I was born in 1948, in Harlem, and I was raised in Harlem. I’m 62 now.
I learned at an early age that community has to stick together in order to survive. When I was growing up, blacks were migrating from the South and coming to northern cities like New York. There were not many jobs and opportunities, so people had to rely on each other. And at an early age, I realized that people had to have economic opportunities. So they used to give house parties. A house party was really a “rent party” where they would get money to pay their rent. I was part of a giving community; everyone helped each other. That’s how people survived.
Later on, I went to school. I became a teenage mom. I had two children. I got married. I worked for the telephone company for 18 years. All the while, I was helping people, giving. I had never lived by myself because there was always someone that needed a home. After I got older, during 9/11, I had to leave my job. In 2004, after unemployment ran out, I found myself at the welfare office, applying for assistance. I had thought that if you worked hard, you get to live the American Dream. But here I was, in my 50s, sitting at the welfare office. I thought, “My God, what have I done?”
Then a woman approached me. I had noticed her talking to people like me at the welfare office. She was an organizer and she invited me to a meeting. I went. I didn’t know that people on public assistance could organize around issues that affected them. I learned that if you unite around an issue, you can change anything. I immediately got involved. The organization I got involved with is called Families United for Racial and Economic Equality (FUREE). It was a small organization at the time—and still is relatively speaking—but we were able to win $4.5 million for childcare providers in New York City. These were people taking care of the city’s children who hadn’t received a raise in ten years. That was amazing and I was a part of it. I felt honored.
FUREE saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. They invested in developing me as a leader. They sent me to trainings. And in five months I was on the Board of Directors. Then they hired me as a community organizer.
North Star gave FUREE one of its first grants. And North Star also gave me the opportunity to be on the Community Funding Committee. I am so amazed to be given the opportunity to sit on the other side of the table—as a funder—and that people trust me and what I have to say. They know that I can look at a situation from all angles and help determine if an organization should receive funding. Because I have been there: as a person in need, as a person in struggle, and as a leader in a grassroots organization.
It is so important for people to give—especially people who have gone through the system, like me. I was given an opportunity to be who I am. It is such a wonderful journey. Now, I’m starting a new journey helping myself and others to run their own small businesses - to create more opportunities for ourselves. But I want to keep supporting grassroots activist groups like FUREE and the others that North Star Fund supports. So I have decided to start giving to North Star.
What I do comes from my heart. I don’t know any other way to do it. What I give to North Star is not much when compared with some others. But it matters. I would like to give so much more, and I would love the Community Funding Committee to give out more, too. It’s a good feeling knowing that I could help out.