Bed-Stuy: A Community Rich in Activism

City Councilmember Albert Vann Reflects on Bedford-Stuyvesant

As a lifelong resident of Bedford-Stuyvesant, I've seen our neighborhood change significantly over the years. It has a complex and rich history, from a thriving Black retail business community between the 40's and 60's – an unusual occurrence in NYC at the time – being eradicated by the federal government's Model Cities program, to the founding of the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation as the nation's first community development corporation, to the recent revitalizations of Lewis Avenue, Tompkins Avenue and Malcolm X Blvd.

When we hear of Bedford-Stuyvesant in the news accounts of major television networks and daily newspapers, it is often to highlight negative incidents or issues. It is not unwarranted, as the neighborhood faces serious challenges and issues, although some balance and perspective would be nice. Bedford-Stuyvesant is culturally rich, has beautiful brownstones and is a rather intimate community. At the same time, senseless gun violence, a recent deterioration of police-community relations, pockets of concentrated poverty, high unemployment, high numbers of foreclosures, struggling schools, and high negative health outcomes are among the issues plaguing our neighborhood.

However, one of the strengths of Bedford-Stuyvesant has always been its residents' abilities to effectively organize in order to address certain issues. Our neighborhood's history is ripe with examples of this, and many leaders have been born and shaped from their experiences in these struggles, including myself. This same spirit continues today, with many community-led efforts now focusing on the current challenges.

One of the main efforts that exists to address many of our community's issues is the Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford-Stuyvesant (CIBS), a membership association dedicated towards greater cooperation of local organizations and others committed to positively impacting the Bedford-Stuyvesant community. CIBS' primary objectives are to maintain and enhance an equitable, healthy and sustainable community that produces economic and social progress for the indigenous people of our community, and the coalition focuses on five program areas: Housing & Physical Development (many of the coalition's members are developers and providers of much-needed affordable housing for the residents of our community), Workforce Development, Business Vitality, Asset Building and Social Services.

CIBS has recently played major roles in improving financial empowerment services for our residents, assisting efforts to help homeowners (in conjunction with the Know the Facts, Don't Lose Your Home campaign), and directing a Bedford-Stuyvesant Census 2010 campaign to increase response rates, which have historically been low in our neighborhood. Last year, the coalition was instrumental in Bedford-Stuyvesant being one of two urban communities in the country chosen for a Smart Growth Planning Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). CIBS continues to be a vehicle for positive change in our community, placing our neighborhood in prime position to benefit from grants and programs from the city, state and federal governments.

In response to gun violence, deteriorating police-community relations, and the challenges our youth face, the Bedford-Stuyvesant Youth, Education and Safety (YES) Taskforce has taken on the difficult task of addressing these myriad issues. From a safety perspective, the taskforce has focused on addressing the root causes of crime, such as unemployment and overall societal disconnect, by doing outreach to individuals on our most-troubled streets. It has also focused on holding the police accountable for ensuring our safety, respecting our residents and serving our community in a professional manner.

For the youth, the YES Taskforce has focused on connecting young people with the resources that exist within our community that can assist them in improving their lives, whether through education, employment or social services. In regard to education, the taskforce has historically focused on parental engagement and empowerment, as well as introducing schools to community-based organizations and civic associations for potential partnerships. Recently, it has become more engaged in addressing educational policy issues that affect local schools and providing assistance to the Community Educational Council of School District 16. I appreciate the commitment of these civic volunteers who continue to work towards successfully addressing some of the pressing issues affecting our youth and community. 

Food justice, healthy living and community garden efforts within Bedford-Stuyvesant represent community-led movements that have been recently invigorated. While community gardens have existed within our community for some time, the intensity and volume of urban farming that currently exist seem greater than ever.

Additionally, the number of food justice and healthy living efforts in our neighborhood, currently organized by local and citywide organizations, will play a vital role in addressing many of the negative health outcomes facing the residents of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Such grassroots efforts have also proven effective in unifying our community by bringing residents together in spaces of sanctuary.

As an advocate for community empowerment, I consider these types of community-led efforts to be the life force of communities and crucial to improving Bedford-Stuyvesant. Throughout my tenure in elected office, I have supported such local efforts because I understand their importance. I am committed to strengthening such civic ventures and am determined to help bolster and empower block and tenant associations within Bed-Stuy so that they all are organized vehicles for progress.

I hope that neighbors will begin and continue to be active in the civic affairs of our community. Our highly engaged Community Board 3 serves as a central gateway for information about the community and ongoing efforts within it. It is my hope that Patch will also serve to empower Bed-Stuy residents by connecting them to local issues, news and improvement efforts. I look forward to seeing you in the neighborhood.

-Councilman Albert Vann

If you are interested in any of the community efforts mentioned, please contact Community Board 3 at (718) 622-6601. Community Board 3 public meetings are the first Monday of every month.

Councilman Al Vann represents the 36th Council District in the New York City Council. He is the Majority Whip of the New York City Council and chair of the Committee on Community Development. He is a former U.S. Marine and educator and previously represented Bedford-Stuyvesant in the New York State Assembly. For more information, please visit his website at http://council.nyc.gov/d36/html/members/home.shtml.

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