August 22, 2023
In the auditorium of P.S. 230, an elementary school just a couple of blocks away from the intersection of Church and McDonald now called “Little Bangladesh”, a group of eight student volunteers spent one of their summer mornings stuffing 500 colored backpacks with shiny new notebooks, pens, pencils, and art supplies. On Thursday, August 10, these backpacks would find a home among neighbors, fellow students, and newly arrived refugees in the community of Kensington, Brooklyn.
They aren’t alone: In a couple of weeks, Kensington’s youth will be joining over 1.1 million students heading back-to-school across NYC.
The back-to-school backpack distribution event and resource fair organized by the Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC) and Council Member Shahana Hanif’s office proudly took place at the Council Member’s alma mater elementary school in District 39. For Hanif, the first female Muslim NYC Council Member, the community of Kensington is one that successfully blends faith, immigrant values of hard work and entrepreneurship, a preservation of arts and culture, and a spirit for community gatherings.
“There are so many vibrant young people energized as we near the end of summer into a new school year. As their Council Member, I have been fighting to expand bilingual counselors, arts and music programming, and so much more to ensure that our schools and communities are whole. This distribution is a part of that advocacy. I’m thrilled for this partnership with AAFSC and I’m looking forward to another successful school year and to keep fighting in City Hall for our young people.” – Shahana Hanif, NYC Council Member for District 39
Creating safe public spaces that are accessible to all members of the community, regardless of language, sex, age, gender, language spoken, or immigration status is a challenge many NYC neighborhoods of color have endured due to past and present government policies rooted in racism and social and economic marginalization. While elected officials like Hanif and community leaders like Jill Reinier, P.S. 230 Parent Coordinator, work to peel back some of these barriers to community participation, successful events have sprouted up around Kensington in the past couple of years such as halal food distribution events, outdoor movie screenings, community iftar dinners, and cultural festivals that celebrate the neighborhood’s many holidays such as Dia de los Muertos, Ramadan, and Lunar New Year.
Taking place in the playground behind P.S. 230, the Arab-American Family Support Center, Singing Winds youth volunteers, Council Member Shahana Hanif, and various other community-based organizations offering free resources gathered in Albemarle Playground to serve the community. Together, we distributed over 500 free backpacks filled with school supplies to families and their children and had the opportunity to meet the next generation of Kensington’s leaders.
“As an immigrant who was born in Kingston, Jamaica, and attended New York City Public schools, it was a pleasure seeing first hand Council Member Shahana Hanif, the Arab-American Family Support Center, and other volunteers come together to support the immigrant and refugee families and students in the Kensington community, many who are from Bangladesh. Through my camera lens, I was able to capture the true essence of community by showing the importance of having organizations like the Arab-American Family Support Center distribute backpacks filled with school supplies to the students and families in that area. Now the students are prepared to head back to school with the tools they need to succeed and I was blessed to be able to photograph this meaningful event.” – Gary Dean Clarke, AAFSC Volunteer Photographer
In addition, the backpack giveaway provided a wonderful opportunity to connect Kensington community members to vital resources such as CUNY Citizenship Now! (immigration assistance), SAKHI (domestic violence support), health insurance enrollment from NY State of Health, and the various social services AAFSC provides such as mental health counseling, ESOL classes, youth programming, and legal services. The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) Art team was even able to collect design ideas from the community for the upcoming Beverley Road Street Mural project.
To close out the event, Mathew, AAFSC’s Associate Director of Community Health & Well-Being and event co-organizer commented and said, “AAFSC is honored to provide every opportunity to our communities to thrive in New York City. Our city is one of the hardest, most expensive places to live in due to a shortage of affordable housing, high food prices, and a damaged healthcare system. The Arab, Middle Eastern, North African, Muslim, and South Asian community deserves proactive, culturally sensitive, and in-language support to thrive in the US.”
Photo Credit: Gary Dean Clarke
The Arab-American Family Support Center (AAFSC) provides in-language social services to MENA and South Asian communities, many of whom identify as Muslim and speak primarily Arabic or Bangla. Our staff speak over 30 languages and our programs include case management support, mental health counseling, ESOL and citizenship classes, legal services, youth programming, health insurance enrollment, and more. We currently accept walk-ins and appointments at our offices Monday-Friday from 9:00am-5:00pm. For more information, visit our website aafscny.org, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call us at (718) 643-8000.