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Dee Mandiyan with YKR

What do you do? I am the 2018 Co-Director of YKR, a transformational storytelling performance project for people of South Asian & Indo-Caribbean heritage who experience gender oppression. We aim to surface and explore our silenced narratives–the various aspects of our identities for which systems of oppression leave no room–so that we can build stronger and more compassionate communities. Ultimately, YKR seeks to be a space of healing so that our communities can go out and do further justice work.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do? Like most young queer people of color, I grew up without seeing myself in the media. I also grew up without seeing myself in my community. Because it’s taken me nearly 30 years to find a way to talk about my own existence without shame, I’m especially passionate about creating and promoting models of self-declaration. It’s also equally important for me to be building communities of validation around self-narration, places in which we get to be all of our experiences and have all of those experiences regarded as real, important and true.

What moment in your life motivated you to be an organizer/fighter of justice? I’ve been outspoken as long as I’ve been speaking. Growing up in a home that struggled with undoing patriarchy gave me a very acute sense of misogyny at a young age. I grew up as vaguely Hindu in a Catholic neighborhood, so I learned about Christian hegemony just as early. It took me much longer to trust my intuition around racism because it was something that didn’t get validated either at home or in community. I had to break away from my origin family and community to learn about and understand the machine that is white cishet supremacy–and that breaking is traumatic. I don’t want other people like me to have to experience that trauma to be able to move through the world ethically. I want to give people the space and time to learn about this world, the machines at work in it, to learn about ourselves and how we can resist those machines from our places of origin.

How has your work been different over the past year? The past year has actually prompted me to be more compassionate in my work. I have been an agitator for many, many years, and generally work to hold everyone to stringent standards of justice work. In the last year, I’ve been much more forgiving of my queer brown community’s stumbles and individual people’s need to periodically disengage. While we’ve been facing many of these issues for years now, the constant barrage of news is an emotional assault that few of us can escape. It’s become much easier for me to encourage people to care for themselves as I encourage them to dream bigger and to do better, rather than demanding that they do better before they care for themselves.

The ask: We feel the urgency of spaces for brown-skinned women, trans and gender-queer folks to be seen and heard. Our lives depend on it. YKR is currently fundraising for our 2018 production and if 100 people give $45, it will exactly cover the costs of theater space. Or if 50 caring individuals give $20 it will enable us to document our work through photo and video. Or else if community members give $5 they will usher us into our 5th year.

Rae Gomes with Central Brooklyn Food Coop

What do you do? In my capacity as a member of Brooklyn Movement Center (BMC), I work on a food justice initiative which has turned into the Central Brooklyn Food Coop (CBFC). It’s a solution to better food access in central Brooklyn. As a member organization, I love all the work BMC has been doing in the past 5+ years. I wanted to work on all the things they were doing including countering street harassment, but I realized I had to choose. Food justice felt like it was a lot more urgent and impactful for me and my family.

What is your why? Why do you do what you do? Food has always been important to me. A lot of family activities centered around food. Food is healing, food is medicine. As a community resource, food can be used to solve other problems. It’s what activated me to work on food justice. A coop is the best answer to food issues in Brooklyn where you have a highly gentrified community – we see food apartheid rather than a food desert. A food coop enables prices to be subsidized by the labor of members, allowing access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. For Black folks, given our history of pain and intentional removal from land, sovereignty over our own health and food are intrinsically tied to liberation.

What moment motivated you to become an organizer/fighter of justice? I’ve always been an activist, who firmly believed in a sense of justice, right and wrong. I look for the appropriate response to deal with injustices I see. As a writer, I want people to see and understand the issues. Though as an activist I want to change the issues. And I want our movements to be self-examining – self-critical to keep improving and ensure they are serving the people they are supposed to serve. I think of myself as a mother, writer and activist. I will always be a mother – most important job in the world. Then a writer, which helps how I understand my world. And as an activist, it’s how I can improve the world I see.

How has your work been different over the past year? I worry that as a writer – before I even begin to write – I have to establish my humanity, every time. The landscape in my community work hasn’t changed greatly, though there is more energy and urgency around it. After 45 was elected and before his inauguration, we had an event at BMC, and there were so many people who came to process, especially white people. Black folks were like, welcome to our hell. BMC is a very intentionally Black-led organization, and we provide opportunities for allyship to non-Black members, and are challenged with how to use their energy. Non-Black folks now being aware of our pain can feel offensive, but also want to use the energy, the resources and access they have to take our efforts further. The challenge is to make sure we’re centering people who have been oppressed for decades.

The ask: We need capital funds to be able to open the Central Brooklyn Food Coop’s doors as well as organizational support that will fund our team (we currently have one part-time project coordinator). Organizational support can also go to basic needs like outreach help, food and childcare at our meetings and printing materials.