A Community Activist Discusses Staying involved During Twin Pandemics

 It is settling in for many of us that the pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon. While coming to terms with that reality, it can also feel daunting to stay active in the fight for Black Liberation. In the past two months, the mounting deaths of unarmed Black men continue to grow, now including Kevin Peterson, Marcellis Stinnette, and Rodney Applewhite. I had the chance to interview Ryan Seeram, NYC resident and community activist who is keeping the movement alive in his city one protest at a time.

Ryan was recently featured in Essence, MotherJonesMag, and New York Magazine after the historic 2020 Biden/Harris presidential election win.

How long have you been living in NYC?

10 years! 4 in Manhattan, 6 in Brooklyn

What does community activism mean to you?

Community activism to me in its simplest form means getting involved in your community to drive some positive change. That can mean going to rallies, community boards, volunteering, educating others in the community. Large scale change starts locally, so getting involved in your community is key.

 In what ways have you gotten involved in the BLM movement?

I’ve done a few different things to get involved. I’ve been very active in the protests and rallies across the city. For me, I think this is the very least I can do to get involved.

I also led a series of discussions about race in the workplace in my organization.

One thing that I think is key to the BLM movement – is having non-POC allies involved. So I wanted to do something that got them involved. I decided to run my own marathon in Brooklyn and lower Manhattan to raise money for the National Urban League. We raised $6300 in two short weeks and half the donors were non-POC. Not only did we raise money, I designed the marathon to run by black-owned businesses. Spending our dollars at black-owned businesses is such a critical way to invest in our communities and build black equity and wealth. Many non-POC don’t know of black-owned businesses so by highlighting them we can start to drive traffic to these businesses.

 How did the murder of George Floyd impact you?

Like many black people, it really hit me hard. Each time this happens, it’s difficult to deal with and manage your emotions. In the days following his death, I definitely shed some tears when I was reflecting alone. George Floyd’s murder – really was a catalyst in me getting more involved in driving change. I think that’s the case with a lot people. But it really brought to the forefront what it means to be black in America, and for the first time, non-POC were really starting to see that and decided to take a stand.

What keeps you motivated?

3 things keep me motivated:

This might sound crazy, but plowing thru adversity really motivates me. As a black man, we are already set back 10 steps from the starting line. I learned from a young age that to get to where I want, I have to put in the work and work 10x harder because nobody is giving me any handouts. Knowing that some people don’t think I can do xyz or make to the next level really drives me to roll up my sleeves.

Being happy is also a big motivating factor in my life. I don’t want to spend my limited time on this earth doing things that don’t make me happy and have me smiling.

And lastly, my mother, who raised me and my brother on her own in a white community.

How do you practice self care?

For me, working out and cooking are my two most important self care activities. This is really the time when I can release stresses from the day and just focus on myself. Prior to the pandemic I would take group fitness classes after work, which I loved because it was my way of winding down from a demanding day job.  Since the pandemic, fitness has played such a big role in keeping me grounded during these past few months. I immediately hopped on with digital fitness. Being able to continue to workout with others virtually really kept the sense of community.

In the middle of the pandemic I broke a bone in my wrist and sprained a ligament – which really impacted my ability to workout and to cook. I could definitely see a difference in my overall mood, vibe, and well-being that I wasn’t the same, which further validated how much I rely on working out and cooking as part of my self care routine.

Fitness & cooking has always been an outlet for me, and has proven so even over the course of the pandemic.

What does the Biden/Harris win mean to you?

The Biden/Harris win means the world to me! I remember so distinctly where I was and how felt when Obama won the election in 2008 and this time in 2020 when Biden and Harris won, was exactly the same.

My parents are immigrants from the Caribbean (Guyana) and I am a half black half Indian first generation American. Never in my life have I seen someone who looks like me in a prominent role – much less as a world leader. On top of that – I was raised by my black mother who has always been my hero, it’s amazing to see the world now recognize black women as strong, resilient leaders. So seeing Kamala Harris now the VP-elect of the United States, the first black and Indian woman, it’s the most incredible thing for me to see

This country is currently so divided under the current administration. I truly hope that under Biden and Harris we can build a unified nation and tear down all the hate that currently exists in so much of the country

What does Black Liberation mean to you?

To me black liberation is simply to be equal. To be free from the injustice and racism that exists across the world. Being able to have fair opportunities regardless of my race.

What has it been like navigating twin pandemics for you?

Honestly, the past few months have been heavy! Being black in America has always been challenging, add to that the coronavirus and we’re at new levels of challenging. For me, it’s always about taking it one step at a time, one day at a time. We are all having a rough year, some more than others. I’ve used the past few months to really focus on things that I love that make me happy. I’ve spent a lot more time catching up with those that mean the most to me and having deeper conversations. Once we’ve gotten ahold of the coronavirus, we will still have to deal with the racism that exists – so we have to continue to drive forward and know that real change doesn’t happen overnight.

 What are your favorite Black owned businesses?

  • There’s just so many good ones! Locally these are my favorite in NYC
    • Gloria’s – Caribbean food in Crown Heights
    • Bittersweet – Coffeeshop in Fort Greene
    • Ode to Babel – Cocktail bar in Prospect Heights
    • Peaches Hot House – Fried Chicken in Fort Greene & Bedstuy
    • Dick & Jane’s – Cocktail bar in Fort Greene
    • Mo’s – Bar in Fort Greene
    • BCakeNY – Bakery in Prospect Heights
    • Cheeky Sandwiches – Sandwich shop in LES
    • Breukelen – Coffeeshop in Crown Heights

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