Banana Kelly Organizing Blog Post: Introducing the Community Organizing Team

by Jefrey Velasquez and Eric Goldfischer

Eric and JefreyThis fall, Banana Kelly’s two community organizers, Jefrey Velasquez (JV) at right in photo and Eric Goldfischer (EG) left in photo, will take part in the NYC Organizing Academy, hosted by the Association of Neighborhood Housing Developers, of which Banana Kelly is a member, and provided by the Center for Neighborhood Leadership. To supplement this incredible learning opportunity, and as a way to share updates about our ongoing work, we’ll be writing a weekly blog series throughout the fall where we share thoughts, reflections, and ideas about organizing and community development. To begin this series, we had a conversation about who we are and why we chose the career of community organizing.

EG: So what brought you to community organizing?

JV: Actually, the reason why I chose to become a community organizer is because I know how effective this position can be as a platform to create change and build coalitions. I’m a product of this area [the South Bronx], and I would love to see it grow and become beautiful and successful. That’s one of the reasons why I decided to become a community organizer. How did you end up doing this work in the South Bronx?

EG: When I was in high school I was volunteering in Philly at a community-based organization, and my friend who was the education director gave me this book to read called We Make the Road by Walking. This book was about how communities create change, and actually was a dialogue between Paulo Friere and Myles Horton, two great organizers and theorists. And so it totally transformed my world to understand that people can be facilitators, popular educators, and that the voices of people who are oppressed can come out to define and address their situation, rather than their voices being silenced by solutions that come from the top down. So that was my theoretical background. I’ve worked a lot with people experiencing homelessness in the past, but this is one of the first times working with people in housing. For me, what keeps me doing this work is that every time you have a meeting where people are really creating solutions and working together, it feels very right, and organic and holistic to see change happening from the ground up.

JV: I’m pretty sure you had a choice of organizations, different places to go after you graduated. Why Banana Kelly?

EG: One of the first things I saw when I found out about Banana Kelly was that it really started as a community project. I didn’t want to work somewhere that was run by people who don’t live in the neighborhood, or started as some project of an outside group seeing a need or problem in an area. So I was really excited that Banana Kelly started from within, that it came from people who stood up, and said this is enough, we’re going to improve our neighborhood for ourselves. You’re a perfect example of this. What made you want to continue working in the neighborhood? What brought you back?

JV: I’ve done similar work in another area in the Bronx, but applying to work here at Banana Kelly, it seemed right when I submitted my application.  When I read the job description, it felt right because I’m from here and I’ve seen in my short lifetime big changes in the area. I can’t speak of the 80s or 70s, but in my time the area has changed, and it does look better now than it did before. To some folks, that’s amazing. I’ve seen the changes, and I would love to be a part of that change, rather than seeing different folks come in and change the other without having a say-so about it. So as a resident of the area, it’s great to be a part of this work and to help facilitate conversation and to make things happen not just personally, but collectively. It’s positive and something that a lot of people can get behind.

EG: What’s one thing you’re looking forward to in the training?

JV: I’m actually looking forward to becoming a better organizer. Learning different tactics to get people to come down to meetings, learning how to facilitate meetings better…I’d love to evaluate myself and get constructive criticism from others. And I might sound like a nerd, but I’m looking forward to the reading and also learning more about the history of organizing, learning more about how to move this field forward. I think we’re seen as the next generation, and a lot is on our shoulders even if we don’t see it day to day. What are you looking forward to?

EG: I’m also really excited to learn more about the history of organizing in NYC. One of the other reasons I love being an organizer is that the work is place-specific, and as a geographer I think that place and how people relate to space around them is hugely important in figuring out why things are the way they are today and also how transformation might happen. So I’m excited to learn how that’s informed the work in NYC. I’m super excited to meet folks our age doing this work throughout the city, and like you said I’m really excited to become a better organizer through training and learning different facilitation methodologies. And I’m pumped because I think that Banana Kelly as an organization has a huge amount to offer, not only in the Bronx but in the city at large, and I’m excited to start making those connections so that tenant leaders can be at the forefront of creating the change we all need in the city.

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