Zenat Begum Is Redefining What A Coffee Shop Can Be — And The Community It Serves

Written by on April 29, 2021

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Zenat Begum opened Playground Espresso Store with the aim of constructing it a community-oriented house to middle and empower the store’s Black and brown neighbors. Generally, that mission will get described as “radical.” But in so some ways, her method isn’t radical in any respect.

“Getting access to well being care shouldn’t be radical. Getting access to meals shouldn’t be radical. It’s radical in that we’re altering the ways in which we now have entry to issues and the way we’re capable of distribute these sorts of sources to individuals. That, for me, is radical, is to have the ability to shift that energy,” she mentioned. “Radical is having the ability to use the identical instruments that white individuals and wealthy individuals and non-marginalized, non-Black individuals have used for years, to then restructure these issues to serve us.”

Based in 2016, Playground Espresso Store in Mattress-Stuy, Brooklyn, is far more than a espresso store. It helps artists from marginalized communities by a radio community and a bookshop promoting books and artwork. A nonprofit, Playground Youth, runs free or donation-based courses on a wide range of subjects together with poetry, stitching, well being care entry and voter registration. Pre-pandemic, the store hosted a lot of these courses and different group occasions, like artwork festivals, open mic nights and movie screenings.

Like many small companies, Playground needed to pivot final spring, when New York turned one of many epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic. Begum, 27, and her workers arrange and stocked group fridges to assist neighbors dealing with meals insecurity. They constructed a sidewalk library for individuals to take and depart books by authors from marginalized backgrounds. In the course of the summer time, they distributed private protecting gear and meals to Black Lives Matter protesters.

Playground’s bodily house sits in the identical storefront that housed the ironmongery store run by Begum’s mother and father, who immigrated to the U.S. from Bangladesh.

“Numerous my first experiences aren’t tied to being an American. It’s tied to being Bangladeshi first and being a toddler of immigrants first, and seeing my mother and father undergo a trial and error for many of their life and making an attempt to determine what an American life appears like,” she mentioned.

She sees Playground as “a continuation of what my mother and father had given me by way of their ironmongery store,” which closed in 2015 — an area that gives for the group round it, an area constructed round “survival” and “security.”

“Why are we right here? Why is there a enterprise that’s opening, if to not assist the people who find themselves neighboring it or communing round it?” she mentioned. “I do know what it means to be in a really tough place: being meals insecure and being housing insecure for many of my life, and my mother and father having to take care of individuals foreclosing on our home and stuff like that. I do know what it feels wish to have issues ripped away from you.”

For Begum, Playground’s worker- and community-centered operation permits for higher company and management in a system the place Black and brown persons are so typically given little company and management. It permits for marginalized individuals to instantly construct “methods of care and networks of care.”

“That stage of autonomy could be very satisfying as a result of , we’re actively speaking about defunding the police, we’re actively speaking about abolishing the police and what these buildings seem like,” she mentioned. “And that is what that precisely appears like, is having the ability to belief your group members to know that, like, if shit hits the fan, as issues turn out to be actually tough and folks lose help, that we’ll be there.”

She’s acutely aware of how a lot of this work has occurred out of necessity and within the absence of presidency and institutional motion, which the COVID-19 pandemic additional illustrated. All through 2020, small-business homeowners and group leaders like Begum discovered progressive methods to step up and supply for his or her neighbors — however that didn’t should occur. The results of this damaged system existed far earlier than COVID-19, and with out widespread change, they are going to proceed lengthy after. For Begum, which means persevering with this community-centered work and constructing help methods from the bottom up.

“If we’re going to actively attempt to abolish this technique that’s so harmful and so dangerous for Black and brown individuals, we now have to realize that belief inside ourselves and create these networks. And it’s so necessary, greater than ever, proper now, for individuals to mobilize inside their small communities as a result of grassroots is the simplest, in my view,” she mentioned. “I simply hope that individuals have it inside themselves to maintain going as a result of we’d like everyone.”

If something, Begum’s expertise launching and rising Playground and constructing on that work throughout the pandemic has taught her that when you don’t have the instruments, you may create them your self. In the event you’re marginalized, you need to use that marginalization as a power.

“I can’t change the best way that our restaurant trade is failing. However on the identical time, if we don’t have enough methods of care, we’re gonna lose much more individuals than we predict,” she mentioned. “If these authorities businesses aren’t going to assist us, we’re going to do it ourselves, and I believe that’s what altering your tradition is and shifting your tradition is: is to make your self be seen and be heard.”

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