Black Men United Hosts Community Clean Up
Right now, among protests, marches, and many hopeful, peaceful gatherings, there’s still plenty of work that needs to be done on the road to unifying our community that begins with us. Some of it isn’t exactly glamorous but it is rewarding. Ahead of Saturday’s peaceful protest at City Hall in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, there was a community clean up event organized by Black Men United (BMU), a union active in education, activism, leadership, and community development whose mission is to provide tools, resources, and efforts in order to provide stabilization within the Black community. The event was just one of many community efforts by BMU that in addition to doing cleaning projects for roads and parks in Jersey City, Hudson County, and Newark, they’ve organized food and clothing drives and are active on Instagram live with educational political discussions, classes, and creative showcases. They were also the first to organize a march this week for Black Lives Matter (BLM) in Jersey City with June 1’s Justice for George Floyd demonstration at Berry Lane Park.
Coming Together for Community
Starting at 11 am, about 500 people gathered in the 86-degree heat in front of the West District Jersey City Police Department to pass out bags and pick up trash off a mile stretch of Martin Luther King Drive. Members passed out waters, garbage bags, and gloves as others gathered around a folding table to put together bags for those experiencing homelessness or hardship we would encounter along the road with basic necessities like toothbrushes, paste, feminine hygiene products, water, gloves, tissues, soap that were donated but mostly purchased by the organization. Police officers also passed out masks and waters as needed around the plaza. The mood was upbeat with a few people holding signs in support of the BLM movement and many friends greeting each other while trying to continue socially distancing. As the set-up wound down, members of BMU spoke to prepare us for the hot, long morning ahead and advocate for this kind of service during a revolutionary time.
“Our whole nation is in an uproar right now and the uproar is based on reactionary activism. We need to get away from this constant reactionary activism, and we need to start getting proactive and start dealing with the people,” said BMU founder, Nevin Perkins, who despite having lost his voice from speaking at the many local protests and gatherings over the past week, spoke powerfully and commanded the crowd. “So yea you’re protesting, you’re screaming, and you’re yelling, but what else are you doing?”
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Community building has to be proactive as reactionary measures are not sustainable, Perkins went on to say. He emphasized that the community clean up event is an example of the kind of service anyone can do to build their community stronger.
“We are here today because we have been called to stand up for justice, not just in protest, not just in uprising, but for community building,” said Reverend Keion Jackson Director of Education for BMU. “We are here to not just be one of those causes that acts when things are happening but also maintain the community. We are not here just to make sure the community survives, but we are here to make sure the community is indeed thriving in life resources and justice.”
And that drive to ensure a thriving community needs to start with its people.
“When I took this job, I had no idea garbage would be such a major issue,” said Michele Massey, Executive Director of the Jackson Hill Special Improvement District, which encompasses all of MLK Drive and Monticello Ave. up to Fairmont Ave. Despite the district paying for daily garbage clean up, trash is constantly accumulating from people throwing waste on the ground and collecting against curbs and sidewalk edges. “In the future, the goal is to create a campaign to change the mindset of the community, so that the community respects their community better,” said Massey. Whether you work, live, or do business or visit the district, we have to command and demand respect for the community.”
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Get Out, Get Engaged
From the jump, the clean up was sweaty work between the heat, plastic gloves, mask, and the constant need to bend down to pick up cigarette butts and scraps of paper. For three hours, from Wilkinson Ave. to Triangle Park, volunteers swarmed MLK Drive hunting for even the tiniest bits of trash to add to their bags because even the smallest candy wrapper made a difference being off the street.
“The thing that’s so important about litter is, it does something to you psychologically, which the community is not necessarily aware of,” said Frank “Educational” Gilmore, founder of the Educational Gilmore Community Learning Center. “If you walk in filth, you have a filthy mindset. But if you walk and it’s clean, you have a clean mindset.”
Bystanders often asked what we were doing and how they could support or get involved with events like this in the future. Most often, people called out sincere thanks or honked horns in solidarity. In addition to the prepackaged bags, members also ran coolers up and down the stretch handing out free waters to anyone who needed one, volunteers or passersby. We picked through sidewalk edges for rolled up lottery tickets, sifted through grass under fences for elusive bottle caps, pulled out used gloves from puddles, all while chatting to each other, laughing, sharing stories of our feelings of the last week at protests or the last three months in COVID, many of us just happy to be out of the house. It was a group of strangers coming together to do something good for the community and doing exactly what the event was meant to do: build community. At the end in Triangle Park as hundreds of half-filled trash bags piled up in bins and people stretched out in the shade, conversations kept going, community continued to build and, hopefully/definitely, snowballs even bigger into the next event and beyond.
With so many ways and avenues to funnel charitable energy right now, we urge you to get involved with the community more than ever before.
Check out our Black Lives Matter resource page that is continually updated as more causes, petitions, events, etc. arise.
For a list of charities and non-profits in Jersey City and volunteer opportunities, check out our Local Non-Profits + Charities page, too.