March 2020

Welcome to CivicList, a new independent newsletter to build community and uplift voices! In this edition I include:

What I learned at a community building workshop

Resources for you to take civic action today
An interview with River Fields, an inspiring young person 
A bit of art outside the gallery 
A cool quote by Lynn Twist


First, Gratitude

I’m grateful to have learned new community organizing skills at a recent workshop with Citizens Committee for New York City (where I’m questionably young enough to be on their Young Citizens Committee). There, facilitator extraordinaire Arif Ullah’s suggested that we “listen to understand, not just to respond,” and I had the pleasure of meeting River Fields, an 18 year old community organizer from Brooklyn who will be a speaker at Take the Next Step, the April 4th Youth Civics Fair that I’m helping organize. Below, I interview River. 

Take Action!

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Building Community, with River Fields

“It takes persistence, perseverance, and passion.” 

River Fields is 18 years old and president of his block association in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. His association won Green My Block funding from the Citizens Committee for New York City, and he will be a youth speaker at the April 4th Youth Civics Fair. River and his brother, Rusty, run a foundation which in 2016 raised $15,000 in three weeks to sponsor 40 inner-city youth to attend the Harvard mock trial seminar.  I sat down with River in at Natural Blend cafĂ© in Bed Stuy to get a sense of how he builds community and uplifts voices. 

What are you excited about these days?

I’m interested in neuroscience; I want to be a neurosurgeon. The brain is like a community. Everything is working together to produce this one result of a fully functioning body. In terms of a community, you have to have everyone working together towards a common goal.

What does community mean to you?

To me community means involvement. Intergenerational involvement. Involvement among diverse groups of people. Because when you have diverse groups of people working together, you have diversity of thought, different perspectives towards matters, and that allows you to approach solutions to issues in your community differently to find solutions to problems.

How do you uplift voices, including those that aren’t heard?

My brother and I ran a local newspaper, the Bainbridge Times, and had a section that featured residents, who said a major problem they saw in their community was lack of greenery. So that prompted us to do something about it.

What’s a small scale change that everyone can do today? 

Just start. Whatever it is, even one step, that could add up over time, make marginal improvements. It’s real. You can clean up your front curb. Then you can host a block clean-up event. We had a planting project, and distributed flowers, soil, and mulch. At first it was just during the summer, but now we’re doing work in spring, summer, and winter. We’re also hosting stoop sales, a live jazz night, a block party, and during the holidays, a toy drive.

Greening our community was a challenge. Before my brother and I became block association co-presidents, the block was barren, with no plants, it looked like a concrete jungle. We’re big tennis fans, and were saving up to go to a big tennis tournament in Dubai, and we used that money to put into our block.

How do you stay motivated?

Looking at what other youth doing. Like the organizers of the Youth Civics Fair, including Jason Bohner, who are motivating me to do more.

Any advice for older people?

Definitely just be open to new ideas. When my brother and I first came to the block, we were quite young, and some residents weren’t hugely excited about young people and were like ‘what do they know and what are they doing?’ but some older residents were really vouching for us, like Dr. Michael Hamlet, who is our vice president, who said ‘the young people are coming with new ideas, and you have to be open to listening to their perspectives and help guide them.’ Older people have wisdom, and can help mold these ideas into something great.


Jersey City Wave by Shepard Fairey

A Quote...

When we let go of the chase for more, and consciously examine and experience the resources we already have, we discover our resources are deeper than we knew or imagined. In the nourishment of our attention, our assets expand and grow.

-Lynne Twist