Home of the Red Hook Empowerment Movement - A neighborhood comes together to define its own way ahead

Background
Our idea formed during the Hurricane Sandy relief effort.  We discovered a nimble, grassroots movement like Occupy Sandy was a more effective humanitarian venture than large bureaucratic organizations like city government or FEMA.  It was so significant at one point government relief workers were directing storm victims to Occupy Sandy.  But the grassroots approach is not just effective disaster relief.  It is the way forward to bringing innovative growth.


The ideal outcome of our movement is this: To define projects together as a community and have some say over funds, set aside, to make these projects come alive, on a local level. 

And to share this with social enterprises around the country and even globally, exchanging best practices, so that Red Hook can be a working example for other neighborhoods, even other cities and states nationwide. We don’t see this as an unworkable goal.

 

Neither do others we know outside of Red Hook with a lifetime of experience in community-based social enterprise.

 

Red Hook is ready. The neighborhood and its residents are ready. We should do this, now, without further delay. So that Red Hook, as a community, represented by its lifetime members and most active players, can have a conversation with the rest of the outside world on funding these projects, on spearheading these ideas, on lighting the spark and keeping it going

It is not so much a lack of resources – these are often quite present within the communities and neighborhoods themselves – but a lack of opportunity. A simple lack of capital and resources getting to where they need to go, and – above all – a lack of local control and local say by the community itself on how they are helped and which of their projects and ideas get support from the outside. This lack of opportunity is about the skilled tradesman who wants to teach and coach youth on valuable job skills but doesn’t have the outlet to do it; the seasoned but underemployed craftsman or technical expert who is not being served by the traditional economy; the unemployed mother or father who wants to work, and the jobs that are needed in the community but aren’t available, all for a simple lack of basic capital. The youth who want to put their talents ad brains to use learning new things but lack the means to do so, and the elders who want to impart wisdom and knowledge as teachers to these youth, but lack the paid positions to make this happen.

In Red Hook, like far too many US communities, there are needs not being met, in spite of lots of people with the skills, talents and motivation to meet them if given the chance. Unfortunately, these areas – needs and assets - do not seem to come together much, with hundreds of people remaining stagnant in an economy that’s not serving the majority, nor appreciating its human capital or taking advantage of its untapped skill and talent.

Fortunately, there are ways we can link all this together. There are tools and approaches in the Special Operations toolkit that we’ve applied in our war zones, which our Iraq and Afghanistan veterans can help apply to fighting poverty and social isolation; there are numerous tools and skills in the tech industry as well. We should apply it here on the home front, to address some of our most pressing social problems.

We put so much creativity, risk, and above all, reward, into innovating our social apps and tech industry, our smartphones and iPads, and other things we deem to be investment-worthy as ‘the next big idea’. Let’s innovate how we help neighborhoods.; better still, how we simply empower neighborhoods to help themselves with the vast array of intellectual and human capital it already has. This is worth venture backing. By people, foundations, businesses – anyone who wants to be first to get behind it. This is not funding any single project or person or idea. It is planting the seed for an entire community to water and grow the social capital it already has, from youth to skilled workers to veterans…and to be a shining , workable, replicable example of a community coming together. This is far more bold and far-reaching than traditional charity, and it is the experience of many in Red Hook that much of our most pressing social problems across our communities cannot be quickly nor sufficiently tackled by charity alone. Rather, this project is a big step forward for the way we look at communities, and how we grow and scale solutions. This is a project for venture philanthropy.

We want to see this takeoff. It is something the entire community is talking about, one way or another, and something the City Council, the NYC government, and people in the social enterprise field coast to coast, even abroad, are seeing this take shape. People believe in it. We believe it will happen. We know it can happen. We’ve worked very hard to create this opportunity, and just need a little help to reap it. The only thing missing at this stage is basic capital to plant the seed. We have worked as a community to fight our own battle and build our own backyard from the ground up. The veterans from multiple wars, across multiple generations, are at the forefront of this effort, tired of seeing so much of our effort as a country go to warfighting and so little progress made fighting directly for the people in our own homeland. Now, Red Hook’s veterans are fighting on American soil, for American soil. For a better way of helping our neighborhoods, towns and cities, one community at a time.

Let’s plants this seed together, and watch it grow. The project plan is in place, the people are reay, the community is ready. The only thing needed at this point is someone, anyone, to light this initial spark.



A story about human empowerment and social impact: A paradigm shift  


Education is the most vital commodity to our society.  As the world grows more interconnected and complicated it is crucial now more than ever. 
Institutions like public schools are universities play their part, but the most important factors are critical thinking, communication, and a global perspective.  It is with this impetus we start the Human Empowerment Network.  Our mission is to create a platform where information and knowledge can be shared in a grassroots movement, fostering sustainable innovation for individuals, businesses, and communities.

The fact that large bureaucracies are not serving marginalized communities well is unremarkable.  In the Red Hook neighborhood, where we work, many individuals, especially those that need help most: children, elderly, and the disabled, are not having their needs met.  It's not for lack of funding.  Millions get wasted every year on ineffective programs, while many of the greatest needs receive no aid.  A large, top-down organization simply doesn't have the local perspective and local data to facilitate the greatest rate of efficacy.

 
What is remarkable, however, is the startling amount of resources already in these so-called "marginalized communities."  What we like to call "hidden assets," or underutilized "human capital."  People with skills and a desire to help that have no outlet.  The key is to link them together and share these resources with the rest of the community.


Take, for example, our friend Louis, who goes by the moniker
"Brother B, the Ghetto Economist."  Brother B is a self-taught economist and investor, an avid reader that hasn't missed an edition of the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal for 40 years, and whose reading list would make an MBA  candidate blush.  Brother B is a treasure trove of knowledge.  To talk to him is to experience a wealth of stories, and with a near photographic memory, to hear about a Times article that ran 7 August 1989 that indicated where the market was headed.  While Brother B is well known in his community, he has never had enough exposure to really make much traction in the massive financial realm.

He currently sees the young people of Red Hook as repeating certain mistakes; they don't have the right skills or exposure to break into it, either, and he wants to help.  With this desire, he partnered with the Human Empowerment Network. Our plan was to begin a series of financial literacy courses held at the local library.  We partnered with several nonprofits who try to help young people keep a straight path by improving their life options.  We wanted to do a trial run to see how well Brother B can teach and what kind of interest there might be from the kids in the neighborhood.  Brother B was hoping maybe a dozen or so would be interested.  We were too conservative in that estimate, because 50 showed up.

Brother B took the stage, to a group of seemingly bored teenagers and school administrators, and opened by asking a question: "Does anyone know where President Obama went to school?"  Immediately a girl raised her hand and said
"Harvard."  "That's right!" B said, "does anyone
know where else he went to school?" This took a few seconds longer, but soon a boy answered "Columbia!"  "Yes!" B said, "now does anyone know where he says he got his best education?"  Silence.  Everyone, including myself, looked puzzled.  Finally Brother B broke the silence, "he got his best education on the streets of Chicago!" 

These "marginalized" communities are only marginal
in the sense that the traditional status quo has failed to see their true value, and then develop it.  The Human Empowerment Network does, and with our horizontal, transparent, and sustainable platform, we intend to build it. 
And build it high.

There is going to be a paradigm shift, and we want to be at the forefront, starting with our own community, and for a savvy investor,this is a steal.  This is where the world is going.  And we are the cutting edge to take it there as a community.