. I wanted to be part of a community that together would support artists as change agents and neighbors, grow creativity and social change tools in everyday folk, shift perspectives on how art fits into positive community development, and other essential journeys.
Formerly, you worked as a curator with the Walker Art Center, and Director of Grants and Services at Creative Capital—both wonderful organizations, yet quite different from The LP. How has your experience at the Walker and Creative Capital informed your work with The LP?
The seeds for doing this kind of work were planted at the Walker in Minneapolis, where I not only curated exhibitions but also ran our artist residency program—working with amazing artists such as Nari Ward, Julie Mehretu, and Sam Durant. For each residency, we connected the artists with local communities—be they Somali immigrants, Native American teens, or Hmong business owners. It was an especially transformative way to learn more about what was then a new city for me, and I learned how powerfully the arts could connect with different kinds of people, and outside the gallery walls.
What’s The LP value that keeps you engaged in our work?
I love all of The LP’s seven values and they ground me in the work everyday; however, the one that really keeps me jazzed is being “propelled by love.” For me, love is the most necessary and the most radical act we can commit every day as human beings. Having a job that values that four-letter word and makes it manifest on the ground and in the work is the. best. thing. ever.
Tell us about your neighborhood. What’s your favorite thing about it?
I live in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. I love that it’s a small town in the big city—with trees, lawns, small businesses, and an incredibly diverse mix of neighbors that I’ve gotten to know over the last eight years.
What is your favorite book, film or song about NYC?
Every September 17th, my anniversary of moving to NYC, I post the chorus from “Empire State of Mind” by Jay-Z & Alicia Keys. I’ve made this concrete jungle my home and as corny as it sounds, my dreams have come true here in New York City.