The following was submitted by Brandon M. Chiwaya (Murphy Institute ’13):
After graduating from SPS in June, I reached out to Tanya Fields for a bit of career advice. Tanya (who you may remember from my last blog post was the commencement speaker at the spring 2013 SPS graduation ceremony) is the executive director of The BLK ProjeK, a food justice and community development organization in the South Bronx. About a week or two after graduation I sat down with Tanya over a cup of coffee to talk about strategies for career planning. As the conversation gradually shifted toward The BLK ProjeK, Tanya mentioned she was extremely busy planning the upcoming launch of The South Bronx Mobile Market, her latest project. In fact the project was growing so fast she was looking to bring someone new onboard to help mitigate the workload. Tanya floated a proposal to me to come work with her, to which I quickly accepted.
Since the beginning of the summer, the launching of the South Bronx Mobile Market (SBMM) has been the main focus of the organization. The SBMM is a former school bus, which has been repainted (in a cool paint scheme) and converted to run on used vegetable oil. When fully operational, the SBMM will supply the neighborhoods of the South Bronx with fresh, organic, and locally grown Hudson Valley produce.
New York state’s 16th congressional district, which encompasses the South Bronx, was ranked number one in the 2011-2012 Food Hardship Poll and is the poorest of the 436 congressional districts in the United States. Combined with an over abundance of fast food and take out establishments, area residents rank among the nation’s highest in health related problems due to poor food nutrition. This makes the work of The BLK ProjeK, and the SBMM all the more vital to the local community.
I hit the ground running on my first day at The BLK ProjeK. With the launch of the mobile market only a few weeks away, there was no time to waste. Creating a community needs assessment and survey to help understand the local attitudes toward healthy eating was my first assignment. Feeling a bit unsure where to start with such a task and halfway freaking out, I quickly reached out to a few of my former SPS professors for help. Professor Michael McNeil who teaches Research Methods and Professor Basil Smikle, Jr., who teaches Policy Analysis, were both willing to help out and give me some advice. Throughout this initial phase, it was incredible to know I was using skills and knowledge I’d acquired at SPS a few months ago in a practical application. In a matter of months I’d gone from sitting in Professor McNeil’s 6pm Thursday night class, wondering to myself, “when will I ever need to know about survey sets?” to creating my own. I’d gone from writing abstract policy papers in Professor Smikle’s class to drafting real research reports.
In addition to the mobile market, Tanya and The BLK ProjeK, have been working hard to turn a few vacant lots owned by New York City into urban gardens. Community organizing at this level presents its own share of obstacles. Canvassing neighborhoods, conducting bus tours, and holding community meetings requires an enormous amount of time and manpower. To help support the continued development of The BLK ProjeK, we will be hosting a fundraiser tonight, Thursday, September 5, at the Brook Park Community Garden. For more information about this event please visit: http://theblkprojek.ticketleap.com/an-evening-with-the-bus/.
To find out more about The BLK ProjeK or ways you can get involved and support our work, please contact us at email@example.com or call us at 718.635.0951, and the next time you find yourself in the South Bronx be sure to keep a look out for the colorful school bus.
Brandon M. Chiwaya studied Public Administration and Public Policy at the Murphy Institute, and is a class of 2013 CUNY SPS graduate. While in school, he was a member of the 2013-2014 Technology Budget Fee Committee, and was awarded the CUNY Vice Chancellor’s Excellence in Leadership Award. He is currently a Research Analyst with The BLK-ProjeK.