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Women’s History Month: Honoring Wanda Salaman and Mothers on the Move

March 24, 2017

The South Bronx has a long history of women inspiring their communities to fight for change. Mothers on the Move (MOM) and their Executive Director Wanda Salaman—a longtime activist—have fought tirelessly for more than two decades to win many victories around housing, economic, education, and environmental issues that affect South Bronx residents.

 

MOM and Wanda emphasize working together with community members through education, research, meetings, actions and different strategies to win social justice victories, which resonates strongly with the work we do at The Laundromat Project. “With a lot of organizing, people think that people go in the streets and they start just protesting, but before you start with a protest, you do analysis, and you make sure this is a right move that you need to make, and you consult people from the community before you come up with those positions…Through our work with tenant organizing and education, we have gotten people to become more confident and take more charge in making stuff happen for the community.”

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Field Day 2016 event with garifuna dances at MOM offices

 

The Laundromat Project has partnered with MOM, most recently last year for Field Day 2016 in Hunts Point/Longwood. We asked Wanda for her thoughts on how artists can work with community organizations: “Just like how we organizers are working with people and teaching them about why things are happening, having artists teach their peers is equally important. We shouldn’t sell out to this side or the other…. Learning about the people in the community and the organizations in the community is important.” Wanda has opened up MOM’s office in Hunts Point/Longwood for artists, such as a group of Garifuna dancers, and local entrepreneurs to meet in their space.

 

The Laundromat Project has been fortunate to be community partners with MOM as well as neighbors in Hunts Point/Longwood, and we wanted to highlight the amazing histories of community resiliency that Wanda shared with us recently:

 

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Wanda, neighbors, and LP volunteers in front of MOM offices at Field Day 2016.

 

Bronx Activism in the 1970s

After moving from Puerto Rico with her family to the Bronx in 1975, Wanda and other youth from the neighborhood got involved with the Bronx Youth Community Organization to help their neighbors with widespread issues that many communities in the Bronx were facing in the 70s—a major one being owner neglect of buildings and tenants. Wanda recalls, “there were a lot of fires and buildings burning at the time and no sense of neighborhood.” The “Bronx was burning” because landlords would abandon buildings and burn them down to claim insurance money, from which they saw more profit than collecting rent from tenants.

 

“That was a time when I learned we have to love where we live… I got involved with volunteering, community gardens…St. Barnabas hospital, and different services,” Wanda shared as she reflected on the impact this work had on her early on. She also noted that others in the neighborhood started cleaning the lots and getting active in their communities. “They weren’t going to move upstate or to Co-op City, so there was a lot of civic participation on a lot of levels in the Bronx, and community organizations being formed to tackle issues.” Many of these groups were intergenerational, and Wanda would go on to work as an organizer with Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, which she had connected with through her youth organizing.

Public Housing Victory with NYCHA

Wanda joined MOM as a co-director in 2002 and started organizing around public housing and NYCHA. That was more than a decade ago and the wait time to get repairs done was almost two years. “The only way they were going to get repairs done was if we organized the tenants and the residents took action… Up to 50 families would work together to make an action and housing petition to sue NYCHA for repairs.” MOM’s efforts in organizing and educating tenants around housing, along with the legal help of the Urban Justice Center, contributed to a vast reduction of the waiting time for repairs. Today the wait time is around three weeks instead of two years.

 

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MOM celebrating a campaign VICTORY in 2010.

 

Green jobs and Environmental Justice

With the lead of NYCHA residents, MOM supported the development of white papers and proposals for the creation of employment that would benefit the environment while employing local residents, such as having NYCHA residents collect recyclables from different housing developments. From 2009-10, MOM organized with members of the community to shut down The NY Organic Fertilizer Company (NYOFCo), which had polluted the air in South Bronx for years while getting $20 million a year from New York City. Wanda recalls for many she knew that “in the summertime, it was frustrating because when [you] used to open the windows, especially if you lived in Hunts Point, this [would be] an asthma trigger.” MOM organized a committee of local residents to take on the giant company with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). They conducted research while strategizing through meetings and actions for over a year and were able to sue the city and company successfully and shut down the fertilizer plant.

 

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MOM Press Conference on their campaign vistory against NYOFCo.

 

Mothers on the Move: Founded Around Collective Learning

Milli Bonilla and the other founders of Mothers on the Move—a group of women who went to a literacy school near Kelly St. in Hunts Point/Longwood— understood the importance of education and collective learning in fighting for change, and started the organization in order to push for improvements in the South Bronx school system that both they and their kids were a part of. Wanda shared that “organizing has inspired a lot of women to do more work in our communities to do things they thought they couldn’t do,” and she is inspired by the women she’s met through MOM such as Mili Bonilla, an early mentor to Wanda, and legally blind local resident Jessie McDonald, a former board president of MOM. “There’s nothing you couldn’t tell Ms. Jessie that she wouldn’t have done…. she was one of the first members of the organization in 1992… always willing to do work and facilitate a meeting, even though she wasn’t prepared to assist. But you just prep her for two minutes, and she would just run with the ball. She inspired and motivated other people to keep working.”

 

 

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MOM and NYCHA residents meeting with Commissioner Margarita Lopez on NYCHA’s Green Agenda.

