“We need to focus on the failures of institutions, not the failures of kids.” – Brooklyn Insights participant
In January 2014, Brooklyn Community Foundation launched the Brooklyn Insights community engagement project in a unique effort to hold a dialogue across neighborhoods about Brooklyn’s future. Nearly 1,000 residents and local leaders participated in the process, sharing their concerns about challenges in their communities and sectors, as well as opportunities they see for positive change in a borough where nearly half of all residents are living in or near poverty.
The Brooklyn Insights Final Report provided an overview of these conversations, and details five major themes that emerged in the course of the project, and around which the Foundation has developed a new vision and mission for its work, and a new approach to funding community-based initiatives.
Throughout the Brooklyn Insights process, we heard people express deep knowledge about and pride in their neighborhoods.
Major Challenges: disparity, gentrification, real estate and economic Opportunities for Change: affordable housing, green spaces, and arts and culture.
Young people were a priority topic in all our conversations. We heard a great deal about their marvelous talents, their importance to the vitality, spirit and stability of neighborhoods, and their essential role in Brooklyn’s future. We also learned about the serious obstacles that hundreds of thousands of them face with schools, social services, jobs, transportation, housing and social stigmas.
Major Challenges: Poverty, out of school and unemployment, and education
Opportunities for Change: wrap-around care, parents, safe spaces, cultural norms
The criminal justice system was a theme that arose again and again in both our sector-based Roundtables and Neighborhood Dialogues. We heard mostly negative reports, especially about the traumatizing and insidious effects of young people’s early encounters with the police and the courts, and the shattering impacts that excessive incarceration has on individual lives, families and communities.
Major Challenges: excessive incarceration, siloed city agencies, bias in the system
Opportunities for Change: restorative justice, school-based reform, social support
As many as 200 languages are spoken in Brooklyn and nearly 40% of residents are foreign-born. Not surprisingly, immigrant communities were a frequent topic in our discussions. Today, as in the past, immigrants contribute in essential ways to the borough’s economy and its multi-cultural identity. This is a source of energy and pride; but these groups face substantial challenges.
Major Challenges: language barriers, bureaucratic public agencies and various forms of cultural prejudice.
Opportunities for Change: local leaders, community-based agencies and affordable housing
In nearly every one of our meetings, people spoke about persistent inequities across Brooklyn, and the public policies and institutional practices that adversely and unjustly affect people of color.
Described as institutionalized oppression, classicism, “equity instead equality” and racial justice, participants stressed the importance of calling out the underlying causes of the challenges residents are confronting day in and day out.
Inequality and bias related to race, class, gender and sexual orientation have profound negative effects on all aspects of life in Brooklyn. Confronting their manifestation to level the playing field for all Brooklynites was identified as an urgent priority.
Major Challenges: poverty, health and public agencies
Opportunities for Change: confronting barriers and fighting for systemic solutions
Brooklyn Insights represents a pivot point in the work of the Brooklyn Community Foundation, and reinforces the unique leadership role the Foundation has to play in addressing the borough’s priority issues. The core concepts embedded in the Brooklyn Insights process – engaging diverse perspectives, respecting the expertise of people most directly affected by a problem, and being an enabler of community-driven change – will extend into the next stages of the Foundation’s work in grantmaking, community leadership and fund development. The Foundation will support community-led efforts to achieve greater equity, to dismantle structural racism and to improve the well-being and future prospects for young people across Brooklyn.