THE BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD, A GRASS ROOTS ORGANIZATION MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN THE BAY AREA

JULY 22ND, 2018 | BY MICHAELA P. SHELTON

The Black Neighborhood (TBN) is a non profit organization created by six black Bay Area natives that wanted to be the change in their communities. These men were heavily inspired by their mothers, their communities, and the Black Panthers. According to Cory Elliot, 28, the organization’s vice president, “Essentially TBN is a community organization that’s focusing on the youth and the overall community.” Some ways TBN serves their community includes their monthly food giveaway and their youth empowerment program.

 

The organization was created two years ago when Bryce Fluellen, 26, came up with the idea. Uzo Nwadugbo, 26, explained the organization's inception: “Bryce came up with the idea with the help of Cory and others. It essentially came from watching the Black Panther Vanguard on PBS. We all wanted to do something, so Bryce brought everybody together.” Initially all the members of TBN were men, but recently the organization added three women, which is awesome.  

 

All eight members of TBN contribute something unique and different. “Everyone has a designated role for the functionality of having an organization, but the way we've been working, we’ve all kind of had our hands on everything as one,” said Uzo. According to Saba Haile, 28, “We are working together as a board and having a retreat next month to finalize all of our roles. Unofficially, we have identified what each person would be responsible for but I don't want to spill the beans just yet, because that will be apart of the launch.”

 

TBN utilizes various methods when it comes to orchestrating and planning their events. According to Chinyere Okereke, 27, “We meet up like this, but we also have a group chat. Then we get input from one another, everybody has a voice, everybody says something and we work together.” When it comes to promoting themselves and getting the community involved, TBN has a plethora of methods as well. Cory explained, “What’s very special about us is this is a very grassroots, hands on, personal relationship and everyone in this room is personally close to someone. Most of our promoting goes from word of mouth or social media, but we all have a very vast network.” Uzo added, “When we first got together and started this, that’s one thing we wanted to focus on, staying connected to the community.”

 

One of the reasons TBN is becoming such a recognized brand, is because of their hands on techniques. Ida Selasie, 28, explained, “I really appreciate the fact that we’re so grass roots and that we can count on so many people to do so much. It's more of the quality vs. quantity idea. The people that back us right now are really with us.” TBN has consistent volunteers and people that support them, but one of their goals for this year is to take things to the next level and go out of their comfort zone. Cory said, “I think a vision for us is to be a black headquarters of a sense. We definitely have modeled the Panthers in many ways and in many ways we are different, but we are trying to have a location where people can come, learn, be educated and inspired.” Cory continued by adding, “We would like to partner with cities, governments, with other organizations and not limit it to the black community, but that is definitely a focus. We want to one day have children and kids who can say TBN exposed me to this and that, TBN helped me get this job, TBN helped me connect with this individual or helped me get into this school. We want to be a major organization that is known, that is respected, that has brought change and has data to support those results.” Aside from becoming a black headquarters, TBN’s goal by the end of this year is to have at least three signature events, including a free farmers market.

 

(Left to right) Cory Elliott, Saba Haile, Royce Hughes, Uzo Nwadugbo, Chinyere Okereke, Ida Selasie

The creation of The Youth Empowerment Program is a big accomplishment for TBN. The program was held at the Defermery Center, which is coincidentally where the Black Panthers met years ago. “It was originally a pilot program we implemented for around six to seven months,” said Cory, “through a mutual friend who sits on the board, we were invited to speak and after that we were asked to come back and if we could start a youth empowerment program.” The program was held the second and fourth Saturday of each month and the goal was to expose children to people that look like them in various professions throughout the Bay Area. Each month there would be a theme and the second Saturday professionals would come in and speak. For example, if the month’s theme was health, TBN would schedule a dentist and a doctor to explain who they are and what they’ve done. The fourth Saturday of the month there would be a field trip. For example, for one of the field trips TBN took the children to the University of California, Berkeley. Cory said, “Many of our children believe it or not who were right there from West Oakland had never been on a college campus, let alone Cal Berkeley. The children were really enamored by all the success and being able to be on the campus.”

