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2020 Reflections

A few days ago, I read about Beyonce’s New Year’s gift to her “girls”–her closest friends. The gift is a diamond-encrusted necklace which has “2020” in the shape of a hand giving the middle finger.* My first reaction was to yell “YASS, Sis” in agreement that 2020 was an exceptionally challenging year. But, as I meditated on all that we lost in 2020, I also had to acknowledge all that we have gained, particularly the awareness that we are all interconnected. It’s through those connections that we learn, we grow, and we thrive. That is exactly what Power of Two is all about and 2020 brought that fact into even sharper focus.    

Like many nonprofit organizations, the pandemic threatened to throw us into a tailspin. But, thanks to our deep roots in community; the fervent belief in the power of relationships; and support from a legion of allies (I see you and thank you)–we were able to pivot our in-person programming to a digital platform. To support that digital platform we provided our families access to broadband and mini-ipads and we were able to successfully engage and support a total of 1,246 families in 2020. While that in and of itself is cause for celebration, what was most rewarding was seeing how 80% of parents increased in sensitivity to their children’s behavioral and emotional cues after taking part in our program. In a year of unprecedented uncertainty, instability and stress, this positive increase is yet another profound example of our families’ remarkable dedication to their children’s healthy development. 

                     

This year, we also grew into our role as a connector for families as we tapped into our expertise in asset mapping and relationship-building. Thanks to this expertise we connected families to groceries; baby essentials; health care; rental assistance; public benefits; and mental health services. We also partnered with local Community Boards to develop accessible messaging regarding COVID, safety protocols, and testing. 

                     

As summer arrived and the national consciousness shifted towards police brutality and oppressive, punitive policies targeting communities of color — a reality all too familiar for our communities–Power of Two doubled down on its efforts to support those most affected. As an organization led by a woman of color and serving families of color–81% of whom have direct or indirect experience with law enforcement and the criminal justice system through a parent, partner or other relative–we knew that we needed to actively engage in conversations that imagined a new reality for our communities. To do so, we partnered with 30 grassroots organizations in Brownsville to create the Ocean Hill Brownsville Equity Coalition (OBEC) that seeks to identify and dismantle anti-Black racist policies and practices that have perpetuated cycles of trauma in our community. In July, OHBEC made substantive recommendations on police reform that have been shared with local, state and national elected officials and is currently finalizing its recommendations for health equity in Ocean Hill Brownsville.

                 

In addition to participating in OHBEC, we expanded our Community Ambassador initiative which provides graduates of our parent coaching program with opportunities to receive training in community history; critical race theory; child development; early childhood; social determinants of health; policy development; and advocacy practices.  This effort responds to our graduates’ desire to continue to engage with Power of Two. It is also indicative of their interest in expanding their knowledge of the policies and practices that affect their families and in being empowered with the means to drive the change they want to see in their communities.  

This year we once again hosted our Annual Winter Wonderland in Brownsville and while it couldn’t be held in person, we tapped into our culture of resourcefulness to create a fantastic virtual holiday extravaganza for close to 400 children and their families. Additionally, families also received–delivered directly to their door–holiday boxes full of gifts for the children, custom made masks with HEPA filters, and bundles of groceries. We are so grateful to our partners, donors and volunteers for their willingness to help and for their generosity this holiday season. 

                

None of these accomplishments this year would have been possible without our remarkable team that leaned into the work of supporting our communities even while navigating the challenges in their own lives. Their commitment was both humbling and energizing and reminded me of the importance of prioritizing compassion to ourselves.  To support our team, we implemented a host of practices and dedicated resources to tackling the effects of toxic stress and racial trauma on our professional and personal well-being. 

