A Community Event: Kindness Party
"Williamsburg is a great neighborhood," says Jordan Reeves, Founder and Executive Director of VideoOut, the organization that hosted Kindness Party. "I've lived here five years, and I don't see myself moving anytime soon." That seems to be the consensus among Reeves' neighbors as well.
"I've lived here for 60 years," said one neighbor, "and I've seen all the changes. I like the changes, but we have a long way to go."
Recently, a neighbor was killed not too far from the place where Kindness Party took place. A memorial stood as a reminder of his life that was lost too soon. It also represented the grief the community experiences far too often.
The truth is, the ugliness in the world is gaining ground. A quick google search proves that crime is on the rise. Hate crimes, specifically, have been on the rise for years, and 2016 was the deadliest year on record for LGBTQ people.
Reeves is intimately familiar with this truth. Over the past five years, people in New York City have yelled homophobic slurs at him, threatened him, and even physically accosted him. He's even experienced this in his own neighborhood. Several people in his immediate community have experienced prejudice because of their sexuality or gender.
That's why VideoOut organized Kindness Party. "Our mission is two-fold," says Reeves. "We exist to amplify the voices of LGBTQ people and to build a better community for us all. That's why we conceptualized Kindness Party. It's an opportunity to get to know your neighbors, spread kindness to the community, and to talk about the interests and challenges shared by all of us. That's how we're going to make our communities better."
That proved to be a harder task than Reeves anticipated. Everyone has a different definition of what "better" means. So VideoOut worked with people that looked and thought differently to organize Kindness Party.
"One thing I’ve learned in my work is that the best approach is community involvement. We can't swoop in and make things better. We have to join alongside community members and ask them how they want to be involved - how they want things to change - and then work together to come up with a plan to make the community a place we're all happy to be a part of," said Anooj Bhandari, a member of the Kindness Party organizing committee.
VideoOut worked with neighbors, community members, and organizations to plan Kindness Party. The resulting activities centered the needs of the most vulnerable populations in the community. One of the activities was called In Order To Feel Safe Wall. Inspired by Candy Chang's Before I Die installations, VideoOut wanted everyone to have a public platform to say exactly what they believed they needed in order to feel safe.
A few other activities include:
- Community Prompts. With so much to consider in our neighborhood, this activity prompted community members to discuss how they feel about specific topics, from beautification to new development. During our planning process, community members told us they felt their voices weren't always recognized. VideoOut is gathering these responses and sharing them with local officials to ensure that the voices in our community are heard.
- Letter Writing to LGBTQ Folk in Prison. As “free world” allies, Kindness Party attendees wrote letters to our LGBTQ siblings who are in prison. These were messages of love and support designed to spread kindness and hope.
- Neighbor Directory. Neighbors are a resource we should all be able to utilize. The Neighborhood Directory is an improvement on the old-school phone book. Each entry will list a neighbor’s name, the best way to contact them, and a skill that they want to learn and one that they can share with others.
- Dance Party. DJ Mia Moretti created a special playlist just for Kindness Party called What To Listen To When You're Spreading Kindness. We turned up the music and the dance floor was bumping!
- Fill the Street: A Sidewalk Chalk Challenge. This activity was inspired by children's author and illustrator, Dallas Clayton. Kindness Party attendees let their inner artist run free as they filled the sidewalk with chalk art celebrating kindness.
- All the activities can be seen on our website.
Was Kindness Party a success?
Success is a weird word, but we could not have been any happier about the event. The dance music was playing for 4 hours, much to everyone's delight. We had 15 selfless volunteers from all over New York City. We covered more than 30 yards of sidewalk in art that celebrated our community and our hopes for a kinder future. With Whole Foods' help, we gave away 32 pizzas. With Walgreens and Duane Reade's help, we gave away 150 bags of toiletries and hygiene products. With Essentia Water's help, we gave away 225 bottles of water. And because of Shake Shack, we were able to give away 250 cups of ice cream. We estimate that 300 people attended the party.
"To be totally honest, I didn't know what to expect. I just knew that we needed more kindness," said Reeves. "For the very first time, I was able to speak to some of the people in my community as a neighbor. We now have a mutual respect for one another thanks to Kindness Party - one that I hope lasts forever."
People came from all over. A couple from Chicago that has visited New York every year for the last 30 years, came to check it out. They said this was one of the most interesting things they've ever done in the city. They wanted VideoOut to take Kindness Party to Chicago!
The Brooklyn Borough Hall President's Office sent a representative. She said Kindness Party was one of the best community events she's ever seen. She thought VideoOut did an excellent job asking the questions the community really wants to answer. She went on to say, "This is something we could see scaling all across Brooklyn and beyond. Kindness is a goal we can all try our best to achieve."
"The best story of the day was from one of my neighbors," said Reeves. "He said, 'I've lived her my whole life. A couple of weeks ago, my friend was shot and killed in a violent crime right down the street. This is the first time anyone has done anything positive on this block, and I really appreciate it.' That made it all worth it."
Update: Brooklyn Man Endured Homophobic Harassment From Neighbors, Threw A Block Party To Bridge The Divide, May 26, 2018, by Fergus Tuohy