I was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and I often draw upon my heritage and experience to guide me during presentations such as this.
In Jamaica if you’re having an unusually difficult day at work, are feeling tired or just fed up, don’t bother to complain to your elders, especially not any of the female elders in your community. Most will kiss their teeth, (kiss teet) and tell you “Heh” ( the retort for a complaint typically began with “Heh), If you waan good, you nose haffi run”.
This simply means that nothing good in life comes easy, you have to work hard and accept suffering for the good that you want. Keep this in mind while I share a bit about a very wise man named Solomon.
I am sure that I am not the only person here who has known someone exceptional, someone who just seems to stand alone with intelligence and creative power beyond their years, in age and era. I have known a few, but one stands out in the context of today’s topic.
He is known to everyone by his last name, Solomon. He grew up in poor, rural Jamaica and lived his early adult life running the farmworker circuit in the United States, primarily cutting sugar cane with his bare hands and a machete on Florida’s sugar plantations. If you didn’t already know, that kind of work is brutal, and exists in brutal conditions.
Solomon could not read and could barely write his own name until he was in his 40’s, but he can still argue college educated professionals into oblivion. This man became the manager of the business that my late father in-law-founded. He would say about Solomon, being a former educator himself, that if Solomon had had the advantage of an education when he was a child (which he didn’t), he might have been the prime minister of Jamaica, or a standard bearer like Marcus Garvey or Claude McKay.
Solomon, like his biblical namesake makes his points clear with stories and parables, some coming from his experience, some from his imagination, and many from the bible which he eventually learned to read with my mother in law’s help. Solomon’s undeniable strength is his ability to persevere, through toil and labor without fear or embarrassment to learn, to see opportunities and be brave enough to accept challenges and push through them.
The ways that people shine are not immediately evident. It takes time and effort to discover the voices of those who are predisposed to be unheard, especially when their voices have been quieted by decades of stark inequities. Inequitable practices, inequitable systems and inequitable applications of justice, have stifled these voices in so many ways, and hidden them so well in the shadows, that WE need to do extra and often difficult work to find them.
Now, in a time when we are ALL mourning the destruction of black bodies on camera, there is something new in the air that is different. I believe that we are converging on a hopeful time when we can talk about equity with depth that has previously been too painful or too difficult. Now we must prepare ourselves for the difficult conversations, and the unusual efforts to make equity in community media more than a pursuit, we must make unusual efforts to actually be equitable. “If you waan good you nose haffi run”
We as community media professionals know that part of our mandate is to find these unheard voices. We also know that complacency will not be sufficient in a time when there are forces lined up to dismantle the resources that our communities rely upon to keep this work alive. Just at the time when the need is greatest, — the threats to this deeply needed resource - community media — are growing.
What this means is that we all need to redouble our efforts, through all the bumps and bruises to fight for our communities and for their voices. This will not be easy work, it will not always be welcomed work, but it is vital work!
All of us have unique talents and gifts that we can bring to bear in the fight that we are in for equity in community media. What is important is for all of us, and I mean all of us, (not just the black and brown folks) to allow ourselves to be open to seeing glorious talents in others, even when our vision has been obscured by decades of institutionalized racism, gender bias, ability bias, sexuality bias and cultural bias both explicit, and implicit.
The fact that I am a Jamaican means that I come from a country that is majority black, so I have seen black people in positions of power for all of my life. Don’t get me wrong, Jamaica as a former British colony has its own systems of oppression and supremacy built in and there is still much work to be done for equity in my home country. But with my heritage I am very aware of my own privileges and I acknowledge my own need to do the work that is required to understand the communities that we serve more deeply.
So I’m going to bring this home to BRIC, the organization I have the great honor of leading in Brooklyn, New York. During my first year at BRIC we conducted a Design Thinking Strategic planning process to develop a human centered plan that is guiding us through these times. Human centered design is a creative approach to problem solving – it is a process that starts with the people you are designing for/serving and ends with a solution or a road map that is responsive to their needs. During this process we aligned ourselves as board, staff, artists, community producers, community members, audiences, funders and as Brooklyn stakeholders and we were able to make some very important commitments that are holding us to our values for the task at hand.
I would like to share two statements from our plan:
Our newly articulated vision statement says: We envision a Brooklyn where all people have meaningful connections to artistic experiences, the tools and opportunity to express their creative potential, and the power to transform their world.
Our newly articulated values statement says: Rooted in Brooklyn, and reaching out to the world. BRIC is guided by our commitment to creative risk-taking and a definition of excellence that values creators and communities that are under recognized in the cultural sector. We operate with integrity, inclusivity, and a commitment to equity. We listen and respond to our communities, ensure that our spaces allow all people to feel welcome and free and support people with the unique resources they need to thrive.
In addition to being a statement of values this is also a tool for our own accountability. At BRIC we are in solidarity with our community, but we also interrogate our own internal structures and decisions to ensure that we are living our values. Because “if you waan good you nose haffi run”. We must proactively ensure that our commitments to the community are met.
So — Like many other societal inequities that have been brought to light during the Covid-19 health crisis, the digital divide has been prominently on display in New York City. According to Citizens’ committee for children:
More than 800,000 new Yorkers live in households without internet. Of those:
- Nearly 350,000 are SNAP recipients
- More than 150,000 receive cash assistance
- More than 425,000 are enrolled in Medicaid
- Lack of internet Access is detrimental to children expected to learn remotely
- More than 100,000 school aged children 5-17 years do not have internet
- Even among households with internet nearly 80,000 lack a device from which they can learn
Knowing this, we pivoted to ensure that we could support the creative economy and community at large with a special focus on education and training. Through that lens, BRIC has partnered with the Department of Education to provide a dedicated time block on one of our channels for 3 hours per school day, allowing educators to share educational content with children in Brooklyn that may not have access to online learning.
We proactively called the department of education, explained what we had to offer and asked them how we could be helpful at this time. We did the same thing with our small business, artists, creators and arts/cultural non-profit communities. Most of these folks were not even thinking about the critical role that community media could play for themselves and their organizations. BRIC saw it as our role not only to share a platform but also to share our expertise and guidance in ensuring that their voices continue to be heard, on their terms.
The question we asked ourselves is how will we show up for our community in this moment? This was critical to our mission, it was and still is difficult to find answers to questions that have never been asked. It is an act of deliberately taking care of our community especially when they are at their most vulnerable place. We showed them a way that they could continue to shine that was not evident to them.
So, allow me to leave you with a suggestion: Ask yourselves and your own teams, how will we show up in this moment for our community?
You see… If you waan good, you nose haffi run