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Forget the Politicians; Why Not Care is Helping
The Villager, New York on September 16, 2018

empower Malu and Akdinez
Power Malu, right, and Hakki Akdeniz, of Champion Pizza, at the recent Lower East Side United Festival.
Photos by Clayton Patterson

 The part of the Lower East Side where I live is one of the most overlooked parts of the LES.

Thanks to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and landlord Sion Misrahi, we got the Lower East Side Business Improvement District, now known as the Partnership.

The BID gets started, and the mass evictions of small business and affordable rent get escalated. One major prong that was used to make this real estate change was the bars. The bars would pay more rent money and would go on to create an almost unlivable environment for local families.

The real estate moguls — using the compliant community board and, in my belief, Silver, then one of the state’s most powerful politicians — worked closely with the State Liquor Authority to skirt the authority’s rules and regulations, which opened the door to the flood of bars. As it turns out, the courts proved Silver is a crook.

empower go team
Go team! The festival was a team effort.

Another form of gutting the neighborhood of its longtime residents and businesses is to take away our services. In comes City Councilmember Margaret Chin and she allows the city to sell off Rivington House, plus is compliant in the overdevelopment of the community and allowing in too many bars. I am trying to think, what has she done for my area?

Sadly, while the rest of our politicians, I hope are not crooks, we do not have leaders, but have more the come-along-get-along types. In my opinion, the last powerhouses we had were Councilmembers Miriam Friedlander and Kathryn Freed. They were fighters and could carry the ball across the line. Yes, I had my issues with them, but all in all, they were strong and their intentions were to serve the community and not themselves.

bustling scene
A slice of life: The festival was a bustling scene.

As it turns out, the real ones who have stepped forward to help our part of the community are not the politicians, but three conscientious community people: Martin Medina, Lilah Mejia, and Power Malu, of the organization envisioned and founded by Martin, called Why Not Care Inc. A 501c3 nonprofit organization, Why Not Care is geared toward providing beneficial resources for the homeless, the disenfranchised, everyday people or businesses and community organizations that are in need of supplemental assistance.

These resources range from the distribution of care packs filled with everyday essentials for homeless and unfortunate individuals, to providing creative and educational services for their partnering organizations. The group’s main focus is on people who make less than $33,000 a year. The organization has also been dedicated to helping provide supplies and services to Puerto Rico after the hurricane and helping to take care of impacted Puerto Ricans who were forced to move back to the city. For their recent festival in the LES, these three built a team made up of both adults and teenagers.

The schoolyard was always full, but the organizers made sure the crowd size was controlled,
and that people were let in in waves.

Over the years, I have come to appreciate the community work of and have taken photos of Martin and Power doing different kinds of service. Recently, I met Lilah when she and Power were on my 8 Ball radio show talking about how much help Puerto Rico continues to need to get back to running normally.

I first came across Why Not Care last year when they took over the large schoolyard behind the Lower East Side Preparatory High School, at 145 Stanton St. They call the event the annual Lower East Side United Festival. For the event the first year, the schoolyard was full. With this second year, the crowds were overwhelming. For safety reasons, they had private and official school security, as well as volunteers manning the entrance gate and making sure everything was running smoothly. The yard would fill up to a safe capacity and then, as people left, more would be allowed in. At times, the waiting line was up was more than a block long. The line was a true mix of the LES: Chinese, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, whites and various ethnic people wearing traditional Muslim attire.

One of the main goals of Martin, Power and Lilah was to create one place where people could access all the different LES organizations. One group missing was the 10th St. Boys Club, although the Boys and Girls Republic, from Avenue D, was there, and so was the Lower Eastside Girls Club.

Puerto Rican pride
Puerto Rican pride was on display.

In the yard were tables with information on afterschool programs, tenants’ rights, immigration issues, health and wellness, financial literacy, daycare sites, religious-based community programs, volunteer opportunities, senior centers and homeless shelters. Congressmember Nydia Velasquez had a table, but did not show up.

Outside, Suffolk St. was blocked off with more tables. Chris Marte was soliciting votes for his state committee race, with an eye on the First District City Council seat in three years, when Chin will be term-limited out of office. No politicking was allowed inside the festival in the schoolyard.

There is a reason Chin lost our area. Why Not Care’s organizers had reached out to the councilmember several times, but got no response — except the unwelcome move of Chin writing on her Facebook page, thanking the Grand Street Guild for the event. It took an e-mail from District Leader Daisy Paez to get that comment removed since the Guild had nothing to do with things.

school safety officers
School safety officers helped make sure it was a fun day for all.

Besides the tabling, there were the kids’ games like the bouncy house, D Great Drudeeni dressed as a clown making balloon animals and face painting. There was entertainment with legendary LES DJ Ralphie Ralph. Pistol Pete Dobson, a champion boxer and trainer at Overthrow New York on Bleecker St., gave the kids boxing lessons. Bo Nixon, an ex-gang member and founder of the New Life of NYC youth center, was honored for his 45 years of service to the LES community.

free haircuts
Cutting to the chase: Stanton Street Barbers gave free haircuts.

There were more than 1,000 bottles of water handed out. Hakki Akdeniz, of Champion Pizza, made everyone’s day by giving out hundreds of slices of pizza. One of the biggest attractions of the day was the 2,000 book bags and 4,000 articles of clothing — sweatpants and T-shirts — given out. Off site, First Choice Barbers, on Stanton St., was giving haircuts. Everything was free.