Community Organizing Responses to COVID-19
Queens Spotlight was launched in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time of incredible hardship and severe shifts in how society functions, we are continually inspired by the resourcefulness, responsiveness and resilience of Queens community members. In this series we highlight community organizing work and hope to provide insight into the vitality of this work within our borough during the pandemic.
June 16, 2020
Lena Pervez Afridi, Director of Policy, Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD)
What do you do and what are you working on at this moment?
ANHD always does a lot, but since the pandemic hit, we have been responding as quickly as possible to meet the immediate material needs of our member groups and our communities. We are mostly working on ensuring rights for both residential and commercial tenants, access to affordable housing, and emergency aid to undocumented workers and small business owners. A lot of my work is both legislative and policy heavy, and a big part of my day to day is keeping track of the quickly shifting needs of our communities. We are especially focused on making sure that the voices and needs of communities of color and low wealth communities are centered as the City undertakes its steps toward recovery and reopening in the wake of COVID-19. Low wealth communities of color and immigrant communities, including Queens communities, are among the hardest hit by COVID-19. They are the people at the frontlines, keeping New York City running, but have received little to no aid. We are fighting for and with them for an equitable recovery. I am from Queens, so my work feels deeply personal.
In order to effectively do any work toward an equitable recovery, or for that matter equitable city planning at all, it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge, confront, and undo the legacies of systemic racism that our city and public infrastructure is based on. ANHD has long worked to center Black, brown, and immigrant communities, but our work feels especially vital after the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others at the hands of police. In the aftermath of COVID-19, this is a time of unprecedented need coupled with a historic uprising against white supremacy and police violence. It is a moment that demands an interrogation and undoing of the violence on which American cities are built, including New York, including Queens. At ANHD, we are calling for the City Council to reimagine what is possible with city financing through the budget process and shift money from policing directly to neighborhood needs.
How can we better serve Queens communities?
Many community based organizations need volunteers and funding. If you have the time and ability, try to connect with your local mutual aid chapter or neighborhood organizations. Get involved with organizing marches and dialogues in your community about White supremacy. If you can’t get out there, donate. Have these difficult conversations about anti-Black racism with your families, with your friends, with your neighbors, with your community. Learn about the history of our neighborhoods – while Queens is a beautiful place, it’s built on a legacy of settler colonialism and the ugly practices of redlining. I recommend watching the 1973 Bill Moyers special about Rosedale, called Rosedale: The Way It Is. You can find it online for free. We often make the assumption that as the world’s borough, Queens is exempt from legacies of systemic anti-Black racism, when in fact that history is not so far off. In order to build a better future for our borough, we need to know and be willing to confront our past and do the uncomfortable work of addressing its legacies in our present. Queens will be a better place for it.
What questions do you have? What questions do you think are missing from the conversation right now?
As in any moment of upheaval, it’s difficult to think beyond the immediate crisis, but it’s crucial to fight forward. We need to consider what comes next. What kind of world do we want to see in the aftermath of this pandemic? What kind of world are we fighting to build through the Black Lives Matter movement? How do we ensure that our communities are never left this vulnerable again? What comes next? Part of this visioning hinges on hope and optimism, and part of it must be based in our understanding of what our City has faced in the past. For example, New York and other areas have seen massive speculation after huge disasters. Think of what happened after 9/11, after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. We as a City and as community members need to be prepared for evictions and an uptick in commercial and residential speculation, and we need to safeguard our communities against it. This means paying attention to what’s happening on your block, in your neighborhood, in your borough, and making your voice heard.
How do we celebrate, uplift, and strengthen our communities and everything that makes Queens so special?
Check in with your neighbors. Visit your local street vendors. Volunteer in your community. Join a neighborhood march for Black lives. Community is everything, and it really is all we’ve got.
Follow Lena Pervez Afridi on Twitter.