“Mutual aid” has become part of our Covid-era vocabulary. And we hope it’s here to stay. Mutual aid is, at its core, neighbors helping neighbors — similar to the concept behind Epicenter-NYC. It is not to be confused with simply giving to those in need. “Solidarity not charity” is one of the defining slogans of mutual aid. According to the mutual aid toolkit created by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it can also be classified as “cooperation for the sake of the common good.”
The concept is not new, but when the world was turned upside down by the pandemic last year, thousands of mutual aid groups sprung up around the world to provide much-needed resources in ways that governments simply were not. In New York City alone, there are dozens, helping neighbors with food, child care, language support, help navigating the unemployment assistance process, mental-health counseling and much more.
As things begin to “return to normal,” we have seen mutual aid groups around the city lament a sudden drop in donations while need has remained the same.
Epicenter-NYC spoke with East Brooklyn Mutual Aid co-founder Kelvin Taitt about where the group is one year later. He, too, said it is struggling to get donations.
“Everyone who donated and supported and gave and provided and subsidized through the pandemic, they’ve stopped because the world is starting to open up and they believe that folks are no longer hungry,” he said. “But that’s not the case, it’s actually the opposite.”
Some people who have returned to work have months of bills to catch up on. Others remain unemployed. The most important thing to remember, Taitt said, is that Covid-19 didn’t necessarily cause food insecurity and inequality, it simply exposed it.
“Covid lifted the veil. All it did was expose the food system that was almost non-existent. New York City did not have a food policy plan,” he said. “They have recently developed and released their 10-Year Food Policy Plan, which is new to them. So there haven’t been plans in place before when it comes to emergency food or food for folks in communities of low income that can’t afford it or don’t have regular access to fresh healthy food.”
East Brooklyn Mutual Aid’s focus is about 95% food security related and 5% vaccine appointment support. It currently delivers groceries to 150 households every week. Pandemic or not, Taitt says the work is necessary and it will continue.
“We are going to grow and we are going to create our corporate structure, whatever that means for our community,” he said. “Now we need the government and the city and the officials that we’ve elected to recognize what we have done and support it because they have the budgets to do so, and ultimately that money is for the community.”
Astoria/LIC’s first flower CSA (community-supported agriculture) is offering a “flower scholarship” for BIPOC and LBGTQ+ folks who are unemployed, underemployed or underpaid. Epicenter writer Jade Stepeney spoke to Helen Ho, an organizer at Queens Perennial.
Wait. What’s a flower scholarship?
“It started as an experiment,” Ho said. “I was trying to offer shorties at a lower rate for low-income people.” A shorty is a subsidized $5/week flower share. The idea quickly became centered on alleviating the grief of marginalized communities.
Even before these pandemic times, Ho, who is Chinese-American, says she experienced thousands of racial microaggressions throughout her life. That, she expects, will outlast Covid-19.
The flower scholarship “doesn’t make up for anything that’s happening, but it acknowledges that things aren’t the same,” Ho said.
Why the unemployed, underemployed and underpaid?
The flower scholarship is also about celebration. Flowers are somewhat of a luxury. Being unemployed in a pandemic is stressful as hell, and long-term unemployment is on the rise. People who have lost their jobs or work for way less than deserved, like essential workers overshadowed throughout the pandemic, are eligible to apply.
“Back in the early pandemic when everyone used to clap at 7 p.m., I had to think about who we were clapping for,” Ho said. “A lot of people were clapping for white-collar workers like doctors and nurses.”
But what of those working behind the scenes in hospitals, nursing homes and hospice care? A former colleague of Ho’s, Priscilla Carrow, 65, died of Covid-19 last April. She was a coordinating manager at Elmhurst Hospital.
“She was deprioritized [in getting personal protective equipment],” Ho said. She and other organizers at Queens Perennial want to spotlight people like Carrow, also a hero of the pandemic.
“People have told me this is the highlight of their pandemic,” Ho said. “It’s an excuse for people to go on walks with their friends and get outside.”
