Community Activism and Mutual Aid in Southeast Queens – with Southside Action Pact
We’ve handed the megaphone to Farudh Emiel Majid, Director of Mutual Aid at Southside Action Pact. Learn how he employed community fridges and libraries to empower his community!
Southside Action Pact is a mutual aid organization that engages in relief towards systemic disparities, such as food inequity, quality of life, and political empowerment in the predominant powered Black and Brown community in Southeast Queens.
Farudh's amazing work has inspired a new generation of community activism that is truly inspiring to learn about.
- How his work was inspired by the Black Panther Party
- How they rely on social media as well as face-to-face interactions to support their community,
- And Farudh's vision for a future where activists are properly paid for their service, and communities are run by the people themselves, operating outside of capitalistic modes.
To learn more visit southsideactionpact.org and follow them on Instagram @southsideactionpact
This is a Growth Network Podcasts production. Our producers are Lynz Floren, Sari Weinerman, and Jeffrey Morris. Production Manager is Maura Murphy Barrosse. Original music, sound design, and mixing by Nicolas Fournier. Promotional support from Marsha Ord. Website by Nick Brodnicki.
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My name is Farudh Majid, pronouns he/him/his, and I'm a citywide and statewide organizer for New York City. And I also do some legislation work in upstate New York, but overall, my main priority is engaging in mutual aid through Southside Action Pact, where I serve as the Director of Mutual Aid.
This is Mission Megaphone, a Growth Network Podcast production. We're on a mission to be a megaphone for purpose-driven organizations that are changing the world.
Southside Action Pact is a mutual aid organization that engages in a relief towards systemic disparities, such as food inequity, quality of life, and political empowerment in the predominant powered Black and Brown community in Southeast Queens. Currently we're focused on Southeastern Queens, which is kind of like Queens, but the lower area where JFK airport is.
Communities such as Southside Jamaica, South Ozone Park, South Richmond Hill, Laurelton, St. Albans, Queens Village, Hollis et cetera. And right now we are focusing primarily on Southeast Queens, but hopefully in the future, we are gearing up to expand into the whole citywide effort.
I'm so proud of my community. Every time someone makes me talk about it, like babble for a hundred years, and they probably look at me like you need to find a hobby at this point. I'm like, my community is my hobby.
Southeast Queens is a powerful historical Black community, first of all, a Brown immigrant community. So it was a powerful Black community and further down the timeline Brown folks immigrated over and they also set a powerful basis, but their community has been heavily marginalized and systemically disrupted by the federal and state level in terms of like funding and access to infrastructure.
For example, in the hurricane that just passed us, there was existing infrastructure issues in our sewer systems that ended up killing a lot of folks in our community because they weren't addressed by the government. Basements were flooded, streets were flooded. A lot of folks died in Southeast Queens.
It's an example of what my folks have to go through on a daily level, a generational level. And when I think about racial capitalism, and how racial capitalism adheres to the marginalization of Black and Brown people, I think Southeast Queens is a perfect example of that. Racial capitalism for those who don't know, it is a system of intergenerational trauma due to the legacy of colonization and slavery that creates a systemic downpour, kind of like an upside down pyramid, that leads to issues within a Black and Brown community.
So when we talk about gun violence, Southeast Queens does have a high rate of gun violence. They blame the ownership on the people living there without interest in the larger picture. We don't address the legacy of colonization and slavery and how that affects a Black and Brown community throughout the generations. And therefore, now we do have gun violence because we never had the resources needed like white neighborhoods, such as Astoria in Queens or Roosevelt that are heavily gentrified.
Southeast Queens has been home to some legends. For example, the Black Panther party had a chapter here in Jamaica back in the day, and it was doing what Southside Action Pact was doing, was focusing on community care.
The Jamaica branch of the Black Panther party was different from the other branches. They didn't really focus too much on what will be described as militant and proactive organization, but they focus more on community care and mutual aid efforts and Saint Alban's and Addisleigh Park, which is a historic Black community.
W.E.B. Dubois used to live there, Billy Holiday, local Jazlyn. It's a really cool neighborhood to explore, cause you'll see some houses of folks that are like, Jackie Robinson lived there as well. It's a really great community. That's actually one of the only areas where Black and Brown people make more money than white folks living within it.
So you could see it has the historical roots of always being a Black and Brown community, but they fought for it. And when you think about the first Black family that moved in to Rosedale in Southeast Queens, it was completely white neighborhood and they were thrown leg bombs into their house. And this was not even a long time ago, the family that endured that is still alive today and they live there still. So the history is quite new, but it's history that was fought for and folks are continually fighting for it. It hasn't gone away. That spirit is here today. And I always say, Southeast Queens is very strong. You'll hear people say Southside, We Outside. And that's like a common tag line for it.
