A tiny burst of energy is enough to get any ball rolling, but it takes an acceleration of force to keep it moving.
In Central Brooklyn, a movement has just kicked off by a handful of Bed-Stuy residents. The group is known as the Brooklyn Movement Center, and they are a coalition of some really smart, really motivated regular folks who seek to build the capacity of their community around organizing and campaigning for social justice.
So yes, BMC officially is on the move! But like with any new movement, it requires the fuel of the people to keep it going.
What makes BMC different than any other group of community organizers? #1. It’s membership-based; and #2. Its focus is not so much on driving advocacy, but instead on giving residents the instructions, practice and tools to learn to drive themselves.
“We’re trying to build power,” said Mark Winston Griffith, BMC’s co-founder and executive director. “But the power will not exist in the staff or the board. It will exist in the membership. That’s how we’re different.
“When you talk about community development, it’s usually very staff-driven, board-driven; they don’t necessarily consider their membership to be the leaders of their organization. We find out from residents which issues are of greatest importance to them, and then we help to build campaigns around those issues, so that we are helping them create their own social change,” said Griffith, a former faculty member of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
A Central Brooklyn native, Griffith is the former executive director and Senior Fellow for Economic Justice at the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, and the former co-director of the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project.
Today, Griffith has moved his focus and energy full-time toward helping build capacity for Central Brooklyn residents in the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. And now, after close to a year of planning, BMC has gone live.
Griffith's focus for BMC right now is on building its membership base to help keep the movement going.
By the summer, BMC will begin its next task, which is organizing parents around education issues, encouraging them to become more active in their schools, while empowering them with the tools to drive a progressive education reform agenda, both locally and citywide.
“Education is our first policy issue right now. But we do recognize that there are other issues that are important to folks specifically in Central Brooklyn, such as food justice,” said Anthonine Pierre, lead community organizer, who also works full-time at BMC. “What’s good about the work that we’re doing around education is that there are a whole bunch of other issues tied into education that really have to do with quality of life—something everyone has a stake in.”
Anthonine Pierre came to BMC from the Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office where she was the community liaison responsible for Central and West Harlem. Prior to that, Pierre was a youth organizer with the Children’s Defense Fund and Prospect Park Alliance.
According to Pierre, it’s important that in all of their outreach to parents, that the organization starts from where the parents are: BMC will offer trainings on things like how to get a petition going, form a board or write to local elected officials. But, those trainings will be based on the issues that are most important to them— what their aspirations are for their children, their schools, and how they want to go about changing it.
This summer, look for BMC at block parties, conducting video surveys, and talking to residents about what they care about.
“Then we’ll take all of that information, build a consensus and do follow up,” Pierre said. “So it’s expanding people’s imagination, but also giving them hard skills. But most importantly, just listening to them.”
Marly Pierre-Louis, BMC’s full-time communications organizer, added, “We want to be an incubator for activism and connect people with who they need to be connected with and build organizational skills."
Pierre-Louis is a graduate student studying Urban Planning at Hunter College and a full time mommy to BMC's junior employee, Sekani. Prior to coming to BMC, she served as the Social Media Marketing intern for PCI Media Impact and a member of the Coordinating Committee for the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement.
For BMC, Pierre-Louis plans to launch a comprehensive social networking platform that gets residents comfortable with blogging and writing and speaking and tweeting about what it is they want, expect and feel that they have a right to in their own neighborhoods.
“One of the pillars of this entire movement is communications and how we use it,” she said. “We want to be very smart about technology and use it in a way that we put in as few filters as possible between their voices so that they can function as citizen journalists, so that they can tell their story and have it go directly from their mouths to the public. It should be visceral, really real.”
Griffith said his group is prepared for a long process:
“We harbor no illusions that this may take years; It’s a long process, and it’s going to be a lot of hard work. And that’s why everyone and their grandmother is not doing it right now,” he said. “But we’re prepared for it. We’re ready.”
Mark Winston-Griffith, Marly Pierre-Louis and Anthonine Pierre are on the move in Central Brooklyn. They are ready to put power behind their words to empower the community.
But first, they need the power of the community.
“We are here; we are the ear,” said Pierre-Louis. “Speak to us; tell us what’s going on.”