Queens Perennial exclusively partners with Luna Family Farm, which is POC-owned, in Wrightown, NJ. Apply for the flower scholarship here. If you want to join the CSA and receive a bouquet weekly from the beginning of May through the end of October, you can sign up here. It’s $540 upfront or $90/month for the 2021 season. You can also request a prorated subscription here. Any questions, comments or compliments can be sent to Ho on Instagram @queensperennial.
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OUT & ABOUT
How you can help NYC get vaccinated, too
Born in the Bronx
Hip hop went mainstream in the early ’80s with the rise of artists like Run DMC and the Sugarhill Gang, but the genre actually has its roots in the ’70s, out of some of the toughest neighborhoods in the Bronx. Join the Bronx Documentary Center and photographer Joe Conzo Jr. this Saturday, April 24, at 6 p.m., for the rerelease of his book, “Born in the Bronx: A Visual History of the Birth of Hip Hop.” He will be joined by Bronx rap legend Curtis Fisher, also known by his stage name Grandmaster Caz. Attend the event via livestream.
I See You and You See Me
Tune in to the premier of this theatrical event featuring filmed monologues based on oral history and material submitted to the Queens Memory Project. “I See You and You See Me” is directed, written and adapted by Queens native Harris Doran. RSVP to join the free, digital event this Thursday, April 22, at 7 p.m., followed by a live Zoom event with the director, producer, cast, crew and community in discussion about the making of the film and a reflection of living through a pandemic.
The Bayside pizza and sandwich joint known for its over-the-top creations is opening its Astoria location today. Think honey Sriracha pepperoni and Mexican birria taco pizza. Do not think about calories. Check out its menu, treat yourself and support a new local business.
Art in the Garden
The Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s spring performance series is back. Saturdays and Sundays through May 9, visit the garden and enjoy its pop-up music and dance performances, which are free with a general admission ticket. Next weekend artists Mia, Okai, and SeeYou will perform traditional Haitian folk songs and drumming, and there will be jazz by the Nobuki Takamen Trio. See a complete list of upcoming performers here.
Catch the last week of Azikiwe Mohammed’s solo show at the Yeh Art Gallery at St. John’s University. Mohammed’s textiles speak to the reality of Black, Brown and marginalized people living between the zip codes for which the exhibit is named: Queens, New York and Jackson, Mississippi. Learn more and email email@example.com to make an appointment; the exhibit runs through April 30.
GIVE & GET HELP
Epicenter-NYC vaccination drive
As you may know, we have a considerable volunteer initiative to help our neighbors secure vaccine appointments — we’ve scheduled nearly 5,000. Join us this Friday, April 23, from 3 to 6 p.m. at Diversity Plaza in Queens to get registered for a vaccine appointment and learn tips to help others do the same. Expect Epicenter swag and some special giveaways from the Horticultural Society of New York.
The Haitian Times is hosting a monthly series dedicated to informing Haitian-American voters about the issues and candidates in their communities. Tune in this Thursday, April 22, at 7 p.m., for a discussion with Cyril Joseph, Louis Cespedes and Anthony Beckford, both city council candidates for district 45 in Brooklyn. Register here
Sustainability in the streets
The Diverse Streets Initiative is hosting a sustainability workshop this Saturday, April 24, from 3 to 6 p.m., on 31st Avenue between 31st and 35th streets. See work by local artists and learn about zero waste, community building and more from groups like Astoria Urban Ecology Alliance, Astoria Fridges and Kaleidospace.
Our neighbors are still in need
The 89th Street Tenants Association in Jackson Heights is close to its $450,000 goal to support over 400 people displaced by an April 6 fire. All funds will go to providing each apartment with an extra $1,500. Donate to the GoFundMe here.
QUEENS MEMORY PROJECT
Epicenter-NYC partners with Queens Memory, a community archiving program supported by Queens Public Library and the Queens College Library, to share its Covid-19 project. For the past year, Queens Memory has been collecting personal stories about life during the pandemic.
