Success stories

SDOP National Committee members hear from funded projects, learn about impact

May 24, 2012

NEWARK, N.J.

At its May 18-20 meeting here, Self-Development of People’s National Committee heard from activists and grant recipients working to bring hope, justice and empowerment to the area.

Founded in 1987, the Greater Newark HUD Tenants’ Coalition works with tenants leaders in buildings with largely low-income and African American and Spanish-speaking populations. Many of these buildings are run by negligent or far-away landlords, and residents are seeing rents and regulations increase while their paychecks decrease, said Nancy Zak, who works with the coalition.

The coalition helps tenants understand their rights and supports them as they form tenant organizations in their buildings. The group also advocates for policies that will protect affordable housing.

The coalition also runs a weekly television program on which tenants can discuss issues, which can lead to real change in the community, said Bill Good, who also works with the coalition. In one building, residents faced ongoing problems with rats and trash overflow. Tenants had advertised that the television show was coming to tape a segment at the building, and when the camera crew arrived, management was cleaning up the trash.

“This is just one example of the things we’ve been able to do with the help of the Presbyterian group,” Good said.

The Elizabeth, N.J., chapter of the Statewide Education Organizing Committee was also represented at the meeting. Patricia Jelly, the chapter’s lead organizer, said the group’s mission is to improve New Jersey’s public school system.

Elizabeth is a multicultural community, and thanks to funding from SDOP, the chapter was able to hire an English/Creole translator to better serve the Haitian community in town, Jelly said.

SDOP also heard from Wind of the Spirit, an interfaith resource center for immigrants in Morristown, N.J. Wind of the Spirit advocates for changes in public policy and laws that oppress immigrants and provides other services, such as English classes and legal assistance.

“We strongly believe we exist because God wants us to play a very prophetic voice in our community,” said Diana Mejia, co-founder.

And Wind of the Spirit also lives out SDOP’s call for ownership and empowerment — everyone who works with the organization must either be an immigrant or have a family member who is.

“That is what Self-Development of People brings — the opportunity for people to do it themselves,” Mejia said. “If we don’t do it ourselves, we’re never going to learn it.”

At the end of her presentation, Mejia was surprised by Good, of the Greater Newark HUD Tenants’ Coalition. He asked if Wind of the Spirit has any videos online, and she responded that they didn’t. He then offered to interview her on camera and edit a video, which will later be posted on SDOP’s webpage.

In other business, the committee discussed the possibility of funding an intern program for college students, in which one student would be assigned to each of SDOP’s geographical domestic task forces — Midwest, Northeast, South and West. If approved by this summer’s 220th General Assembly, the internships might start in the fall.

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