When the problem is in your backyard: NYC and Nonprofit Work

The kind of New York that people usually talk about is a New York that I am very unfamiliar with. I grew up in Marcy projects in Bed Stuy Brooklyn with my grandmother and mother as the oldest out of 6. The issues affecting young blacks, single black mothers, the poor, and the overworked did not just happen around me–they happened to me and my family shaping my view and relationship to NYC.

Just two weeks ago five black teenagers were murdered by other teens and last week an elderly black woman was left to die in a hospital as patients and employees did absolutely nothing. That woman could have easily been my grandmother and those murdered teens my siblings. The face of poverty overwhelmingly looks like my mother’s, like the faces of those imprisoned resemble my brothers’. And while I am formally educated, thus opening many doors for me, inequality suffocates me daily in this city because it is so close.

Maybe too close. My motivation to go to college and work in the nonprofit sector (particularly in education) comes from my experiences. Yet when something goes wrong–like we lose students or funding–I take it personally because I share so much with those who need the services I provide. It also shapes my expectations of nonprofits and communities in NYC. We should be encouraging communities to strengthen themselves by using the time, talents, and treasures they possess. One problem that I have always had growing up is that people are quick to look elsewhere for help instead of in themselves, their families, and their communities. This is understandable to a certain extent: when you are surrounded by violence and other social ills, you begin to lose hope in your surroundings. However, this is ultimately where nonprofits can do their greatest work by increasing investment in the community by the community.

When people discuss the intersection of work and life, they usually do so in terms of the level of comfort you are provided at work so it doesn’t interfere (too much) with your life. Yet what if the conversation shifted so that the goals of your work and your life are better aligned? For some us the intersection of our life and work is not merely an inconvenience or a sign of being overworked, but rather a sign of how much more work needs to be done socially and personally in terms of social justice.