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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.

Tanya Fields Mobile Market With Brandon

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/.

Tanya Fields BLK ProjeK

To find out more about The BLK ProjeK or ways you can get involved and support our work, please contact us at info@theblkprojek.org 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

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An Evening With the Bus Fundraiser

The BLK ProjeK is having a bus party!

Bus Party

About a month ago I received an email from the faculty at SPS inviting me to join a few of my fellow students to attend a dinner in the city. The dinner was organized to give this year’s commencement speaker, Ms. Tanya Fields an opportunity to meet with the students she will be talking to in a few weeks at graduation. Prior to receiving the email I’d never heard of Ms. Fields and at the time, overwhelmed with class work, I did not have time to Google her. Nevertheless, I eagerly accepted the invitation and a week later found myself seated with a few students and staff from SPS at a table in the middle of a candle lit restaurant in mid-town.

When Ms. Fields arrived we took turns going around the table to introduce ourselves. Hearing the diverse exchange of personal and professional stories reminded me just how unique the SPS community is. From students who attend class via the web to those, like myself, that attend in person, SPS brings together students from all backgrounds and ages to a single learning environment. Finally it was Ms. Fields’ turn to share with us her story. She began by telling the table about her current role as director of The BLK ProjeK, a Bronx community food justice campaign.

Tanya Fields has been extremely successful in using social media to bring attention to her social work and community building projects. Over the course of our evening the conversation covered food justice, new media, higher education and politics that included a spirited debate on the social cost of corn commodities between Ms. Fields and myself.

I soon discovered Tanya Fields is a vibrant and energetic young social entrepreneur. Her personal commitment to creating a positive change in her community is a noble act worthy of recognition. In a city as big as New York, it is easy for us to get caught up in our own lives and overlook social problems like poverty, reductions in high school graduation rates, and youth unemployment. It is easier to simply regard these issues as the problem of someone else and turn a blind eye. However, simply ignoring these issues will not make them disappear.

As New Yorkers we enjoy the benefit of living in a great city that encourages us to be ambitious go-getters. Yet in doing so we often forget that we still live in a communal society where a negative impact to any one segment of the population will eventually affect all of us in some manner. Because of this we all have a social responsibility to each other and Tanya Fields’ work reflects this. Her food justice project, which educates young children on good dieting habits, is raising a new generation of New Yorkers that won’t have to shoulder the burden of increased taxes to address obesity related health effects and the increased social cost they place on the public. Ms. Fields’ mentoring and outreach program is empowering young girls by teaching them the importance of education. I believe Ms. Fields’ work is true a benefit to not just her community but also our entire city.

The night concluded with the students sharing their thoughts on what a good graduation speech should touch on with Ms. Fields. I left the dinner feeling truly inspired by the work Tanya Fields does. So much so I thought it only right I use the power of social media to share with the SPS community our commencement speaker and her story.

Following our dinner, I asked Ms. Fields if she would be interested in doing an interview for the SPS Community Blog, which she eagerly accepted. I spent a morning at Ms. Fields’ office in the Bronx chatting about every thing from the future of social media in education to the Jedi mind trick Celie plays on Albert in the end of The Color Purple (her favorite movie). My interview with Tanya was both informative and lighthearted and provides some insight into the life of Ms. Tanya Fields.

Brandon M. Chiwaya is a current SPS student studying Public Administration and Public Policy at the Murphy Institute. He is a member of the school’s 2013-2014 Technology Budget Fee Committee, and was recently awarded the CUNY Vice Chancellor’s Excellence in Leadership Award. Below is an excerpt from Brandon’s interview with Tanya Fields.

Tonight, the CUNY SPS 2013 Commencement keynote speaker, Tanya Fields will discuss The BLK Projek’s latest plans for a new mobile food market, and you have an opportunity to join her.

The BLK Projek was founded in 2009 to empower women and youth with the resources to rise out of poverty through the food justice movement. A new key asset in their mission to create economic development opportunities in the South Bronx is The Veggie Mobile Market. The goal is to turn a bus into a solar powered, mobile market that will bring fresh vegetables and “…good food to the ‘Hood’.”

The BLK Projek's Mobile Veggie MarketThe South Bronx community will get their first look at The Veggie Mobile Market at the “Meet the Bus” event tonight at 6pm. It is also a chance for anyone from CUNY SPS that is interested in Tanya’s work to meet her in person. She will be conducting a cooking demo “Fab Food on a Food Stamp Budget” that will be part of the mobile market’s educational outreach program.

Also presenting tonight at “Meet the Bus” will be Dara Cooper, director of the New York City Food and Fitness Partnership at Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation who was a founder of Chicago’s mobile food market, Fresh Moves.

As Tanya explains on the campaign fundraising page, “This project is about food but it is about so much more. It will change the way we see ourselves in our community. It will allow us to hire marginalized folks and pay them a living wage. It will change the way people think about economic development and the way they see the Bronx. It will use food as an empowerment tool!”

Take a moment to RSVP, and if you can’t make it in person join them on Google Hangout.