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People of the South End: Miss Clara Phillips

by Elizabeth DeSantis

Keeping the Past Alive
Mississippi native Clara Phillips has been in Albany for 56 years, and has stayed a loyal resident to the South End ever since. She has been a part of AVillage for the past 8 years ever since running into Willie White one day after her church service who said, “I’m starting an organization”. Ms.Clara has since been known as “AVillage’s first member”, and her dedication to her work is accredited to something her mother always told her -- “If you’re going to do something, stick with it”. Her dedication is visible through the creation of the 100 CDTA bus line and the annual Mississippi Day.

While interviewing Ms. Clara, I asked her what her favorite memory of Albany is, to which she laughed and said, “Well, at first, I didn’t like Albany. It was too quiet”. Now, Ms. Clara said, she would never leave the South End or Albany. Mississippi will always be home, but Albany has become a good second home for her.

She now occupies her time by working at the South End Children’s Cafe where she helps youth with their homework and tries to answer all of the questions about life they throw at her. “They keep you in touch”, she said, when asked about how different is was working with a younger generation. Since younger generations are more involved with social media than Ms. Clara, they fill her in about technology while she tells them stories about her past.

Ms. Clara admitted that she’s not as updated with technology, but she wishes the South End could get more media coverage to raise awareness. “You can’t buy salad in the South End”, she said. The importance of raising her, and many others’ concerns about the need for jobs, health insurance, and vegetables needs to reach more social media coverage so that change can happen.

When asking about her history, Ms. Clara told her life story with a reminiscent look and a smile that never left her face. From sharing stories about the day she cooked for the first annual AVillage Mississippi Day with an injured ankle to how she works at the local South End Children’s Cafe to help students with their homework, it’s clear why social media is important. Without social media platforms, some stories never get shared. They may die with the person they belong to, but Ms. Clara is working against that by writing her first novel. Still in the making, From The Beginning to Almost The End, will share her well known recipes and the challenges she’s overcome. Her hopes for the book is that “it might help someone else”. 

People of the South End will be an occasional feature of AVillage VOICE. If you know someone with a story to tell, let us know. The Editor.

Corey Ellis Talks Economic Development

by Mahalia Cummings

It was on those yellow pieces of paper that this organization was born,” Albany Common Council President-Elect Corey Ellis begins his talk at December 7th’s Thursday Meeting by calling back to AVillage’s origin story. He talks about the way that Willie White built on an idea. An idea that Corey first witnessed come into its own on bright yellow flyers and on passion before the it was even fully conceptualized.
South End residents dream for themselves, too. Corey Ellis points out that for too many people, the job opportunities they see always come with a barrier or obstacle attached, so that they can see it, but can’t grasp it. Some of these obstacles stem from educational injustice, lack of economic opportunity, the absence of equal representation in government, housing disparities, and racial discrimination.

For Corey, it is about equality and equity. It is about tapping into the entrepreneurial minds of young people, but it’s also about institutions. “You have to have some entity that holds people accountable.” Corey co-founded the Capital District Black Chamber of Commerce to become an economic driving force and leverage  for people who found themselves shut out in the face of systemic discrimination. “What about your lending practices? Your high interest rates?” Corey speaks of crossing into a world where institutions are no longer blocked off to marginalized members of the community.  “That’s where your institutions have to come alive. Your churches, your chambers. Your urban league.”

The discussion also centered on the merits of empowering yourself, any way you can. The inherent value of unions and the importance of advocacy was a hallmark of the meeting.  Members from ECWA local 102, a construction union, were present at the meeting. ECWA Local 102 is proficient in training its members, and works with legislator and community leaders in the city. Corey doesn’t claim to have all the answers when it comes to this subject. But he stresses the importance of going after the people who contract the companies in the first place, and getting down to the nuts and bolts of how many jobs community members will be viable for. And providing access to that training.

When AVillage member Ray Turner asks what he needs to do to achieve what Corey Calls a “sustainable, workable, livable” community, Corey tells him that he’s already doing it. “Being part of an organization that is based on community growth. Being active in the community.”

Corey is an example of what community activism does. As he said, he didn’t come to the meeting to talk at community members. He aimed to listen. There wasn’t always complete agreement, but conversations have to be nuanced to make change. Corey Ellis is at the forefront of our Common Council, filled with group of people who take a significant role in representing the residents of Albany. As Vivian Kornegay said at the meeting last Thursday, what affects one of our neighborhoods, affects us all. Corey stated that the resurgence of the South End is going to come hand in hand with aggressive change. We are all a part of that change.


