April’s Liberation Series events are dedicated to featuring the voices of Black artists and community leaders whose work have made impacts across the environment, art, and maternal health. We partnered with several Brooklyn-based organizations and community members to bring attention to Earth Day, National Poetry Month and Black Maternal Health Week.
All of the events are in alignment with The LP’s mission and values and developed around one of three missions: Make Art, Build Community, Create Change.
Read on to learn more about this month’s offerings to our community: , Upcycle! Imagining a Green Bed-Stuy, LP Rhymes: Black Poets & Scribes Final Fridays, and Ubuntu Giving Circle: Amplifying Black Maternal Health Week.
Upcycle! Imagining a Green Bed-Stuy
In honor of Earth Day, we hosted Upcycle! Imagining a Green Bed-Stuy where LP staff and neighbors got their hands dirty! Over 21 attendees gathered on Fulton Street with the mission of filling as many trash bags as necessary to clean up the area. Together they gathered 6 large bags of trash, which were sorted into recycling, compost, and landfill trash.
After the clean up, the group gathered in Whole Neighborhood Garden for a free artmaking workshop led by artist and current Create Change Fellow Les Mejia. Les instructed attendees on how to create assemblage, or 3-D collages, with found objects.
“[I wanted] to not only provide a moment of collective care within the neighborhood but to also engage in community art making with an environmentally conscious twist,” shared Les Mejia. “As an emerging artist and cultural organizer, it was so exciting to explore this form of sustainable art-making alongside the Bed-stuy community while also getting the opportunity to engage in conversations surrounding topics such as environmental racism, effects of gentrification in our neighborhoods, and much more. In my larger work, I am able to explore therapeutic art making as a tool for healing and wellness and this space truly felt aligned with that mission.”
We chose to launch this community event because we knew that sanitation has been a prominent concern for many of Bed-Stuy’s residents. The conception of Upcycle! Imagining a Green Bed-Stuy is a direct response to community conversations on trash, cleanliness, and the maintenance of existing public space.
“Throughout my time at The LP, I’ve spoken with a number of community members who’ve expressed frustration with increasing trash and litter in the neighborhood,” shared LP Program’s Associate Alexander Huayliños. “The result of which is poor environmental safety and health. Since about 1980, Brooklyn Community Board 3 has been advocating for a Bed-Stuy dedicated Sanitation Garage, which would house sanitation tools and vehicles essential for regular cleaning. However, city government only recently approved such requests in 2019 by authorizing the construction of a Sanitation Garage on Nostrand Avenue. In the face of municipal negligence and environmental racism, local residents and community collectives like Block Associations or Community Gardens have long since acted as environmental stewards by self-organizing green programs and trash cleanups.”
“Gentrification has also brought an influx of housing constructions and population booms that only worsen sanitation issues in the absence of proper municipal support. The choice to host an upcycling workshop in Whole Neighborhood Garden, one of the neighborhood’s few green spaces, is The LP’s way of calling attention to and furthering Bed-Stuy’s efforts toward just environmental stewardship.”
“By making art using trash and found objects, we hope to show folks how they can build community while leveraging their natural ingenuity, creativity, and sense of care in the service of a cleaner and more resilient neighborhood.”
LP Rhymes: Black Poets & Scribes
Every last Friday of the month is dedicated to a Liberation Series event hosted at The LP storefront at 1476 Fulton St. For April’s event, we celebrated National Poetry Month and gathered at the storefront to kick back with poets and artists in the LP community!
Our poetry station included a library of over 40 books written by Black poets including Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, June Jordan, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Sonia Sanchez, as well as contemporary poets such as Jericho Brown, Nathasha Trethewey, Danez Smith, Tracy K. Smith, Ross Gay, Morgan Parker, and many others.
Participants were invited to take time to peruse the books and find poems that resonated with them. After sharing poems with each other and making some copies, we journeyed into the world of collage. Using lines from existing poems as inspiration or as the basis for new-found poetry, participants pasted together poetic collages that spoke to their experiences, feelings and lives.
