Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI) joins Ujima’s Translocal Membership Program

Earlier this year, Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative became an Ujima Translocal Member. Paige Curtis, Culture & Communications Manager at Ujima, sat down with BCDI’s Executive Director, Michael Partis to talk about what the translocal membership means to them, and their vision for Black Liberation in the Bronx and beyond.

Paige Curtis: Can you tell the people a bit about BCDI?

Michael Partis: Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI) is a community led planning and economic development organization. So our work involves urban planning that is led by the community, and led not only in terms of design and participation, but governance and decision-making as well. Our economic development work is really focused on a model that we call “economic democracy,” where we’re trying to build a sustainable, cooperative economy. As part of that, we focus on businesses that are MWB: minority or women-owned businesses and worker cooperatives. The economic and planning facets to our work aim to end multi-generational poverty towards Black liberation and shared wealth.

Paige: What do you think is unique about BCDI’s model and why?

Michael: The origin story of BCDI is pretty unique because our work grew out of a specific economic development struggle that happened in the Bronx. Almost 20 years ago now, there was a military armory that was going to be redeveloped away from its military purpose. Part of what was known about that project was that the community was more informed after the fact, than they were included. So a group of community organizers in the northwest Bronx began to organize for there to be more community needs shaping the project. The learnings from that struggle gave way to BCDI.

More broadly, the Bronx has a history of community organizing coming out of the 1970s around housing. Most people know the quote, “The Bronx is burning,” but may not know the history behind this. There were local residents who chose to stay as this was happening, and organize. They created the institutions and the political power to own their buildings. Then later in the 1980s, a lot of those same Black and Brown organizers mobilized residents around environmental justice.

Lastly, not only was there that armory development project in the Bronx that we had to organize around, but there were also several zoning changes that often led to gentrification. Once they begin to talk about zoning, we have the displacement — they often go hand in hand. We learned that not only do we need to fight back, we need to fight forward. That means that we’re organizing around social and human services, but also addressing the economic development piece. I think that’s unique.

Paige: What would you say has been your favorite moment at BCDI thus far?

Michael: My favorite moment was probably October 2021 when we had our Bronx People’s Festival, which is organized by the Bronx-wide Coalition. So much of our work involves civic engagement, so the People’s Festival really was an opportunity for the community to see the progress around our 30 Year People’s Plan. It was also an opportunity for community members to see the political platforms of candidates running in different local races. We also just wanted to come together and celebrate. It’s been a long two years of COVID, so it was great to have everyone come together outdoors. It really built on the broader network we’re trying to strengthen.

Paige: What values are most central to your work at BCDI?

Michael: Black liberation, intergenerational organizing, democracy, and sustainability are the values at the heart of our work.

Paige: Why did BCDI decide to become an Ujima Translocal Member?

Michael: There are a lot more organizations that do solidarity economy work now. But there are far less organizations that are Black-led and committed to power-building with a focus on ecosystems and cooperative capital. So to be in literal solidarity and enter a deeper relationship with an organization that does share a lot of the same values as us is really important for BCDI. We are also a learning organization, so what Boston Ujima Project has done with the investment fund was important for us to learn from, because we hope to have a fund of our own in the future. Translocal membership is an exciting way for us to learn from the social infrastructure that you all have created, so we jumped at the opportunity. ◼︎

The Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative (BCDI) is a community-led planning and economic development organization based in the Bronx. Learn more about their work at BCDI.NYC.

The Ujima Translocal Membership is an action-oriented initiative to support peers outside of Boston in getting closer to creating economic democracy ecosystems where they are. Ujima’s Translocal Membership is comprised of five components: partnership on Ujima’s Quarterly Office Hours, joint fundraising, private organizational 1-on-1 support, whole team check-ins, and ecosystems exchanges. Membership in the Translocal Program is by invitation only.

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THE BOSTON UJIMA PROJECT is organizing neighbors, workers, business owners and investors to create a new community controlled economy in Boston.