Road Closed Due to Injustice

by Mahalia Cummings
When Willie White speaks to Dave the truck driver on Friday, November 17th, with horns blaring around them, there is a moment of stillness. In contrast to the confrontational nature of the halted trucker at last month’s action, Dave tells Willie that he understands why he's being stopped. There is no quick flash of anger, but compassion.
For the news cameras, this result might have seemed anti-climactic. But it’s the buildup of awareness and open dialogue that will impact change.
Over the past month members of AVillage and the surrounding community have gathered to protest environmental injustice at Ezra Prentice Homes. Members gather at 625 South Pearl St., meeting those from groups such as Citizen Action, students from The Free School, Democratic Socialists of Albany, and Environmental Advocates of New York.   There has been great strength in small numbers, but we hope to continue to grow this movement, to be so loud that people can’t help but to join us.
AVillage advocates for people who have been exhausted by a system that overlooks and exploits them. For some, that means standing and holding signs. For others, that means standing in the road and refusing to move. Either way, AVillage seeks to elevate the voices of those who have been silenced. The residents of Ezra Prentice Homes deserve advocates who are willing to be unmoved.
In the minutes leading up to the conversation, Willie was gathered with other protesters as they blocked the southbound lane of South Pearl Street. While the traffic was blocked, other demonstrators handed out literature to those in their stopped cars. All the while, Dave and Willie engaged in a civil discourse about the toxic environmental impact that diesel truck fumes have on the neighborhood.
Willie echoes some of the  “Dear Trucker” letter passed out to all halted truck drivers who will accept them. To members of AVillage and many residents of Ezra Prentice, it is clear as day. Traffic stoppage is controversial. But the residents have no other tool or leverage to get their voices heard. What is a minor inconvenience for those on their evening commute is part of a larger picture for those who are fighting for their lives.
And at this particular action, it was met with a dialogue that continues to grow. Willie reports that he has received a number of phone calls from Truckers who read the letter and want to talk about how to resolve this issue. They tell Willie they understand the issue and why it’s necessary to take direct action, but also why other routes are difficult right now. One company that has found another route, according to its driver. Willie passes on the information from the truckers to those who have the ability to take action.
Tomorrow, Dave and people like him could be the impetus to the further closing of the gap between the needs of the people and the pressures of the transportation system.
Willie is known for shouting “no more” at protests, a two-word declaration that invokes the true nature of not only AVillage’s activism, but the voices of the oft-silenced Ezra Prentice residents. Enough is Enough. Everyone felt that spirit at the November 17th action, felt that the purpose stretching beyond one singular individual, but embodying the type of resistance that really takes A Village.
Will you join us? If you’d like to participate, please send us your phone number so we can text you about future actions.

The Campaign for Better Health at Ezra Prentice

by Elizabeth DeSantis

From conducting health surveys to installing monitors counting trucks to tracking the air quality at the Ezra Prentice Homes, the journey toward relief is not quite over for the residents who live there. But certainly concerns surrounding the damage to the health of this community have grown more widespread in the last two years.
The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is spending $500,000 over the next year to conduct an intensive study of air quality in the neighborhood, using new and sophisticated air monitoring equipment with two stationary sites and hand held monitors as well . 
This plan is a year-long study to look into the main contributing sources to air pollution in the South End, which the DEC will assess:
  • How much particulate matter comes from motor vehicles versus Port activities?
  • How far does particulate matter travel from the road into the neighborhood?
  • How much benzene comes from sources in the Port versus vehicles on local roadways?
  • What approaches can the DEC take to help the community understand air quality?
The study began only this fall, so the discoveries are not yet in-depth. However, Kyle Frazier, a representative for the DEC, stated,
“Instrumentation has been installed and is up and running.  The portable monitoring portion of the study has been underway for a few months.  To assist our data interpretation, the New York State Department of Transportation has agreed to install a traffic counter on South Pearl St.  DEC plans to compare the car and truck counts to our monitoring data.  We’ve also learned that we need to work better on translating technical information for the community”.
The goal of these air monitors overall is for the DEC to gain a greater understanding about the primary sources of some air pollutants, such as particulate matter and chemical gases that are emitted into the air from motor vehicles, road dust, and loading crude oil from one container to another. There is a monitor that remains constant outside of the Ezra Prentice Homes that tracks Benzene, the most common chemical gas that is created from gasoline fumes, asphalt, and moving crude oil.
A second, smaller monitor has been installed near the Creighton Storey Homes on Third Avenue, almost a mile away from the Port and much further up the hill so data between the two can be compared.
AVillage and the Ezra Prentice Tenants Association have hosted four DEC presentations on the air quality project in the past year to explain the air quality project. Another information session is being planned  for January.
In the meantime, a study conducted this summer by the Capital District Transportation Committee (CDTC) designed to count the diesel trucks and track their origins and destinations is still not complete, but results are expected soon.
AVillage’s Resident Outreach Workers have facilitated health surveys at 107 households at Ezra Prentice This information is invaluable both to make the case that the air quality is affecting people’s health, and also in allowing us to work with CDPHP, the Albany County Health Department and other providers to make sure people get connected with good information about their health issues, and find appropriate services if needed. 
Working with Trinity Alliance and the Radix Center, we will be expanding our surveys and outreach to other parts of the South End starting in January. If you are interested in becoming a Resident Outreach Worker (ROW) to help conduct these surveys, contact Willie White at avillage5@aol.com.


Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams Speaks On Community Schools

What does education mean to you? The one-word answers from community residents attending the November 9 AVillage meeting included these: “opportunity, equity, freedom, awakening, and access.“

AVillage was honored to welcome Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams as our featured speaker for the weekly Thursday meeting. Approximately forty people attended last week - members of AVillage who gathered in the name of getting a clearer idea of “community schools,” which now include Giffen Memorial Elementary School in the South End. Click here for video of the meeting, which included poignant questions and open discussion.

Education is nuanced and different for every parent and student, and the Community School concept is equally nuanced. On Thursday we got both the general concept and specific examples of what the Albany School District wants to achieve.  Every students’ needs fluctuates around variables such as home environment, health disparities, social issues, and more. Too often, those variables become barriers to learning. 

The goal of the community school model is to break down those barriers by supporting student enrichment, engagement, and academic participation through a symbiotic relationship between community organizations, parents, students, and teachers.  This is going to look different for every school, but the hope is to that schools become a consortium of sorts, so that each institution can learn from one another about what works better for them.
Superintendent Adams previously served as the school associate superintendent of Nevada’s Clark County School District, the fifth largest school district in the nation. She is no stranger to urban settings. Throughout the meeting parents and concerned community members discussed how to tackle the issues that are unique to Albany. With her were other school officials including Community Engagement Coordinator Cathy Edmondson, who is a key link between the school, parents, and community members. From Giffen Memorial Elementary School were Principal Jasmine Brown, and Community Site Coordinator, Amanda Boyd. Together, they formed a picture of the type of collaboration the community school model is meant to foster.

Superintendent Adams spoke of the significance of measuring progress through the lenses of academic achievement and enrichment. It’s not just one or the other, but a balance of increasing the quality of both. She also takes note of the power of language. “Success is how we define it. We can’t put our children in a box to always define what success looks like. We want them to have the opportunities and the possibilities to determine what that success looks like for them with our guidance and with our support.”

Each school will conduct a needs assessment among parents and families that evaluates how the schools can get from where they are to where they hope to be. It also helps them direct where the fiscal pieces fit, and informs the budget. Former school Board President Kenny Bruce asked about the concrete implications of community schools. He knows that this model is an ongoing evaluative process, and that the needs assessment is a key piece, but he wanted to know more about specifics, not the abstract. “...obviously you want the student to learn more,” he said. “But how does the community school model translate into results?”

Superintendent Adams’s response was centered on the real-life examples that proved that community schools work. “...This is a model that we have explored in New York City and throughout the country. So, tutoring examples: what does that tutoring look like. Is it targeted specifically on what I need as a student? If I need phonemic awareness does the tutoring address that? Within community schools there may be a mentoring program that’s at the school where the community supports the school.” According to Adams, this is an example that has already seen success at Arbor Hill. There, the community school program helps to align tutoring with what the student’s academic needs are.

Community organizations can also fill the gap in extracurricular programs. Superintendent Adams uses sports as a hypothetical example. “Who knew that students that may be interested in lacrosse? Then you know what? We have a community organization that is primed and ready to bring that to the school,” she said.

As far as how community schools fit into the ongoing workings of the school system? “We want to address the whole child - social and emotional well being of our students to make sure that if there are things that are happening in their life, they are emotionally and socially able to address that. That may be a social worker, that may be a counselor. As a school we only have so many resources available, but the community schools grant can help us fund those additional resources to bring them in to take care of our kids.”

Still, there are concrete progress markers that the school will use to measure the success of community schools. “We are going to look at our academics, ELA, mathematics. We are gonna look at discipline referrals, how many students are being referred to the office or referred to the principal’s office for discipline measures. “ The superintendent went on to describe other signifiers of change. She said that the school district hopes the community school model will bring a decrease in aggressive behaviors and apathy, and contribute to an uptick in how many students turning in homework on time, and reading proficiency.

Community schools are a piece of the larger equation when it comes to the success of our students. First, the school district aims to identify the needs of the students. Then, how does the community work to fill the gaps to fulfill those needs? How much does perception have to do with that, and how do we shape that perception through decisive action? 

Superintendent Adams poses a rhetorical question to the room, meeting the eyes of everyone there.“Who are we when we are outside of our schools, and what does our community think about us? We have to work really hard with our students and we really have to help them understand that they’re a part of something greater than what they even see. And that’s gonna take a minute. And language is absolutely a part of it.”

Would you like to find out more about sitting on a community school advisory board? Contact Cathy Edmondson, Community Engagement Coordinator at 518-475-6067. 