 

Wanda, who today is the Executive Director of MOM, and her team continue to champion community-led change in the Bronx communities and their success comes from their love and commitment to doing this work on a daily basis. Wanda reminded us that in doing this kind of work to further social justice and community building, “you must love what you do. And begin to love the place in which you are doing.”

Find out more about Mothers on the Move.




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Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School: Youth POWER Lab

March 24, 2017

The New Bed-Stuy vs. The Old Bed-Stuy: A tug of war exists between the Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy) of the past and what the neighborhood is today.

 

Like many other neighborhoods in New York City, Bed-Stuy has been a site of contestation over the character and collective memory that is attached to a place. With this in mind, The Laundromat Project brought its Youth POWER Lab arts education curriculum to Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School (BCAM) for after school workshops. For a period of four months students used oral history and fashion design to address topics relevant to them and their neighborhood, such as gentrification and the Black Lives Matter movement. Guided by teaching artist Markita Miler, students who participated in Youth POWER Lab were able to dissect these complex and multi-layered issues through their work. Oral histories collected, were used as inspiration for a fashion show, which was shared with their peers and community on March 9, 2017 (video below).

 

 

The students’ fashion-forward pieces, which they created and modeled, were the culmination of an impressive and intensive four-month curriculum that encouraged a collaborative process where creative and civic engagement skills come into play at every step along the way. As proud members of the Bed-Stuy community, BCAM students were filled with excitement and joy when they looked back on the multi-layered process of these workshops that resulted in an array of exciting art and fashion. After the fashion show, students reflected on their experience with bringing oral history into their artmaking process:

 

Neighborhood Change

The students were already familiar with the changing dynamics happening in Bed-Stuy and perceive these changes as a “flow of new money coming into the neighborhood.” Many expressed finding themselves in a space that is no longer what they use to remember as they were kids. BCAM student Tanya recalled, “when we did the first activity, and we were blindfolded, I honestly thought we weren’t in Bed-Stuy, [because] there were antique shops and stuff like that. And so, when I took the blindfold off, I was like is this Bed-Stuy? It didn’t look like the Bed-Stuy I grew up in, so I was like, we are going tell the story through our eyes.”

 

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Strangers into Neighbors

BCAM students found the process of interviewing members of their community to be an exciting opportunity to get to know more about the different people who share the neighborhood with them. They also faced frustrating challenges in collecting oral histories, but ultimately found the experience to be to be eye-opening and rewarding, with many getting to know neighbors Bed-Stuy.

 

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BCAM student Nigeria shared her experience with finding a member of the local Hasidic community to interview: “I’ve been going to school here for about four years and I have never had any type of dialogue with any Jewish person I’ve walked past by. In the beginning when we first tried to get people to talk to us, they weren’t really too fond of the idea, and sure enough there was one particular person who was willing to shake my hand and hold a conversation with me and that was an interview that I will always remember because it doesn’t happen in everyday life.”

 

Oral History as Inspiration for Fashion

After 7 weeks of collecting oral histories and transcription, BCAM students had 7 weeks to translate stories into garments. BCAM student Trevor recalls, “as crazy as it sounds, I wouldn’t really want to change anything, it was a fun experience… I made clothes, I learned how to sew. It was a learning experience that I don’t regret doing.”

 

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Trevor’s classmate shared a similar thought, in which she reveals an active learning experience that she deems useful towards her future. “This program has actually made me start thinking out of the box… I was like Miss M can we use this song, I don’t know, look them up, oh no they’re not from Bed-Stuy, nope. And then I really had to listen to lyrics, and I was like oh my god this would go great and then Miss M would say why, elaborate and I said oh man, but now when I am in class, I really do think out of the box and think like Miss M taught me this.”

 

Representing Our Stories of Bed-Stuy

BCAM student Amani expressed that her favorite element in regards to the fashion show was “actually being able to walk and represent the Bed-Stuy I grew up in”, which opens up a larger conversation about whom is represented and who is able to tell that story. As brought up by BCAM students Tanya and Alex, often their perspectives as black youth in Bed-Stuy are overlooked. They felt a strong desire to tell their “story from [their] own eyes,” in order to represent an image that exudes positivity. They successfully showed how “proud [they] are of being black” and “how proud [they] are, now that [they] actually put on a show about things like Black Lives Matter, as something that really matters.”

 

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Learn more about Markita “Ki” Mileri and her work with The Laundromat Project’s 2016-17 Youth P.O.W.E.R.Project.

 




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Visual Recap of “The Laundromat Project: Sanctuary”

March 24, 2017

The Laundromat Project held a public discussion around the theme of “Sanctuary” on Thursday, March 9, 2017 at David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center.

 

With alumni artists from our Create Change program, we explored how artists and the arts can create and support places of refuge, especially in the current moment. The conversations were moderated by Saeed Jones, Poet & Executive Editor, Culture, Buzzfeed, and featured two rounds of discussion, the first with Salome Asega, Salvador Muñoz, and Katherine Toukhy, and the second Rasu Jilani, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, and Kameelah Janan Rasheed.

 

Salome Asega, Salvador Muñoz, and Katherine Toukhy’s visual essay from their conversation:

 

Wordclouds on “sanctuary” and “justice,” crowdsourced from the audiece.

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Rasu Jilani, Nontsikelelo Mutiti, and Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s visual essay from their conversation:

 

More photos from the event can be viewed here.