We closed out the event with a round robin-style reading of both poetry authored by folks in the room as well as favorite poems written by Black writers. LP neighbor Dwight Forbes read a poem by Claude McKay about his experience as Black immigrant to America, chosen because its theme resonated with his personal journey.
Read “America” by Claude McKay here.
Laila Stevens’ collage pulled lines from several poems in order to create a beautiful meditation on love and budding relationships. Local artists Barbie Beauvais and Dasia Moore discussed their gratitude to be able to think poetically while working visually. Barbie also shared how language and words have been coming more and more into their painting practice.
Local Bed-Stuy resident Danialie Fertile reflected a few weeks after the program: “Attending the event highlighting Black poets at The Laundromat Project for National Poetry Month was a great opportunity to meet other people in my neighborhood and talk about art. I got my hands into some collage making, which I hadn’t done in a really long time, and it really let me think about poetry in multiple forms like the written word, that I’m familiar with as a writer, and the spoken word that I’ve talked about or seen, but it also allowed me to think about the craft of poetry in a visual way. It felt like everyone in the room was building a visual poem of sorts in the way that their canvases looked. It was nice to expand the definition of poetry and hear people’s favorite poems, hear some people’s original poetry––which can be so vulnerable. It was incredible to be that instantly connected that people felt comfortable enough to do that, and I credit that to the easiness and just the fun of doing this kind of activity on a Friday night together.”
Ubuntu Giving Circle: Amplifying Black Maternal Health Week
April 11th – 17th was Black Maternal Health Week, and The LP stood in solidarity with Black Indigenous People of Color around the world whose birthing rights, autonomy and agency are being violated daily. We partnered with the ARIAH Foundation and the directors of the award-winning documentary AFTERSHOCK at the historic Kings Theatre in Brooklyn for a transformative night of art, storytelling and performance as we celebrated a future where all people who give birth are honored and treated with dignity and care.
These partners hosted a community gathering called “The UBUNTU Giving Circle” in response to the Black Maternal Health crisis and to raise awareness about the reproductive disparities and inequalities that disproportionately impact BIPOC families. That message— “I Am, Because WE Are!”—resonated deeply with The LP and our mission. UBUNTU is an African-centered philosophy that declares that each person’s humanity is inextricably tied to the humanity of the collective and that the advancement of the collective is connected to the progress of each individual.
The UBUNTU Giving Circle was attended by hundreds of community members, key stakeholders and philanthropists who are committed to addressing the crisis in Black maternal health by generating resources that will be utilized by the ARIAH Foundation to fuel its mission and expand its reach. The opening ceremony incorporated a “Wailing” Ring Shout in order to call forth and honor those who are now ancestors as a result of Black Maternal Mortality. Ebony Golden, CEO of Betty’s Daughter Arts Collaborative and The LP’s 2023 Teaching Artist, shared her powerful voice, guidance and covering as our host for the evening, and brought the Spirit of Ubuntu to life by opening the way and holding space for community healing.
When asked how art can help build awareness around the issue of maternal mortality globally, Shawnee Benton Gibson, Founder of Spirit of a Woman, LLC and the ARIAH Foundation, said, “The global crisis in black maternal health is multifaceted and nuanced. Each country, city, region, province and culture has their own unique set of circumstances and corresponding needs; especially as it relates to sexual and reproductive healthcare. There isn’t one approach or activation that can ameliorate the crisis, however, there is something that we all have in common that has the ability to cross time, space, mindset and worldview. That “something” is art.”
“Horace Mann said that “education is the great equalizer”, however, art is the mechanism that transcends our minds, bodies and spirits. Art is a conduit for sharing, exposing, inspiring and mobilizing people from all walks of life,” she continued. “It has been a powerful conduit for spreading the messages and the movements that have changed the quality of life for individuals, communities and societies across the planet. Art creates a holistic experience that transcends the limitations of our minds and expands are ability to understand and process what is happening to us and around us. Whether it is world hunger, the AIDS crisis or body positivity, art has, and will continue to, revolutionize and humanize. I trust art. I believe in its power and I will continue to infuse it in my activism, as well as, my healing journey as a black woman and a grieving mother.”
