Alex Epstein Becomes an Organizer
Question: How did you start New York To New Orleans Coalition?
Epstein: After that first trip, I was hooked you know, right from that and not so much with the rebuilding which is what I thought that I would be excited for when I went down there but when I saw how the poorest people and the darkest people of the city were the ones who are hurt the worst and who since then, have gotten the least support. It kind of forced me to look at my own city and my own home in a different light. And so I started to look at New York and I saw, and I looked at maps and all kinds of statistics and you can see that New York city is just as segregated as New Orleans by class and by race and pretty much anything else that you want to lookup and I personally live on 94th in Lexington on the East side, and if you go to “96 street, and you go the Park Avenue you can stand on that one street and turn and look south and you’ll see the upper side which is the wealthiest district in the entire United States in the middle of this. I mean, everybody there is rich, everybody there is white. In the middle of the streets, you see these little islands with grass and trees and all these nice things and you can literally turn around and look north you have east Harlem and instead of the grassy islands, you have the train that comes out of the ground and goes above on there and Spanish Harlem has the highest concentration of public housing in the US and it’s one of the poorest areas in the United States. It has some of the highest asthma rates, diabetes rates, crime rates etcetera you know, so on and so forth. And so I saw… I started to think what happens if Katrina or any hurricane hits New York City. You know, what neighborhood would be flooded? What neighborhoods will they protect? You know, where would the levees begin? What… you know, what will happen, which way would the water go at 96th street and you know, my own home so when I saw that, I knew that I had to keep going and so our school did two more trips which I also went on and then the school actually stopped having trips and at first I was devastated because I thought, “Oh my God! I don’t know whenever I’m going to go New Orleans again.” But then it hit me and said you know, I don’t… we don’t need our school. Like why did our school have to facilitate each trip so a bunch of us got together and decided that we wanted to go down on our own and that was the summer after my sophomore year and so we got together and we decided to go on. We planned a trip and everything and then actually the night before we left, I realized like if we want to be official and like actually do something, we just need a name, we just need some sort of title and it just like hit me in the middle of the night. I didn’t sleep the night before we went and just hit me, New York to New Orleans coalition. I don’t even know what coalition meant, it just kind sound good at that time but… so it hit me in, so we just traveled under that name and then over the course of the next 6 or 7 months, we got a nonprofit status and built the network and find and plan one more official trip. Once we were a nonprofit with just about 35 kids from my school, the Beacon School and since then, things are just kind of snowball and we got bigger and bigger and expanded way beyond our school.
Question: What were the early challenges?
Epstein: Eventually there was a lack of support from our school which was… it was hurtful considering that our school was the people like you know, what was took me the very first time and so to lose that support was difficult to kind of get over but you know, and everybody looked at us as kids, as students and most of us were sophomores and maybe juniors at that time and looked at us saying like “You run a nonprofit? Like how… you don’t know what you’re doing. You’re not going to be able to do this.” And we’re talking about you know, changing the world and everything and you know, at all… every adult that we knew for the most part just kind of said, “All right. “ you know, they humor us maybe but you know, never take it seriously so that was always little difficult. But you know every step of the way, we kind of proving people wrong and that’s… at this point I kind of love it. I love when somebody you know, says “Oh you can’t do this.” And then it just kind of adds extra challenge and like reason to do it. We haven’t really failed that many of our planned yet. I guess, another major barrier has been finances because the Beacon… the most of the Beacon trips in our first couple of trips where very white because much of our networking people that we’re able to outreach to were white and if we had extended beyond that and wealthy white students and you know, it turned them to whoever could pay for the trip could go and if we’re discussing like combating, racism and classism it doesn’t really make sense just to take kids who can afford to go and you know, it’s a relatively expensive trip. So, we’ve really pushed hard to find, to do fund raising so that we have the money to pay for kids to go and this past February, we finally did it, like we finally had a really, really diverse trip in every way base on race income, schools, we had kids from 11 different schools there. And so, that’s been our biggest challenge and just going to continue to be such but you know, we’re working on it. We’re finding new inventive ways to get money together.
The organizer traces NY2NO’s history from student group to non-profit status.