Rockaway Residents Make Their Voices Heard

 Rockaway Residents Make Their Voices Heard

By S. C. Samoy, RISE Director of Operations & Communications

It is not convenient to catch the A train before daybreak to get from the Rockaways to 26 Broadway in Manhattan for an 8:30 a.m. appointment. But more than fifty residents from Far Rockaway, Edgemere, and Arverne made the commitment to sit at the table with Barnard College, Cornell AAP (Architecture, Art, and Planning), Cornell Tech, George Mason University, Hunter College, the New School, Universe City, US Forest Service, and RISE (Rockaway Initiative for Sustainability and Equity). Two residents from Broad Channel and a handful of folks from Brownsville and East New York attended too. The topic? “Urban Climate Change Research.”

The seven-and-a-half-hour workday began with a hearty breakfast of fruit, yogurt, pastries, coffee, tea, and juice. Afterward, participants took part in 5-3-3, a breathing exercise led by Franklyn A. Mena, one of the founders of Universe City. Everyone breathed in deeply and exhaled in the same way five times. Then, people breathed in deeply and exhaled, making a sound, three times. Finally, they breathed in deeply and exhaled in abrupt puffs (“Don’t spit!”) three times.

This led to “Community Agreements and Guidelines,” where attendees pledged to “Be here and be present,” “Expect unfinished business,” “Share the space,” “Speak from the ‘I,’” “Keep confidentiality,” “Provide peers with the benefit of the doubt,” “Avoid assumptions, ask questions,” “Do what you need to take care,” and “Honor everyone’s perspectives.”

Then everyone went around the room and introduced themselves, which took more than an hour because of the showing of advocates, activists, and academics.

The first exercise was to draw circles of connections in one’s life. So the first circle would represent oneself and then other circles outside of that could be a community garden, a civic organization, a house of worship, a tenants association, a school, a job, and on and on. This visual graph clearly spelled out the expansiveness of how an individual does not live in isolation but rather in community.

After a lunch of Indian food (basmati rice, paneer, curry, naan, samosas), smaller groups broke out in discussion sessions for the second exercise. Issues of development, infrastructure, environment, and well-being were covered, and conversation could have gone on and on. But the final piece was a brief panel presentation by Jeanne DuPont, executive director of RISE, George Del Barrio, creative director of Universe City, and Erika Svendsen and Lindsay Campbell, research social scientists of U.S. Forest Service.

It was 4 p.m. before you could blink an eye; a wrap, if you will. One woman summed it up: “I don’t know what will come out of this, but it was important for me to show up and be heard and I appreciated the opportunity.”

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