Southside Action Pact formulated because of the response to the Black Lives Matter movement. And through that global pandemic, we saw a lot of our systems that had a lot of bandage effects on it, such as like programs that were supposed to sustain us in our communities fall apart. And we came in on a way to fill in those gaps and become the bandages and uplift our community in any area that they needed to be.
We actually started as a fridge group and we got heavily inspired by community fridge groups across Queens, such as Jackson Heights and Roosevelt's community fridge, Astoria's community fridge. And we started doing this great work of engagement, this radical act of having this fridge on a public sidewalk, painted up, beautified, and it just offers free food 24/7.
And it was kind of weird to see. Cause you never see those types of installments, ever. But it actually became in those communities, that beacon method of having like community figures and entities and folks who were never uplifted before have, one, a resource to free food. Two, a place to come and actually get help, more than just getting free food.
And three, it became a way of creating a community organization that didn't adhere to the capitalistic modes of our system. It was existing outside of that capitalistic mode. And I really, really appreciated that because it was something I always dreamed up, but never knew how to actually put into a physical realm.In November:
So we gathered up these like-minded folks, we're all pretty young. I'm like actually the oldest in the group, I'm 24 years old. So you could imagine now our youngest number is 15 years old. And we went around to different community members and we started speaking to them about mutual aid, and it was very new to me because I didn't know anything about mutual aid before doing this.
So as soon as I like dipped into it, I was like, okay, I have to do my research cause I'm going out to my community. They're going to look at me like, okay yeah we are not putting up this fridge. But luckily I learned a lot about mutual aid by reading Huey Newton's Revolutionary Suicide, and the Black Panthers Poverty Program for free prep for us and how that was interconnected to what we're doing.
I tabled to a lot of small businesses, I spoke to community members, I talked to community leaders. Within two weeks, we found a business that was willing to host our fridge and it was actually my barbershop, I spoke to him while he was giving me my hair cut. And he was like, bring the fridge and let's do it.
So we got a nonprofit organization in the community called Black Village Arts and they painted it. It was originally orange like this bright, bright orange for like a bunch of foods. Because we're a Caribbean neighborhood, so you could imagine it looked like a traffic cone on the street, but we ended up just launching it within two weeks.
And by the end of November, the fridge was there. It was successful, the community accepted it. And it was also being utilized by small businesses. I think that's the powerful part of the community fridge project. It doesn't need me to stay alive. It's uplifted and organized by the community members themselves.
So if I'm not there for a week, for example, community members will come and actually clean it. Small businesses would come and actually restock it for me. And there were some days where all I have to do is just pop up, five seconds, look at it and I'm like, the fridge is doing really good. The community's upkeeping it.
I always say the way we restock the fridge is fun, cause we run into 10 people in the community that want to talk to us. So while I'm at the fridge, folks will come up to you and I'll say stuff about the system. Our community needs this, or this person needs this, or y'all need to be doing this. And I'm here like I'm going to restock the fridge first and then I'm going to get back to you.
But I got you. Sometimes when you open up the fridge, you have to be prepared because it is a community fridge. You could be opening it up to like a thunderstorm of a mess. Once time I went there and it was like 20 degrees outside and I guess someone had stole coffee.
So the coffee just spilled all over the fridge and I kid you not, it was like icicles of coffee, just dripping down. The opposite side of that is I go to the fridge and someone has already cleaned it within the community, which is 90% of the time what happens.
We are lucky to have like a grocery store one block away from the fridge, which is where we go to shop, you know, supporting local businesses. And the restocking money usually comes from donations via Venmo, if you're a community fridge group, from like local community members or supporters on social media who want to sponsor a restock for the day.
You would use those funds to actually purchase the produce from the grocery store. Every restock is different, some days I run into people that touch me really deeply. It was this one woman, she immigrated from Guyana and she was helping me to restock for a long time.
She wasn't an official member of Southside Action Pact, but she was kind of like somebody in the fridge area that volunteered and offered her support whenever she can. And I never really spoke to her on a deeper level other than being like, hi auntie. Auntie is what we call like our older folks in the community.
I just call everybody auntie or uncle. So I'd be like hi auntie, how are you doing today? And she was like, Hey, I'm restocking the fridge. And then last month, I actually ran into her and she was telling me this is her last time going to restock it. And I was like, what do you mean? And she was like, I'm actually leaving America.
And I'm like, what does that mean? Like, can you talk to me? And she told me to coming to this country, she came nine months ago and she couldn't get a job because it was still the height of COVID. So many times, the fridge actually sustained her living. She would take home food and cook for her family.
