by Amity Paye
Growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, Malik Rhasaan, 39, became aware of the problems that his community faced early on in his life. For a long time, he lent his support to local organizations but found that he always had his own ideas about what these community organizations should do.
About two months ago, when Malik Rhasaan first visited the Occupy Wall Street park at Liberty Square, he realized that – as usual – he had his own ideas about the movement. Rhasaan immediately noticed that there was a lack of people of color in the movement and decided to do something about it.
“Something needed to be done and I started the hash tag #occupythehood [on Twitter] and from there it kind of swelled,” said Rhasaan. “In the beginning I thought it would be a Twitter thing – and then it just grew.”
Once people in New York began to show interest in Occupy the Hood, Rhasaan began to reach out to community organizers that he knew could benefit from and help with his new project. Then the calls started streaming in. Rhasaan got one call at 2 a. m. from a woman wanting to start an Occupy the Hood in her city; friends in Boston and family in Atlanta began asking how to start their own strong Occupy the Hood campaigns.
Occupy the Hood in New York has seen support from everyone from “professors down to cats who just got out of prison,” says Rhasaan. Paradise Gray, aka the Father of Hip Hop, George Martinez and many others have also pledged support, and Occupy the Hood continues its relationship with the Occupy Wall Street movement through cross participation with the People of Color Working Group.
“Most of the people who picked [Occupy the Hood] up were people who were already doing things in their communities that weren’t getting attention, and now they have the backing that they need to get work done.”
Less than two months later, Occupy the Hood is a national community organizing movement that includes locations in 21 cities across the nation. The various groups come together for national organizing calls to plan events and have many projects coming up for the holiday season.
The biggest of these is the “Feed the Hood” project that started in Atlanta, where 500 homeless people received food last week. That project is slated to hit New York and other Occupy the Hood cities in the next few weeks.
“The feed the hood thing is something we’re doing all together. If you’re able to feed people and break bread with people, they’re more likely to listen to you, and we have a lot to say,” said Rhasaan, also encouraging people to get involved. “If you’re feeding one person a day that doesn’t have food, you’re part of the movement,” he said.
One of the topics Occupy the Hood it trying to spread awareness about is foreclosures, which Rhasaan knows all too well from living in his Jamaica, Queens, neighborhood, the part of New York with the city’s highest foreclosure rate. And Rhasaan doesn’t see the work ending there.
“I’m a member of the community; I’ve seen what it’s like, so it’s a no-brainer to me. Why wouldn’t you be involved? This is the community I live in, that I’ve raised my children in,” said Rhasaan. “Occupy Wall Street might not change the world, but it can change the conversation and Occupy the Hood is moving that conversation forward in the communities.”