The night’s events featured performing arts, community dialogue, and panel discussions on topics such as policies and resources for fathers left to raise their children after losing their partners to childbirth. The night closed out with community members taking the Ubuntu Pledge, a community call to action to support initiatives and programs that will educate and support services to transform outcomes for those most impacted by systemic racism and inequities and disparities in the reproductive healthcare system. Attendees shared that they left feeling “touched”, “moved” and “inspired” to fertilize more ideas, innovations and take action to continue addressing the maternal morbidity and mortality crisis locally, nationally and abroad.
Interested in learning more about the ARIAH Foundation? Learn more here.
We had an incredible time being in community this month and hope all our attendees and supporters did, too! The Liberation Series continues—we’ll be partnering with local artists, cultural producers, community members, stakeholders, local business owners, and community-based organizations in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn for the rest of 2023.
About Our Event Partners and How to Support Them
Leslie “Les” Mejia
Leslie “Les” Mejia (She/They) is a South Bronx (Lenape Land) native of Dominican Descent. Les sits on the intersection of Educational Equity, Arts facilitation, and Wellness advocacy. Her connection to the arts began during high school years where she was introduced to visual arts as an outlet for personal life challenges. Art became a huge healing modality and she has since worked toward finding a way to share art as a healing tool.
As a licensed social worker, she has had the opportunity to fuse her love for artistic expression and explore its relation to mental health and wellness. In her most recent endeavors, Les has begun bringing community events to the South Bronx with the sole purpose of connecting, creating, and inviting folks to express themselves freely. In 2022, she was able to work in collaboration with the Department of Education, local government officials, various community based partners, and local Bronx businesses.
Whole Neighborhood Garden
Originally dedicated in 1990 by Mayor Dinkins as a Lots-For-Tots Playground called Family Affair Neighborhood Park, this 4,000 square foot garden was used as a playspace for many years by the Association for Black Social Workers (ABSW) daycare.
After the ABSW daycare closed, the space was underused until it was reborn as the Whole Neighborhood Garden and rebuilt as part of the 2013 Gardens for Healthy Communities program within the Mayor’s Obesity Task Force Initiative.
The garden is publicly open on Saturdays from 9am-12pm, now till the end of summer. Community members are welcome to visit, hangout, and help revitalize the garden (i.e. clean-up, prepping soil, planting).
- Become a member! Email [email protected] to ask about joining the garden and claiming an open garden plot.
- Join WNG for a rock painting workshop on June 3rd and 4th during Open Garden NYC
ARIAH stands for the Advancement of Reproductive Innovation through Artistry and. Healing. The ARIAH Foundation was established in 2019 after the tragic and preventable death of Shamony Makeba Gibson due to a birth related pulmonary embolism. Shamony represents so many powerful women of color whose lives were cut short due to birth inequities and reproductive injustice in the United States.
The foundation seeks to support individuals, families and communities who experience the devastating Aftershock associated with maternal/infant morbidity and mortality. ARIAH provides mental, physical emotional and/or spiritual assistance to support the affected families as they navigate the impact of these traumatic experiences.
About the Liberation Series
Throughout 2023, The Laundromat Project will be hosting our Liberation Series programs: curated community activities focused on the collective power of cultural organizing for change. Each event is a partnership with local artists, cultural producers, community members, stakeholders, local business owners, and community-based organizations in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
We’re hosting these events in alignment with The LP’s mission and values, so all events will be developed around one of three themes: Make Art, Build Community, Create Change.
Join us for future Liberation Series events, and continue to learn more about The LP’s work in our new home in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, as well as our many celebrated neighbors and change makers.
Support The Laundromat Project
If you are interested in supporting future programming like this and other LP initiatives, we invite you to join our Catalyst Circle—a dynamic group of change makers who believe in the power of creativity to create change. Starting at $5 a month, the Catalysts provide sustained support. Learn more.
We are also currently running our Spring Appeal. Support creatives and makers in community, addressing issues close to us all by contributing to our Spring Appeal campaign. Donate today!