This important work is also happening in conjunction with the implementation of our five-year strategic plan- launched with support from The Sirus Fund and facilitated by Community Resource Exchange (CRE). Our strategic plan focuses on the exploration of 4 key strategies: Growing Our Organizational Impact, Increasing Our Visibility and Influence, Ensuring Our Financial Sustainability, and Improving Administrative Infrastructure. To learn more about our Five-Year Strategic Plan click Here

While I agree with Beyonce that 2020 wasn’t easy and the losses that we endured have been great, I will nevertheless opt to conclude the year celebrating the gems that we amassed: our interconnectedness, our shared sense of purpose, and our communities’ resourcefulness and strength. And as we forge forward together into 2021, those gems will continue to serve as our beacon, come what may.

With Gratitude,

Erasma Beras-Monticciolo
Executive Director

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“After The Kids Move In” – Interview with Erasma Beras-Monticciolo

Listen to Erasma’s interview on After The Kids Move In where she talks with Pat O’Brien about our partnership with families and the power of relationships in promoting good health for parents, children and communities.

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How the virus devastated workers in a Brooklyn neighborhood

Originally published by Jasmine Garsd on NPR’s Marketplace on July 13, 2020.

Father Edward Mason remembers when he realized COVID-19 was going to be devastating to his community in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, New York City. It was back in mid-April. In the local public housing complex, a lot of seniors weren’t answering their phones. “And when they went into the apartments, they found 10 seniors who had passed away,” he said. “Alone in their apartment. Predominantly Black, with a heavy Latino influence as well.”

Father Edward Mason delivers Communion at his church in Brownsville. (Jasmine Garsd/Marketplace)

Black and Latino people have been three times more likely to get infected by COVID-19 than their white neighbors and twice as likely to die once they get infected, according to Centers for Disease Control data obtained by The New York Times this month. Among the many reasons for this nationwide disparity is that Black and Latino workers are much more likely to have jobs that can’t be done from home — essential jobs like public servant, bus driver, health care attendant or grocery clerk.

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Mama, Am I Going to Die Young Because I’m Black in America?

Originally published by Erasma Beras-Monticicolo on the BK Reader on July 1, 2020.

“Am I going to die young because I’m Black in America?”

That was the question my 7-year-old son asked during our recent family meeting initiated by the Black Lives Matter protests happening across the nation. My husband and I had decided it was time to have this family discussion with our sons, who are multiracial and ages 7 and 11, as the looming summer quickly became one of heightening racial turmoil.

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Brownsville is Waging its Own Fight Against COVID-19 and Racism

Taylor Gordon bagging food for BMS and East Brooklyn Food Safety Initiative at BCCC on Belmont Avenue. Photo: Hannah Whise

Originally published by Erasma Beras-Monticciolo on City Limits on June 19, 2020.

In Brownsville, Brooklyn we have struggled to find the words to express how we felt as we watched the video of George Floyd’s brutal murder at the hands of police in Minnesota. Ninety-nine percent of Brownsville’s population identifies as people of color, and although we may be geographically distant from Minneapolis, our hearts and minds are aligned. 

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We’re Reopening, Yet Communities of Color Are Still Suffering and Social Service Organizations Are Hemorrhaging

Originally published by Erasma Beras-Monticciolo on Medium.com on June 12, 2020.

New York emerges from lockdown yet black and brown communities still have high infection rates and those of us supporting them, are stretched.

I’m increasingly heartened by media images of people protesting en masse throughout the nation in an anguished cry for justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. But, I am also growing increasingly alarmed at how local governments will effectively balance this new nationwide movement for social justice along with planning for life after the COVID-19 crisis.

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Healing and Protecting Children from Racial Trauma and COVID-19 Pandemic

Originally published by Erasma Beras-Monticciolo on Medium.com on June 12, 2020.

Our community doesn’t get a break. In the midst of this pandemic, we’re seeing a combustible mix of isolation, job loss, sickness, and feelings of being trapped and terrorized by an epidemic of police brutality. These experiences create exposure to toxic stress and leads to a decrease in the protective factors that are crucial to the health and well-being of children and families.

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