Thursday Meetings Bring New Connections

By Mahalia Cummings

AVillage aims to bring the people who are shaping your community to you. Some of them can seem larger than life, but at AVillage we want to highlight the fact that we can be the bridge to the sometimes overwhelming issues of public policy and education. Our Thursday Meetings are an avenue by which we can bring a level of rare connection between South End residents and the leaders that have an influence on your community.
Last month we were honored to welcome the Honorable Carolyn McLaughlin, who counts educational advocacy as one of the many causes she has fought for over the years. AVillage hopes to help make the connection in the dialogue between residents when it comes to elected officials and school administrators.
Making change starts with helping the people of the community to be heard, no matter what. On Thursday, November 9th, AVillage is excited to welcome Albany School Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams to our weekly community meeting, in which we hope to shed more light on what community schools mean for our children.
Our newsletter and our Facebook page will keep you informed of future Thursday speakers. The third Thursday of the month will be devoted to speakers on health and health advocacy — a major focus of AVillage and a major concern in our community.
A Conversation with Hon. Carolyn McLaughlin
The Honorable Carolyn McLaughlin is a woman of faith. She shares that through her committed work to public service, and that continued faith has kept her unwavering presence in the fight for social justice in Albany. Serving as a representative of the South End in the Common Council, and then the President, she has rich experiences to share.
“I wanted to be a voice for people who couldn’t be for themselves - or who just wouldn’t because they were intimidated by the process,” She said. Standing at the center of community residents who are closely listening, Carolyn was the embodiment of a leader of and for the community.  Having the pleasure of interviewing her the week before the meeting, it was clear that much of the topics discussed at the meeting rang true to what we spoke about privately.
As Carolyn spoke emphatically about a myriad of subjects — senior services, socio-economic equality,  employment, community engagement, and more — it was clear that her twenty years of public service was mired in passion. She said this of running for office: “You can’t do it if it doesn’t come from the heart”. It’s evident from the way Carolyn talks to her constituents to the plans in her mayoral platform, that she is all heart.
One of the most pressing issues  in the South End is educational justice. One of the ways that manifests is through Carolyn’s role in the Black Women’s Association of Albany. She got involved just over a decade ago, and has since established a scholarship in memory of her late mother which helps young girls go to school. Carolyn sees the uplifting of black women as a crucial marker to our society’s progress. She believes that the Black Women’s Association should continue to embrace women of all ages, and sees the generational gap as less of a chasm and more of as a source of wisdom and an opportunity to pool  collective knowledge and varying perspectives.
The championing of diversity is one of the core tenets of Carolyn’s political career. “You need to have people that represent all interests in every level of government...You need diversity of thought,” she says. “And that comes through having diversity. Because people come from all different backgrounds, and they bring different concerns to the table. Be it the ethnic background, LGBT community, seniors, youth. If someone’s not there that has that global interest, then you very well may be the last person they talk about.
“And by the time they get to your issue, there’s no money, or the team is burned out,” she says. At its best, local government can hold up a mirror to people of the community. Not only in the sphere of local politics, but in the educational system. On a practical level, policies made by a diverse set of people can greatly benefit the marginalized, especially students.
One of the issues that Carolyn hopes to be more vocal about in the future is the lack of black teachers in our schools. “I think we have to look at our schools - we know how diverse the population is or is not because 80-90% of those kids are kids of color. But yet, the teachers in the schools don’t reflect that.”
Carolyn talks about how students of color who see themselves reflected in their teachers can get a needed self-esteem boost. And it’s not about ethnicity alone.  “They seem to have a sense of pride, have a sense of self esteem that comes from that teacher standing in front of them that they’re likely to see in their neighborhood, that they’re gonna see in church, or see in the grocery store. Because that’s another thing: they live in their city.”
Education is largely informed by policies that are made by seemingly distant representatives. And although meetings with people like Superintendent Kaweeda G. Adams are a start, Carolyn makes it clear that the issue is ingrained in our institutions. “You have to look at some of these as a systemic things that affect the outcome of our childrens’ education.
We also talked about what non-profits can do to continue to make sure people have the tools they need to “Never give up on trying to give the information to people. Because one day it’s gonna click,” she said.

Carolyn McLaughlin was one of the original members of AVillage. She remarked on the evolution of the organization over the past eight years. “I think the growth has been phenomenal. And when Willie mentioned that it’s been eight years, I remember when we had the first meeting in the park up here and there was about five of us. And I said to him, ‘Don’t be discouraged. Come back next week.’ ” Carolyn knows Willie White had the vision that the achievements AVillage has made today were within reach nearly a decade ago.
“What AVillage does.” she said,  “is give the ordinary person an opportunity to realize how they can have an impact.”

A Call to Action: The need for local organizations to partner with Community Schools

by Liz DeSantis

The Community School model now at Giffen Memorial Elementary School and four other Albany school gives organizations and community members an opportunity to step up and become active members in our youth’s education.
Community Schools are organized around foundations that are believed to be the most effective to directly address the needs of their students, family members and the surrounding area. Within these schools, students are able to learn under an informal curriculum that has activities aimed to engage students and their families to create strong support systems.
Community Schools help prepare students to become active members in a growing economy through education and learning life skills. By creating connections to resources in the neighborhood, students benefit from an education outside of a set curriculum, such as receiving a hands-on professional education with businesses, environmental organizations, non-profits and art institutions. Giffen Elementary School is in the South End, which encourages the notion that parents and families must receive support in order to support their children. The Family Resource and Support Center utilizes Giffen’s school-community partnerships to provide guidance for families so that their children can succeed as students.

