By The Bootstraps

I have been on TV, I have been published in a book in print in three different languages, I write for the digital platform of a national magazine, I get paid to do public speaking and I am the head of a burgeoning organization and I can scarcely believe that I as a single mother of 4 have made it this far.

I used to consider myself marginalized, I don’t anymore I have advantages many of my neighbors don’t. I travel, I am upwardly mobile just on the cusp of “success” and the reality is that I could make a lot more money in the corporate sector or as a director at a grassroots or mid-size community nonprofit but I consciously made a decision to take calculated risks and take control of my destiny. I want to create a legacy.

The title of this post is pretty tongue in cheek. I hate that euphemism “by the bootstraps”, firstly have you ever tried to pull yourself up by your laces or bootstraps? That shit is physically impossible and it is fitting in a country that penalizes and criminalizes poor people that such a euphemism would be used when encouraging them to “stop” being poor.

And that is why I do this work. In a system of poor healthcare, a broken educational system, no universal daycare and sexist and racist social service policies I wanted to do more. I have something many of my neighbors don’t have. I have been well educated and have educational capital. I have social capital, my professional experiences had enabled me to have a fairly diverse network and to travel frequently and I have the support of a stable and nurturing family environment. Living in a low-income community and striving to make a mark and having the ability to strategize and navigate the many obstacles that would face me made all the difference. However, I recognize that many around me don’t have those advantages and that it has been the deciding factor for many as to whether or not they actualize their potential. I had the kind of voice that could speak to those experiences, that could speak to them in a way that folks could understand and wouldn’t call “low-brow” or ghetto.I know I need to use that voice to speak for the women like me who usually don’t get heard in an empowering way and almost never in a role of leadership.

This is why I started the BLK ProjeK, an organization that harnesses the power of the food movement to create food businesses and projects that catalyze economic development for marginalized women and youth. By 2009, I was a full fledged community activist that knew my community was operating from a place of scarcity but offered much abundance. I knew we didn’t need more social service interventions or charities. We needed empowerment and resources and we needed viable pathways out of poverty. I also observed many of us were suffering from food related public health issues and I knew if we could fix that by creating and controlling how food would be presented, sold and grown in our community and communities like ours that we could essentially kill two birds with one stone.

Right now we are running an Indie GoGo campaign to raise $15,000 to rehab a school bus that runs on used veggie oil. This mobile market will procure produce from local, organic/pesticide-free farmers and sell affordably in South Bronx communities. It is already getting press and has community members psyched.

Yesterday, I was at a local town hall and talked to residents about the market. Afterwards, a girl no more than 10 years old walked up to me. She held her soft little fist out towards me. I looked at her, bewildered. She opened her fist and there were 4 shiny quarters; I stood there confused.

“Miss, I want to donate to the mobile market.” Her mother stood there smiling proudly. I felt my face get flushed. I tried to refuse. “No please take it, I want to donate to my community.” I almost lost my shit. Her mother told me she was looking for work and I told her to send me her resume, I would be hiring soon. I received hugs from the both of them.

And they reminded why I do this work, that this is our legacy. A community on the cusp of blooming and reaching its full potential and I know I have the ability to help lead us just a little closer.


Mama Tanya



privacy policy.

Your email will never be shared with a third party. We'll only use it to notify you of our launch and of special events taking place in your city. You'll have the opportunity to unsubscribe at any time, immediately, once you receive your first email.