 

The food drive that takes place the third Saturday of each month is a partnership that TBN has with Mrs. Faye, the founder of Feed My Sheep. People donate food, and everyone from the neighborhood lines up to get groceries at People Baptist Church at 8825 MacArthur Blvd in Oakland, California. Ida explained, “Everyone has to have their IDs and proof they live in oakland. We won’t turn anyone away if their address is not in Oakland, but ideally we want people living in Oakland, because that’s how we get the funding for the food.” According to Ida, the guys of TBN help people take things to their cars, because most families have more than one bag. The food is portioned out based on the amount of people that come and collect numbers.

 

TBN also hosts annual drives for special occasions. For Thanksgiving they have a turkey drive where they feed 500 families, there is a toy drive for Christmas and also a shoe drive. TBN is very grateful and appreciative of Mrs. Faye: “Long story short when we first came it really wasn't much, so she kind of needed us to help put it out there, get it organized and make it more official. Essentially we partnered with her so we could help each other. She teaches us the ropes and everything has become fluid and consistent,” said Uzo.

 

Just like every organization, TBN has faced its share of obstacles. However, TBN’s biggest obstacle was the relocation of some members. According to Cory, “There was five of us, and three of us moved away so it was just two. That’s when everything was coming in, people asking us to be involved in the community and be at certain events, so it was hard trying to figure out where to dedicate our time.” Although three of the members relocated, I love the fact that TBN went with them. Cory had a Winter clothing drive in Brooklyn and there have been a few events in Los Angeles, so in my opinion this obstacle has only lead to the beginning of TBN being a recognized nonprofit all across the nation.

 

Some of you might be wondering how the TBN logo was chosen. Royce Hughes, 28, explained, “I was sketching up things and brainstorming what Black Neighborhood would look like and I came up with a fence with the Black Neighborhood through it, then I came up with the little house.” The logo with the house is TBN 's primary logo, which you can see on all their branding materials and merchandise. Unfortunately, TBN shirts are all currently out of stock, but supporters can purchase one at the upcoming TBN launch party/ fundraiser or on the organization’s website. There are four different t-shirt designs and TBN plans to expand their merchandise to include dad hats, v-necks and hoodies.

TBN has some upcoming events that you don’t want to miss. According to Chinyere, “The food drive is the third Saturday of every month at 9am and we will have our launch party really soon.” They will end the year with their annual events, which includes the shoe drive. Royce explained, “We have a shoe drive where you can come shop for a fresh car of kicks, one pair depending on how many we got. We have options for women, men and children and we don’t pass out beat up shoes.”

 

Being apart of TBN has been an extremely rewarding experience for each and every member. Royce explained one of the most rewarding moments for him personally: “Last year an OG had just got out of jail and came to our food drive the day we were doing a shoe giveaway. I gave him a fresh pair of Jordans and he was like ‘oh man this is so good, I’m happy ya’ll doing this!’. Seeing those people come out whether it’s shoes or the groceries is rewarding, because they are really happy and satisfied at the end of the day.”  For Cory, the most rewarding thing about TBN is teaching tools and skills people can use long term. He recalled a moment that was special to him: “When we were really pushing the youth empowerment, there was a time when we had a month about health, so we taught the kids how to make healthy smoothies. This 21 year old young man came up to me and said his mother can't get out of the bed, because she is dying of aids. He had just got out of jail and everything, but he learned about fruit and eating healthy that day and was really excited to go home, make his mom a smoothie, and talk to her about mental health, staying positive and eating healthy.” What inspired Uzo was his TBN counterparts: “I think for me personally iron sharpens iron so the most rewarding thing for me is being around them. So that's something I take into consideration. I cherish the growth we’ve had and the accountability there is.”

 

As young tastemakers, I wanted to ask what advice TBN has for aspiring individuals.  Cory said, “My best advice is don't wait on anybody, learn from everybody around you and believe in yourself. You don't need funding from people, you do not need a big group, you can do this by yourself if you have a passion and you have a vision. Have a vision and start and from there, God is with you, so it will work out.” Royce chimed it and reminded anyone reading “Don’t be afraid to fail!”

 

TBN wanted to end the interview with a message to the black community. Uzo said, “Black community we gotta stick together. Whoever is reading this interview reach out to us [TBN], we are down to help, lets all just help each other.”

To connect with The Black Neighborhood, follow them on Instagram @TheBlackNeighborhood and check out their official website at   Theblackneighborhood.org!

Michaela P. Shelton is Managing Editor of CSUITEMUSIC.com

Read more from Michaela at Darealmichaela1.com

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