We sat down with Mary Tobin, newly appointed director of the Brownsville Partnership, to discuss her vision for helping Brownsville address key issues identified by the community, like health, employment and safety. Mary, a West Point graduate and former Army officer, joined Community Solutions after working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Residents of Brownsville face joblessness at crisis levels, even as the rest of New York City’s unemployment levels have fallen to pre-recession rates. Our partners in workforce development have been working with us to examine and retool their own processes and understand why, when, and how often Brownsville residents are able and unable to complete their programs.
Lidisis Mejia immigrated to Brownsville, Brooklyn from the Dominican Republic last year. Today, she she says her move was “the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Lidisis wanted to build a brighter future for herself and her two children, but once she arrived, she quickly saw that it would not be easy. Though Lidisis is a college graduate and worked as an ESL teacher in the Dominican Republic, her experience did not help her land even entry level positions in the United States. “I was nothing,” she says.
When Brownsville resident Keon Treadwell graduated from City College of New York in 2012, he expected to use his degree to find better employment prospects. However, his job search didn’t unfold as planned. Despite perusing newspapers and preparing for a job with the NYC Department of Sanitation, Keon found himself stuck in prolonged unemployment. On top of his employment frustrations, tragedy struck: his mother passed away, leaving him to care for his grandmother alone.
When you first meet 21-year-old Quaming Boatwright, his love for fashion quickly becomes apparent. No matter the season, Quaming never misses out on the chance to express his style, which is why you may see this Brownsville, Brooklyn resident sporting a blue collared shirt peppered with small white hats and bowties or staying warm in a silver studded leather and wool jacket.
But Quaming’s eye for beautiful arrangements isn’t superficial. He dedicates himself to putting his best foot forward, a trait helping him make a strong entrance into New York City’s competitive workforce.
For 44% of Brownsville, Brooklyn’s working age adults, the road to steady employment can seem almost hidden. Thousands of local residents - even those qualified for low-, mid-, and high-level positions - are still unable to find jobs despite their best efforts. Submitting applications online, visiting employment centers, and talking to potential employers in-person leads to a story many in Brownsville are too familiar with - basic job search tactics repeatedly yielding poor results.
Iona Holmes moved to Brownsville, Brooklyn over 25 years ago with her three young children. At first she was nervous, unsure of what to expect from her new neighbors and how to make it as a single mother. But Brownsville quickly became her home.
Keito Gray has dedicated his career to helping youth involved with the criminal justice system find work and positive, productive paths forward. Now, as a Community Based Organization Liaison and Youth Advocate Employment Specialist for the Center for Employment Opportunities, Keito is working in Brownsville, Brooklyn to lay the groundwork for a neighborhood-based model for job readiness and placement for local ex-offenders, parolees and ex-convicts.
"I'm so proud of me."
It's a sentiment Wafa Abdul-Saleem, a Brownsville, Brooklyn native, shares with a beaming smile. It has been one year since she started working as an Associate at Butter Beans, where she serves up all-natural school lunches. She absolutely loves the job.
Just as she doesn't shy from praising herself, Wafa also speaks candidly about not always having the confidence she exudes today.
Community Solutions’ Brownsville Partnership recently hosted fellow New York State Health Foundation grantees at The Gregory Jackson Center for Brownsville. The group of nonprofits, each one committed to measurably improving the health of communities all across New York State, spent a day with Brownsville residents and our own community-based partners to learn about the unique placemaking approaches being implemented to spark a neighborhood turnaround.