The stories gathered will become a testament to the struggles and resiliency of the World’s Borough. Submissions will become part of the Queens Memory digital collections at Queens Public Library and the Queens College Library and will be shared through the Urban Archive platform.
Do you have a connection to the borough and a story to share? We want to hear it. Submit yours here.
When the lockdown began, I was a recovering agoraphobe (an anxiety disorder). I was looking forward to spending more time outdoors. I was doing volunteer work in Queens. I was starting to explore the city.
Now my reality is once again the size (more or less) of my apartment.
I live alone.
I live with mental illness.
I live with solitude and ghosts.
(Am I dissociating?)
Here and there are missing chunks of time all over the place.
(I think I am.)
To be honest, this is somewhat unreal.
At night I swim in the glittering, half-polluted rivers of Twitter. They are filled with strange wildlife.
In the morning I wake up from violent dreams.
Occasionally, I venture outside and see feral cats. From a distance they stare at me.
The sirens are loud.
Is today the day before tomorrow? Or is it the day after yesterday?
Whichever day it is, I am here. I have shown up. If you are taking attendance, whomever you may be, I want you to know that I am present.
I am present. And it’s okay for being present to be enough right now—even if I am only talking to myself.
—Seo-Young Chu, Flushing, April 2020.
Here comes the money
New York City’s 1,200 public schools will receive $600 million annually in Fair Student Funding (FSF), a program originally created to allocate money to high-need schools. Until now, those schools haven’t seen their share of coins because of a flawed budgeting formula. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday that the funds will help support multilingual and disabled students. Principals will also have room to hire more teachers. The state has failed to provide schools with 100% of their funding for years. Schools chancellor Meisha Porter said students have been short-changed by billions of dollars.
Parents sue for reopening
A group of Upper West Side moms has filed a lawsuit against de Blasio and Porter, demanding a full reopening of New York City’s public schools. Classrooms across the city are open, but the parents say their children are still learning virtually without teachers present. Reliance on remote learning continues after de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo eased Covid-19 guidelines in schools.
This Victorian beach town is roughly 2.5 hours south of New York City, located at the southern tip of New Jersey. It could be a day trip if you don’t mind the driving, but we say grab a room and spend the night — we saw lots of charming listings on Airbnb for less than $100/night. Tourist season starts Memorial Day weekend, and there is definitely something to be said for beating the crowds.
Activities are plentiful and include kayaking, biking, fishing, salt marsh exploring and our personal favorite, whale watching. For food, the Lobster House is a quintessential, bustling, no-frills waterfront seafood restaurant. For something slightly more upscale, Blue Pig Tavern has great breakfast and dinner offerings.
We want to see, hear, feel, support your art and response to this moment. To submit a poem, short story, artwork or any shareable experience, email us. If your work is selected, you will receive a one-time $100 stipend and become part of our growing network of artists.
This week we welcome Sara Ann Rutherford. Rutherford grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and rural Western Pennsylvania. Her interest in creating began at an early age, and after high school, she studied painting independently, honing her style. Rutherford describes her painting process as a stream of consciousness, with each painting often being completed in one intense session.
Her work has been featured in the inaugural issue of Dumbo Living Magazine. Currently, she has a solo exhibition at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. Rutherford lives in Bed-Stuy section of Brooklyn, NY, with her partner.
“My biggest inspiration is the universe. But, more pointedly, the unknown. I’m captivated by the great, daunting and exciting abyss that surrounds all of us, and it moves me to paint abstract and ambiguous pieces. Perhaps that is why so many of my paintings are untitled — to name them is to box myself in with something finite. Many of my pieces are textured so that when one looks at them they are not just seeing the lines and colors, but they are actually able, just by looking, to feel the essence upon which I draw. By painting these enigmatic pieces I hope to let my viewers see a glimmer of that wonderful, untouchable, omniscient landscape I love.”
You can view more of Rutherford’s work on her website and Instagram page. She will be exhibiting her work through her show, “Elemental,” at the EV gallery beginning on Sunday, April 25. There will be live music from 3 to 5 p.m.