May 10, 2021

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Zenat Begum redefines what a coffee shop can be – and the community it serves


To read about the rest of the Cultural Transformation Program, including television writer Cord Jefferson and activist Maria Moore, refer to the full list here.

Zenat Begum Opened Playground Cafe With the aim of making it a community-oriented space to center and empower the store’s black and brown neighbors. Sometimes, that’s the job Is being described Such as “My origins. However, in many ways, its approach is not drastic at all.

“Access to health care doesn’t have to be radical. Access to food doesn’t have to be radical. It is drastic in that we are changing the ways in which we can access things and how we can distribute these types of resources to people. That is, for me.” My, my root, is to be able to transform that power. ” “A radical is the ability to use the same tools that white, wealthy, non-marginalized, and non-black people have used for years, to restructure those things for our service.”

Founded in 2016 in Bed Stewie, Brooklyn, Playground Coffee Shop is so much more than just a coffee shop. It supports artists from marginalized communities through a radio network and art library. A nonprofit organization, Playground Youth, runs free or donation-based classes on a variety of topics including poetry, sewing, access to health care, and voter registration. In the pre-pandemic period, the store hosted many of these classes and other community events, such as art exhibitions, open microphone nights, and movie screenings.

Like many small businesses, Playground had to be centered around last spring, when New York became one of the epicentres of the COVID-19 pandemic. 27-year-old Begum and her staff set up and stocked Community refrigerators To help neighbors who are facing food insecurity. They built library docks for people to take and leave books for authors from marginalized backgrounds. During the summer, they distributed personal protective equipment and meals to the black protesters.

The actual Playground space is at the same storefront as the hardware store run by Begum’s parents, who immigrated to the US from Bangladesh.

“A lot of my early experiences are unrelated to being an American. They are related to being Bangladesh first and being the child of immigrants first, seeing my parents go through the trial and error of most of their lives and try to figure out what American life looks like,” she said.

She sees the “playground” as “a continuation of what my parents gave me through the hardware store,” which closed in 2015 – a space that provides the community around her, a space built around “survival” and “safety.”

“Why are we here? Why is there a business that is being opened, if not to help the people around it or who are communicating around it?” She said. “I know what it means to be in a very difficult place: feeling food insecure and insecure in housing for most of my life, and my parents have to deal with people who foreclose our home and things like that. I know what it feels like to uproot things from you.”

For Begum, the workers and community-centered Playground process allows for greater leverage and control in a system in which black and brown people are often given less agency and control. Marginalized people are allowed to directly build “welfare systems and networks”.

“This level of independence is very satisfactory because you know, we are actively talking about stopping police funding, and we are actively talking about abolishing the police and what those structures look like,” she said. “And this is exactly what it looks like, is to be able to trust members of your community to find out, for example, if you shock the admirer shit, where things get really difficult and people lose help, we will be there.”

It is aware of the scale of this work that has taken place out of necessity and in the absence of governmental and institutional measures, as the COVID-19 pandemic has further made clear. Throughout 2020, small business owners and community leaders like Begum have found innovative ways to get ahead and provide for their neighbors – but that didn’t necessarily happen. The effects of this broken system were present long before COVID-19, and without widespread change, they will last for a long time. For Begum, that means continuing this community-centered work and building support systems from the ground up.

“If we are going to actively try to abolish this very dangerous and very harmful system for brown and brown people, we have to gain that trust within ourselves and create these networks. And it is very important, more than ever, right now, for people to move within their small communities because the rules Popularity is the most effective, in my opinion. ” “I just hope people have the command within themselves to keep going because we need everyone.”

If anything, Begum’s experience launching and growing a “playground” and building on that work during the pandemic has taught her that if you don’t have the tools, you can build it yourself. If you are marginalized, you can use this marginalization as a force.

“I can’t change the way our restaurant industry is failing. But at the same time, if we didn’t have proper welfare systems, we would lose far more than we think.” If these government agencies weren’t helping us, we would do it ourselves, and I think that’s a change. Your culture and changing your culture: making yourself visible and heard.