By Natalia Sucre, Instruction & Digital Services Librarian
In early February, the MCNY community witnessed on stage a seldom discussed story: the flourishing of autonomous, Black prosperity in early twentieth-century America. The play Greenwood: An American Dream Destroyed documents how racism violently disrupted that prosperity, but it also powerfully conjures and lingers on the rich community that was lost. Honoring that vision, for the February “Pizza & Conversation in the Library” session, we chose to focus on the cooperative economy movement as a strategy for contesting economic racial discrimination.
Cooperatives are ways of doing business in which ownership, profits, and decision-making are shared by co-op members, as we learned from reading together the introduction to Collective Courage: A History of African American Economic Thought and Practice by economist Jessica Gordon Nembhard. Nembhard’s innovative scholarship brings to light the hidden story of Black cooperatives and its centrality to African American activism throughout U.S. history.
Thanks to our facilitators, Bianca Shaw, Angelica Delacruz, and Noa Watford, worker-owners of Tribe-Co in the Bronx, and Jess Turner, a peer-educator for the Cooperative Economic Alliances of New York City (CEANYC) in Manhattan. Bianca, Angelica, and Noa engaged students in a discussion of their own work experiences and an interactive review of the Seven Cooperative Principles. Jess led an information-packed discussion of the market-focused economy vs. cooperative alternatives. Student’s voiced their views on topics as wide-ranging as homelessness and the tax code, and Jess urged us to consider how cooperatives can empower groups constrained by the dominant economic system.
All four guests spoke to the power of cooperatives in New York City communities today. In fact, Tribe-Co grew up right in the South Bronx, nurtured by the Green Worker Cooperatives and in conversation with Jessica Gordon Nembhard herself.