Community schools are important because they embody effective learning styles to prepare youth for a post-academic life. These kinds of institution for educating children can utilize time throughout the entire year to engage students with organizations, rather than primarily during the academic year. By extending time before or after the school day, or during the summer, schools could integrate the time with partnerships to fit into students’ daily lives without taking away from essential academic guidelines. Organizations now have the opportunity to create a program with the school they’re partnering with to ensure that the students are be receiving hands-on experience that will assist them in the future.


AVillage,Inc. Joins Centro Civico to Help Puerto Rico

By Mahalia Cummings
How did this relief drive come about? When Willie White called Ladan Alomar to bring an idea to her for a Puerto Rico Relief Donation Drop Off, she had already been in the throes of organizing and planning relief efforts. But during that call, the idea to collect supplies for people who had lost everything was brought to fruition.
The collection this Friday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., in front of the Rite Aid on North Pearl Street will mark some tangible evidence of community leaders coming together, but Centro Civico will be leading the Capital Region’s long-term struggle to rebuild the Puerto Rico relief and rebuilding effort for years to come.
Puerto Rico is an island of strong-willed people. But Hurricane Maria would test anyone’s faith. It’s people like Ladan who help to reinforce it. Ladan Alomar is the Executive Director of Centro Civico, a role she has served in for almost thirty years.
Centro Civico is a dual-language not-for-profit that provides immigration services, access to a bilingual daycare center, and support for people with developmental disabilities, English as a Second Language development, and more. All services are provided with the goal of filling gaps within the disparities that low-income and Hispanic communities struggle with. Under Ladan’s direction, Centro Civico has continued to flourish and provide needed resources to build strong families and encourage self-sufficiency for residents across the Capital Region.
The organization’s most recent endeavor is to provide much-needed supplies to the people of Puerto Rico in a desperate hour of need. Ladan has been a pioneer in the Capital Region — advocating and working for women’s rights, educational rights, human rights and economical development among other important issues.
When people don’t know how to help, they often turn to grassroots organizations for clarity. In turn, these organizations and their efforts help to make a “larger impact”, in Ladan’s words. It is that togetherness that Ladan is extremely grateful for, and leaders like she and Willie White continue to do what is needed to help to provide the vehicles for the passion and empowerment of the community.
Most people in Puerto Rico still lack electricity. Drinking water is difficult to find. In many cases, people seeking the support needed to survive find themselves caught in bureaucratic red tape. Within all this, children are suffering the most.
Ladan expresses how she first felt hearing the news of what had Hurricane Maria’s effects on Puerto Rico. “I was hurt. I was worried. I felt powerless. I would say that was the biggest emotion - powerlessness.” But it is this vulnerability that only helps to amalgamate the efforts of people who truly want to make change. Ladan felt grief and despair, but she did not unpack to live there. She channeled that into something positive, and others like her utilized their emotions and connected with each other to pool their resources.
Ladan Alomar makes it clear that she is not alone in this effort, and she hopes that sentiment is reflected for the people of Puerto Rico. She is working with collaborators such as CAPRI, the 100 Hispanic Women, Capital District Chapter, the Capital Region Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Albany Latin Festival Association (ALFA), the City of Albany Poverty Reduction Initiative (CAPRI) and others. They have joined forces with Centro Civico to create the Puerto Rico Disaster Relief Team. When I ask her about the collaboration effort, she says: “That connection not only makes us feel safe as people, but it strengthens us because we know that we are not alone.”
Ladan is not afraid to be emotional, and it is that capacity for feeling what she needs to that lends so much compassion to people who benefit from her work. She says that in the emergency stages of such disasters, the focus is on making sure people have the basics: safe shelter, food, and water. These are the main tenets of survival that are stripped away when a crisis hits. But after that, a different type of rebuilding begins. “Sometimes support from your family, your faith, when you know you’re not alone and there people out there thinking about you. And doing stuff to help you. All of this is emotionally and mentally healing.”
We also talk about the long-term effects of Hurricane Maria. “It is projected that the kids are going to lose a year of education,” Ladan says. She has secured a pledge of 200 backpacks from SEFCU, in the name of providing needed school supplies for students. She has brought up the possibility of students coming to the mainland for their schooling during this academic year, depending on what the future holds.
Ladan shares an anecdote from her childhood, in which she took hungry children in need into her home, without a second thought. She did not take into account the empty cabinets, the empty fridge, the footprints they would leave in their wake. With childlike determination, she could only think of one thing: helping those who need help. She treasures a picture that captures her in the middle of saving her allowance for this very purpose. She says it’s these defining moments of her life that cement her knowledge that we are all here for a purpose.
In times of crisis, it is all too easy to succumb to a feeling of helplessness. Ladan deconstructs some of the common thoughts that come about during international tragedy. No, we cannot afford to be desensitized to what we see on the news. “Images of pain and suffering have an impact on us. We are not a wall. We are human beings. We have to be proud of the fact that we have feelings and emotions and images and stories of other humans have impact on us.” No, our youth are not self-involved and complacent. “You have to take the time to connect with our youngsters and give them these experiences, they have feelings and emotions, too.”

