Faith Over Fear Fearless Leader Feature is a new blog series created by Fatima Mohamed, a leader with Faith in New York’s Faith Over Fear campaign and Writer with the Media, Messaging & Outreach Team. Stay tuned to our website every week for a new profile of the leaders in the ground in NYC who are behind the organizing and social justice efforts that make Faith in New York!
For what seems like the first time since November, the sun is shining and the sky is a cloudless blue. People are out and about enjoying the spring which has newly sprung. While sitting in a cafe, I realize that I have managed to spend the whole day indoors. I don’t mind though. Any day spent in the Bronx is alright with me. Today, I am waiting inside to meet with Claude Copeland, a veteran, climate justice worker and fellow Bronx faith leader. Due to a slight mix up, we end up at different cafes a couple blocks away from each other, so I walk out to the other one. It looks like I will be getting to enjoy a bit of this weather before the sun sets.
When I arrive, Claude is seated at a table near the back of the cafe and I promptly join him. We converse for a little while about work and life. I ask where in the Bronx he lives, and to my surprise, he mentions that he is actually from and lives in Queens. Naturally, I wonder why someone that far out is working and praying up here.
He explains how he came to worship and work in the Bronx: “My nephew was christened at New Day Church, a Methodist/non denominational congregation in the Northwest Bronx, and I was so moved by the sermon that I decided to start attending there. It was through the church that I began volunteering in the area, which eventually led me to getting involved with Faith in New York and taking an active role in the Faith Over Fear campaign. I can’t imagine being a person of faith and not being involved in social justice.”
I don’t mention this to him, but I found it wonderfully mystical that through church and possibly some coincidence, he began to walk down a path to do social justice work in line with his faith. It’s amazing how God and community work through us in mysterious ways, I suppose.
Our conversation leads us to speak about the other organizations he supports, and he mentions the concerns he has for the changing borough. “The Jerome Avenue rezoning process is pretty disheartening. I mean, [the City] is planning on building a majority of ‘affordable’ apartments for people that make up to $56,000 a year, when the average community member makes $27,000 [in Community Board 4] and $21,000 [in Community Board 5] to support a family of four. The Bronx is changing everyday, but it’s terrible to see that it’s not to the benefit of the community members to remain in their neighborhoods. Instead, the changes will actually displace them, as we’ve seen in other boroughs and neighborhoods.”
He notes that Council Members Cabrera and Gibson are instrumental in the rezoning decision, and that anyone who is not already doing so should encourage their clergy person and fellow congregants to join together to reach out to their decision makers so that they can be a part of making positive change in their community. [You can also reach out to Faith in New York Bronx Organizer, Analisa Freitas, at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how to get involved!]
The last question I ask is one that I don’t have an answer to yet myself, so I’m eager to hear the insight that Claude may provide: “In your life, what does the Bronx symbolize to you?”
He pauses, while looking out of the window to the cafe parking lot, thinking of how to word his answer. Finally, he responds simply but profoundly: “It means community. I always felt that the Bronx was so much more connected compared to my experiences living in Queens. People really interact with each other and care for each other.” And I know what he means.
Moving through New York, there is a level of disconnectedness within each borough, but I don’t feel or see that in the Bronx. Many New Yorkers and non New Yorkers alike envision it as a place that is broken and in despair. It is, however, a borough that keeps organizing and fighting through all its difficulties, continually rising from ashes, and constantly resurrecting itself again and again.
This prophetic vision of community that Claude feels in the Bronx is something that Faith in New York is actively building through our Faith Over Fear campaign across our city. When the Faith Over Fear platform was launched by leaders like Claude over a month ago, we brought together 24 faith-based organizations and individual leaders from over 100 congregations to identify our collective priorities in creating a true sanctuary city where all people feel connected to one another and can safely lead lives of dignity. We then took to the streets and to our Council Members with a Week of Action to highlight each of our priorities.
It’s been a pleasure to build this faith-based community together, and we know in order to educate a broader base of people on our platform, we need to bring more people into the work. To do that, we’ll be gathering community members together on Thursday April 27th at 6 pm in the Bronx at Wings Academy in West Farms to train all attendees on the Faith Over Fear platform policies and begin planning for a citywide mayoral candidates forum in early June to hold our decision makers accountable to our vision. Food will be provided and children, and Spanish and English dominant speakers are welcome.
If you are moved to take action as well, please join us! See the flyer below for all the details, and click here to register to attend: https://goo.gl/forms/1HT5HXkza5K9nqs63
You can also see more info on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1902379983307965/