And then whenever she could have back money or like resources, she would put back into the fridge. So she gave like, give some, take some type of initiative. But she told me that the system has beaten her down so hard and what she thought was a better life in America, during this immense crisis that we're having both a pandemic and a racial and et cetera.
And she was like, it's done, it'd beat her out. She had given up and she's going back to Guyana. Hearing her stories always hurt a little bit. Cause you recognize the work you do is sometimes not enough. It is enough for a moment, but there's this larger systemic barrier that you're still facing, but you can't defeat.
And I think hearing those stories also empowered me to work harder for my community. Someone shouldn't have to leave America to get the resources they need.
You hear about the thoughts people have about a community fridge or stereotypes, it attracts like homeless people, they attract criminals, it brings down a community. These are some of the things we tackled with the new community and at large, especially from local leaders that didn't want the fridge to go up.
But when the fridge did go up, it was actually like mothers who needed baby food, would go to the fridge and grab baby food, which we always make sure baby food is in the fridge. Kids going to school when they started back up those half days, grabbing like food or like Capri Suns at the fridge. It was a lot of time, I would say poor working class families that needed some support.
And it did have a lot of folks that were homeless utilizing it. And some of the times, those same folks were actually cleaned up the fridge. I think it was very surprising because I didn't realize how many working class families struggle in my community. I had a sense, but actually seeing it and seeing the physical reality of it, it's hurtful because you can say working class families, but these people have children. They have a face, they have a life, they have a narrative and experience. And when you put a face to the name of a working class family, it's so relatable. You see yourself, you see your mother, you see your family, and you shouldn't have to to feel empathy, but it's just what strikes you.
It's very familiar and you know that you're one step away from being that person, but also there was so much we could do to organize, to make sure that this doesn't happen in our next generation. Seeing those people, let me know like these are the people we have to actually center in our work, the most marginalized, these lived experiences.
And these are the people we need to activate to be the game changers in our community because they are the most affected and they could actually speak on the issues they face.
One of the biggest organizations that inspired us is the Black Panther party. Without the Black Panther party paving the way to liberation, we would not be here, but also shout out to other organizations and collectives such as the Young Lords, which were in New York City that were a radical collective.
And a bunch of young folks that geared up and protested sanitation conditions. And also Black Village Arts, which is a radical Black and Brown or collective ran by an individual named Brandy Jones. I appreciate all the folks that paved the way. This work is not new. It's not something to be like when we came into this world and we started something new, this is a coalition and building and path making of all the folks that came before us in this movement, because without them doing that, I wouldn't be here.
From the community fridge group, which was Ozone Park community fridge, we started Southside Action Pact, which is now a nonprofit organization and a Black and Brown radical collective. And we started uplifting more fridges within our areas, supporting them, funding them through applying for grants.
So Southeast Queens has about five community fridges and we found a way we could actually uplift their fridges by applying for grants for them. Especially because fridge groups don't have the power to be 501C3 or nonprofit certified to apply for grants from the federal or on the local level, so we do that for them.
There needs to be more. We can't just be offering a community fridge. We need to be offering systemic solutions and engaging and empowering our communities to actually become advocates and organizers. So I saw a library on Instagram and it was beautiful. It was just on the street and it offers like free, radical literary.
And I was like, can we take a dive into this? And yet again, folks in my organization was like, how much work is this going to be? Like, we already have a fridge and I'm like, come on guys. We could do this. I believe in us. So we actually got someone who does labor work in our community to build three libraries for us, because we wanted to start off with three libraries in Southeast Queens.
And we have a bunch of four and five-year-olds in the community come and paint them, and it was adorable. And those libraries offer free Black and Brown literature, mostly radical artists like Assata Shakur, Huey Newton, Fred Hampton, Black Panther party literature, that actually engages the local community, especially at a young age to be engaged in activism.
We just put them on the street side, just like the community fridges and we stocked them up with books and the kids just come in and grab them. It's actually been very sustainable. These libraries that have been up for almost seven months now, and our fridge has been up for almost a year and it's been a delightful experience.
It was just life-changing.
A lot of people would be like, oh, you need that social media tag. They could get to be heavy on social media, which is true. But when you're dealing with community organizing, especially in the community that still does have access to proper internet access, or like there is a high elderly population, that face to face organizing is very important. Especially when you're building community trust in a community that has a large history with mistrust of organizations and developers that have come in and misused them.
So having that face-to-face conversation with people and actually going up to folks, going into their businesses, checking up on them, has been the main way we've organized. Our social media game is very strong and we do have a good social media team, but I always say like the social media goal and my organizing is always on the street.
Social, it's more of a way of platforming, gaining donations, and support and getting outreach to different organizations. But that on the ground organizing makes the complete difference in somebody. When you're speaking to someone face to face, they can see your facial reactions, they could see that you're actually here with good intentions, and you're also building a relationship.