And no, you are not alone. When I asked her what she would say to a survivor of this disaster face-to face, her answer was rooted in physical comfort first and foremost. “First I hug them. Because I think my hug and my touch would say a lot.” But she would ultimately say, “You are not alone.” We can all embody that sentiment, individually and together. As Ladan says, separatism is often stoked or exacerbated, but it is not the truth of what we as connected humans can achieve, one donation or act of kindness at a time.


Special Edition: Environmental Injustice at Ezra Prentice Homes

By: Sean Wilson & Liz DeSantis

Many of our children and their families that live in the South End of Albany CANNOT breathe, and this is unacceptable and frankly inhumane. Something needs to happen so that the residents of the Ezra Prentice Homes can breathe air that is safe to inhale, air that does not contain chemicals that sound like something you would find in a college inorganic chemistry textbook. The following blog will describe an Environmental Justice Committee, of which, Marc Johnson, Interim Executive Director of AVillage…, Inc. is a part, as well as how that committee will tirelessly work to combat environmental injustice in Albany and across the State of New York.

It is a quiet fall day and trucks have lined up, single file, waiting, waiting, waiting for the start of the day. The morning begins with an engine reviving and the distinct and depressing sound of diesel trucks. The drivers keep the trucks in idle in anticipation for a call from a boss or manager. From there they begin completing daily routes, transporting oil and gas, garbage, cement, etc. Vroom. Vroom. Vroom. But hold on, there is more. There is a loud noise off in the distance. A figure is slowly approaching its destination. The sound has amplified. It is a train; and that train is carrying gasoline and ethanol. Let the toxic assault begin.

Each day more than a thousand trucks and the conspicuous and notorious bomb trains pass through the Port of Albany; each day our children and families suffer. Potent and carcinogenic toxins inundate the residents. Asthma, respiratory illness other than asthma, and allergies are common – the numbers do not lie. A grey cloud lingers. When will it all end?

The answer is hopefully soon. Marc Johnson of AVillage…, Inc. has assumed a role on the Environmental Justice and Just Transition Group. The goal of the committee is to help the state transition from an economy that relies on fossil fuel; in addition to helping the state transition to a green economy, the committee will also work to integrate environmental justice principles into state policies, regulations, and legislation. As a member of the group, he will advise policy makers on issues that relate to environmental injustice, as well as advocate for sustainable economic transitions in areas that have been impacted by environmental issues. Although Marc will collaborate with stakeholders to encourage the adoption of policies, laws, and regulations at the state level, his main priority, however, is to initiate action at the local level, specifically as it relates to Ezra Prentice. His intent is to gather traffic data from the Department of Transportation, that shows the number of trucks that drive pass the housing project on the way to the Port of Albany and nearby facilities; furthermore, he would like to acquire data from various Departments of Health to demonstrate a correlation between the amount of traffic, the bomb trains, and the industrial park, and rates of, for instance, asthma. In the end, Marc would hold those companies polluting and affecting the quality of life of South End residents, accountable. As Marc stated, “Because of the harm it has already caused, I would like health issues to be addressed. I would like free screening and free health examinations to determine what issues in our community are affecting our health.”

Albany bomb trains transport over 150,000 barrels of oil.[1] These trains run too close to a historically oppressed community. Not only are these trains susceptible to an explosion, but they emit potent and often carcinogenic toxins that humans breathe. Aside from the trains that poison families, approximately 1,000-diesel trucks drive pass the homes each day, trucks that emit soot pollution into the air; this, as well as the trains, are contributing to growing rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses. With these issues affecting the South End community, it is the goal of the Environmental Justice and Just Transition Group to progress toward a green economy. Going forward, the committee will adopt sound, prudent policies, legislations, and regulations that end the environmental assault. The people of the Ezra Prentice homes WILL BREATHE AGAIN.

Work Cited



Wendell B. Sings AVillage's Praises

by Mahalia Cummings

Through performing and being among the attendees of Mississippi Day, Wendell B. got a piece of home right here in the South End. Wendell B.’s energy is magnetic. The connection that was forged between he and the people of the South End was electric. The soul and power that he brought was reflected right back to him. Albany’s residents sang along to hit after hit with the sensation as he performed in the Lincoln Park Bowl on that warm Saturday afternoon. Although it has been over a week since he performed, AVillage is still bubbling with excitement over what he brought to the South End. In his own words, Wendell represents “the real side of music”. It’s not just about bringing a few hit songs, it’s about delivering talent that serves as a vehicle for love, warmth, and a familial spirit. “I just wanted to make sure that I left AVillage and Albany with a touch of Wendell. That’s what I wanted to do. I just wanted to make sure they knew me. And that when I left, they would remember me.”

