Visionary Organizing: Lessons from Detroit

Last week the CHCMC hosted special guest Matt Birkhold at our staff meeting, a community organizer from Michigan, now living in Brooklyn and working toward a PhD from SUNY. Growing up in a small Michigan town, Birkhold lost many friends to bullets or the penitentiary, and only narrowly escaped a similar fate—mostly, he said, because he is white. His grief and anger at these losses and their connection to a system of white supremacy galvanized Birkhold to become an activist, but also caused him to feel numb to the pain of the situation. The organizer said his efforts around issues like affordable housing and police brutality “weren’t very effective,” because he was numb to their real-world effects. It wasn’t until he learned to open up to emotions, learned to build relationships and organize around community that he began to see results.

Birkhold, who is currently writing a dissertation on community organizing in Detroit, believes that the creation of meaningful jobs is the key to uplifting a community. He described the way that the current economic system barred access to African Americans, causing them to feel purposeless and fall into self- or communally-destructive behavior. Finding jobs that helped youth work not only to make money, but contribute to their communities, would remedy social ills like drug addiction, domestic abuse and even gun violence. Birkhold described programs in Detroit like a bicycle shop and local bakery that empower employees to help their community while also generating financial capital. Such initiatives, he said, could also help uplift Brooklyn and urban communities all over the US.

S.O.S. Presents at Brooklyn Institute for Liberal Arts

S.O.S. Hospital Interrupter Kenneth Edwards and CHCMC staff member Ariana Siegel visited the Brooklyn Institute for Liberal Arts on the Wingate campus on Wednesday. The pair visited three classrooms, where Kenneth presented a powerful testimony on his experience in S.O.S., and the violence in his former life that led him there. Demonstrating the importance of anti-gun violence work, Kenneth asked the students to raise their hands if they’d ever heard gun shots. In each classroom almost all of the students raised their hands.

Afterwards Ariana told the youth about ways that they could be empowered to help end gun violence, presenting the Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets program and the CHCMC’s Arts to End Violence festival. The students were again asked to raise their hands if they had any artistic talent, whether in visual arts, performing, poetry, or otherwise, and again almost all of the students raised their hands. To practice using creativity around gun violence, Kenneth asked the students to “come up with their own slogans” for talking about gun violence, and the students impromptu suggestions were creative and catchy; our favorite was “Silence the Violence,” though there were many great ideas. Teacher Elizabeth Giancola generously volunteered to open up her classroom to students once a week after school so that they could work on Arts to End Violence submissions.

After the presentations, Kenneth and Ariana met with Principal Ann-Marie Henry-Stephens, who was enthusiastic about S.O.S. and invited them to present the S.O.S. anti-violence work to the other principles on the Wingate campus. Together, we will discuss the ways that schools can partner in the battle against gun violence, and spread the message to Stop Shooting, Start Living.

Free Accupuncture Brings Relaxation to Crown Heights
Crown Heights found peace and relaxation on Wednesday evening with acupuncturist Timothy Mckeon of Brooklyn Open Accupuncture, who provided free acupuncture services as a gift to the community. The event took place at the local Grace Tabernacle church on Pacific Avenue, the church of S.O.S. Clergy Action Network member Reverend David Wright.

Participants in the group acupuncture session sat in a circle of chairs in the dining area. As guests trickled in, McKeon discussed the mysteries and effectiveness of acupuncture with CHCMC staff. One staff member was eager to start right away, and within minutes grew so relaxed that he dozed off. Some local residents who arrived were new to acupuncture and hesitant to try it, but when the coordinator of Grace Tabernacle finally conceded he fell asleep instantly, saying afterward that this had helped him realize how stressed he had been. He insisted that he would visit Mckeon’s acupuncture office soon after his experience, and convinced several other church members to join in the activity. The event was so successful that it ran overtime, but after our acupuncture session no one felt stressed about the change of plans.