You can't really build a relationship with your community members through Instagram. You really need that face to face touch.
I think about our short-term goals and how much our community has revolutionized around the fridge, and we didn't come in with like a set agenda. We were like, we're going to do this to the community. We actually walked in and realized the community was actually changing us.
And we were following their lead, and a lot times you just speak to any community that is marginalized and all they want is the access to organize for themselves, to have decision making in their lives, access to equitable lives, rightful representation. So I think the short-term goal was allowing community members to understand they could do it on a local level, of right here in our communities.
Power isn't looking up, it isn't looking to your local leaders. It should be, but in our system, it isn't always that way. But you could access power just looking on your peripheral fields, to the left of you, to behind of you, to the right. There are folks every day in your community that are powerful, small business owners, the person asking for money on the side of the street, they're extremely powerful.
And if you can activate these folks to be advocates and organizers, you are not only changing the community, you are changing a narrative and you're activating a new generation of organizers that will attack the system and change it and transform it.
I've seen a lot of members of our Congress and house of representatives just take some drastic actions in response to the pandemic that have hurt our communities. Folks in our leadership that are making these laws and making legislative policies need to actually connect the local communities that they're affected.
I think a lot of times these decisions are made without actually speaking to folks that are going through these issues. People just look top down and they're like, you're going to do what we tell you, which shouldn't be the case. You should be on the ground speaking to folks, speaking to organizations like Southside Action Pact and uplifting the voices of your constituents, the lived experience should be guiding your efforts, not egos.
Vast communities across the nation have deep pockets and systemic issues that go above your brain unless you're actually out in the streets. So our short-term goals ended up becoming into our long-term goals. As much as Southside Action Pact is a collective of organizers, we don't want to gate keep organizing. You don't need it to be part of Southside Action Pact to be an organizer.
Let us help you. Let us give you the resources and let's, you know, train you to be the organizers in your communities. So for me, five years from now, even 10 years from now, if we're actually successful in activating 10, 50, even 5 new organizers in our community that could carry forward this radical ideology of mutual aid or however they want to take it and transform it.
What we will see is an activation of Southeast Queens that will look like a movement. You know, you're upstarting a movement, you're upstarting folks that will probably run for office hopefully, but you're up starting a new mobilization of young empowered individuals who beforehand didn't think they could have access to the system.
A lot of times we focused on academic experts over lived experiences and our long-term goals to activate lived experiences over academic experts. And we want to touch and motivate and mobilize every person in our community who has lived experiences to lead. And that's it. I think that's the most powerful thing.
This summer, I got a lot of time back to actually focus on the organization and apply for funding through grants that are fiscally responsive and not from big corporate developers. We actually won two grants, very large grants, in like that 5 digit numbers. I have to count the digits.
You know, we talked about activating organizers and letting organizers come in and be game changers, but we also want to make sure these organizers are paid. We cannot expect the vulnerable populations to do free organizing work, especially if they are young. So we're going to have the chance to actually build our organization to offer paid organizer positions in our own community.
So while we're also activating organizers, we could pay them to make sure they have a sustainable living and nothing. That's very important. Luckily, we did get awarded a lot of grants, so that money is going to heavily helped with our long-term goals like we were speaking about, an expanding Southside Action Pact to be a much more radical organization.
If there's one thing I could say for anybody that's listening here is to organize. It doesn't take any qualifications to be an organizer. All it takes is some grit, some lived experiences and some devotions to your community to make change. And if you're in a community that has been heavily marginalized, or do you feel like there needs to be a spark of change, I say, go do it.
Get into the streets, find some like-minded people. It doesn't take a lot of people. Sometimes it can be your only voice amongst the whole mass, and that could create change, but you won't know unless we take that dive deep into it. So I would say if you're interested in making the same changes that Southside Action Pact is doing, go do it.
Find a group of people, find an organization in your community, join hands, build a coalition and build that change. The right time is never going to be now, tomorrow or today. It's going to be when you decide and wake up that you're going to take change into your hands and also build a coalition in your community.
So I advise anybody, just go out there, make some great changes and fight for it.
You've been listening to Mission Megaphone, a Growth Network Podcasts production.
To find out more about this show or Southside Action Pact, please check out our show notes. I'm Lynz Floren. Our producers are Sari Weinerman and Jeffrey Morris. Production Manager is Maura Murphy Bourasse. Original music, sound design, and mixing by Nicholas Fournier. Promotional support from Marsha Ord. Website by Nick Brodnicki.
Thanks for listening. Until we meet again, keep searching for inspiration. And when you find it, make sure to pass it on.