They most definitely will. People felt the music. It was palpable. The people of the South End sang along from somewhere deep, reveling in an afternoon that was meant for family, homeland celebration, and the reigniting of history. And what drove our featured performer to culminate all of that with honest-to-God good music? To bring his very best to the community? The answer is simple. “My biggest push while I was there was Willie White. This man was unbelievable.”  Wendell continues, “He reminded me of myself. He’s a professional. He wants to get it. And he wants to get it right. His push, his drive is just - Oh my god. How could you let this guy down? How?“

Wendell admires Willie White’s mobilizing spirit. He admires what he brings to young people, whose approval and engagement strike him as a marker for success whether it be in activism or in music. In Wendell’s eyes, the relevance of a movement and of a musician is inextricably linked to the engagement of the youth. This was demonstrated in one of the most significant parts of the event: the march from Old St. John’s Church of God in Christ. When Wendell saw the parade go by, he was awestruck: “There were so many young people behind him,” he says, speaking of Willie. “And that’s what made me really say: ‘this guy is a force to reckon with.’ He really is because it’s our youngsters nowadays that we are sincerely concerned about. And so to find so many young people behind him was very impressive to Wendell B - to my whole staff - we were just... we were impressed. So my whole drive while I was there was Willie.”

Young people were just as impressed with Wendell B. at Mississippi Day. One young man came up to Wendell and expressed surprise at how much he sounded like his records. Wendell and I note how hard young people can be to impress. He has a discerning spirit about many things when it comes to business, but he also has an eye for what resonates with people. Wendell, like many others, could see the tangible evidence of AVillage’s impact. The everlasting impact that the South End had on him is intertwined with AVillage. “All I can tell you is AVillage. AVillage. These people here are on something so positive and so fulfilling that who would come there and miss that? Where they can walk past the people who are not with them and still that person knows: ‘Hey, that’s AVillage.’. They salute them, they say hey what’s up, or whatever, and still recognize that this is what goes on in our neighborhood here. This is AVillage. So I would say: so much positivity. I was very - I loved it.”

It reminded him of Wesley House, a kind of safe haven for the youth that extended outreach and activism in his community of St. Louis, Missouri as he was growing up. He visited the center often, finding comfort in a solid place of support. He said AVillage struck him with how much it reminded him of that stalwart of his childhood. Much like AVillage, it was a place everybody in the community felt welcome. A place that offered a leader, positive activities, and the opening of possibilities for those who feel limited. Mississippi Day and AVillage are about showing people the possibilities through reaffirming a legacy and giving them hope for a broader and more successful potential future. Wendell B. said that it’s those values that AVillage “took [him] home to”. He lauds people like Miss Clara, whose stories are so rich and crucial to the fabric of what Mississippi Day is about. “Maybe that’s where all of the automatic love comes from. My mama’s from Mississippi, My daddy’s from Alabama. My mother’s whole family are all Mississippi people. All my life I went to Mississippi. This is the reason for the song Mississippi girl.”

And as for those young folks he speaks so highly of? Wendell recognizes the effort of AVillage to provide the tools for young and old to live their fullest lives, with the promise of equity and justice. It’s those foundation blocks that can set people up to truly embrace what they desire to accomplish. When I asked him what he would tell the people of the South End who have a dream, he spoke of the way the world has opened up around social media. “Let’s say for instance a big company like Universal or Warner Brothers’ or so on - so many big companies - they had the power to do things or have your music overseas tomorrow morning at 8’oclock. When this was just impossible for YOU. I mean and that was pretty much the thing that you bought into. Is they could reach what you couldn’t reach. They could do what you couldn’t do.” But he marks the distinct difference of this “new era”. Now, the power is in young people’s hands to control their own narratives, to make themselves known and market themselves. Now, you don’t have to depend on the majors, literal or metaphorical. Wendell recalls being on the other side of success, and being “blessed enough” to get to the new side. He, in a lot of ways, is a mirror for the people living in the South End. He relied on community building when he was growing up, had to take advantage of his opportunities as they came. But, that was then. Whether it’s music or an endeavor that’s entirely different, the theme of the times is opportunity through media, through a kind of innovation that is completely modern.

I ask Wendell to tell me what comes to his mind when I say the word “empowerment”: a core tenant of AVillage’s mission. “Willie White is empowering these young people with this knowledge and this wisdom and this history. That’s what comes to my mind when you say [empowerment].” And it’s clear that this impression is not a dime a dozen. Wendell has been to a lot of places, but he is keenly aware of how special the South End and AVillage are. Wendell talked about those travels and how he processes them. One of the things he tries to do is bring back a memory from each place he visits. It’s safe to say that Albany is added to his list as a standout, and it won’t be the last time he’s here to make memories. “...there’s definitely gonna be time number 2 and 3 and so on and so on,” he says. We can’t wait to welcome Wendell B back.


