I am Great Because I Serve – Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. Day

This post originally appeared in Venture Traveller on January 18th, 2021.

Being that we are still in a pandemic, I was not sure where to serve so I called a friend who is socially active. She led me to a website, werepair.com, an organization that mobilizes Jews and their communities to service.  Repair the World Communities, engages young adults in social change around education and food justice in neighborhoods in Atlanta, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Detroit, Harlem, Miami, and Pittsburgh. In most communities, a City Director supports a cohort of fellows (ages 21-26) who make a year-long service commitment to Repair the World.

This year, I volunteered for two service projects with Repair the World – one in Brownsville, Brooklyn and the other in Harlem. The Brownsville Community Justice Center’s mission is to reduce crime and incarceration by investing in local youth and improving the physical landscape of the neighborhood. BCJC’s work is vital to change the following statistics listed on their website: In New York State there are 85 juvenile facilities holding 1,182 people, and 65 of them are private. In New York City, 34% of those currently held in jail pre-trail on violent felony charges are youth between the ages of 16 and 24. And black people make up about 40% of the incarcerated population and about 13% of the general population.

Being that we are still living in a pandemic, I signed up for an outdoor project, ‘To paint a wall and beautify a corner.’ So, with purple paint in hand we walked over to a vacant lot and painted its graffiti stained wall. At the end of my shift, that corner of Brooklyn did look much brighter and hopefully the lot will at some point will be cleared of its garbage and become a space where youth can gather safely.

My Harlem service project was to benefit Harlem Grown, an organization that works to educate students on urban farming, sustainability and nutrition. The non-profit works to renovate abandoned lots in Harlem, transform them into thriving urban farms, and educates the community about the benefits of eating local and healthy food. Central Harlem is a food desert where there is one supermarket for every 11 bodegas and the website claims that 30% of Central Harlem residents live more than a 10-minute walk from fresh fruits and vegetables. As volunteers we gathered at an urban farm on 134 St., that grows vegetables and houses chickens that produce eggs. But our job was not gardening but cleaning the neighborhood. Equipped with squeeze handle grabbers and garbage bags, we walked over to 131st St., and picked up all the trash on the street. At the end of my shift, I had filled two large blue garbage bags with street trash and felt good about beautifying one street in Harlem.

Ramaa Reddy is a writer, photographer, food and travel specialist, and all round travel enthusiast. She is a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism. Her multimedia and print pieces have appeared in Huffington Post, NPR, WHYY, PRI’ The World, BBC, Women’s eNews and Lena Dunham’s Podcast.