Wendell B: Captain of His Soul
Wendell Brown sits down with AVillage to talk about the power of music, legacy, and authenticity
By Mahalia Cummings

When I pick up the phone on Wednesday afternoon, a deep baritone sounds through my speaker. Even though I had just recently become acquainted with Wendell’s music, the sound is familiar and comforting. It sounds like the voice of someone whose stories you want to listen to. It’s not a voice that’s lost on Wendell’s fans. They listen to his stories through his songs, and that voice seals the deal. Our conversation is rich and multi-layered: Wendell is not just a big voice. He is a force of positivity and uplifting honesty. His values connect deeply with his fans. “The biggest thing that my fans love about me and my music is I touch something in their life that has happened,” he says. “And they were able to say ‘wow, he is really speaking the truth on this.’ That’s what I carry. I carry truthfulness in my lyrics.”

Wendell B. is a self-actualized and skilled musician. He was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, gleaning inspiration from his uncles who were in a gospel group. At one time he found himself mimicking them, inspired by how each of them could show their own identity through music. But he found his own sound.

As far as what he hopes to bring to the people who attend Mississippi Day? The answer is within what is arguably his biggest hit: "Mississippi Girl". If Oprah’s standards are anything to judge by (and they most definitely are) the song has definitely made its mark. Wendell tells me that Ms. Winfrey herself has downloaded it. But the song’s meaning is even bigger than that.

 “...this song has had the strength of what Mississippi means in it. You can go all around the world. You can go to London, France, Detroit, Chicago, Italy. You can come all the way back and go to Alabama and bump into a Mississippi girl. The power of Mississippi is one of the reasons I wrote this song. Plus, my mama is a Mississippi girl. So what I bring to AVillage on this weekend is — I hope to let them know that the word Mississippi is where they come from, where their roots are from, and where their strength started from and to let them know that it’s one of the most wonderful words and states that the whole world knows about. And Wendell B is gonna bring it to you.” We can’t wait, Wendell.


Environmental Justice Grant Awarded To AVillage And Radix

Building on our work in exposing the environmental health risks at Ezra Prentice Homes & the South End, AVillage and the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center have received a $50,000 Environmental Justice grant from the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).


Latest Results From Our Ezra Health Surveys

This poster describes the Ezra Prentice Homes Initiative, which began in response to the concerns about heavy truck and train traffic near Ezra Prentice Homes. To address concerns about the health effects of exposure to air pollutants, AVillage…,Inc. & the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center developed community health surveys to assess residents’ health conditions, needs, and concerns. Surveys were administered to residents, and meetings were arranged with policymakers, government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency & the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and truck & train industries to prioritize the health & well-being of residents.


It (Almost) Never Rains On Earth Day

Although we like everything to be perfect, and try to make everything go as according to plan, April 22nd was just another reminder that some things are completely out of AVillage’s control. Despite the lack of sunshine, and occasional “heavy mist,” South End Earth Day (SEED) was another great success.


EcoJustice Summer!

This Summer, the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center along with A Village Inc., will conduct its five-week EcoJustice Summer Youth program for youth ages 14 - 18.  Participants will have the opportunity to earn an income while being engaged in hands-on work and learning related to local ecological and social justice issues.  Based out of the Radix Center, youth will be employed in food justice  activism through the maintenance and operation of Radix’s one-acre urban farm as well as numerous gardens throughout Albany’s South End.  Produce harvested from these gardens feeds local residents and supports Radix’s educational programs.  Days also consist of educational opportunities, with workshops, guest speakers, and outdoor field trips to local sites. The dates for the program are from Monday July 3rd through Friday, August 4th.


Ezra Tenants Association Reactivates In Face of Legal Action Around Oil Trains

Ms Charlene Benton, the long time president of the Ezra Prentice Tenants Association, has decided to retire from her position due to ill health. Bebe White, vice president of the Tenants Association, has called for a meeting of all tenants to discuss holding elections for new officers.
The meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29, in the Ezra Prentice Community Room. This will be a Tenants Association meeting, not an AVillage meeting.
Under HUD rules, all tenant associations elections must be monitored, administered and verified by an independent organization in order to be official. The meeting on March 29 will be so interested residents can learn more about the process and express their interest in serving as an officer. The date for an election will be set after that.
At the meeting last Wednesday, Rev. Marc Johnson, who is serving as Interim Executive Director of AVillage, said this is a particularly important time for tenants to get involved. He said word has reached the Tenants Association officers that Global Partners LLC, the company that owns the black tanker cars that carry crude oil and fuel products to the Port of Albany, is discussing a negotiated settlement with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.