For more than 20 years, the grassroots organization Operation POWER has helped to facilitate community change and advocacy.
Co-founded in 1997 as People Organizing and Working for Empowerment and Respect by Brooklyn Councilwoman Inez Barron and New York Assembly Member Charles Barron, this political action group helps to address the issues of the neighborhood.
“It’s rare to find an organization that doesn’t talk about Black issues just when it’s popular or when we have [a] crisis, but thinks of it as an ongoing and systemic issue,” said the co-chair of Operation POWER, Malaika Jabali. “We are realistic about the condition of our people.”
More than six years ago, the advocacy group began its political conversations in the basement of the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn.
“They had a lot of energy,” Jabali said, recalling the membership meetings at the church. “I think there is a spirit that Black people have always had associated with the Civil Rights Movement. We know our liberation comes from connecting it with our spirituality and our purpose.”
In 2013, the group moved to 333 New Lots Ave. in East New York, where their message of identity and liberation has continued.
According to Jabali, acquiring committed members has been a challenge over the years.
“When you’re dealing with the community at large, it’s [about] getting our folks to commit,” Jabali said. “It’s a little bit easier now, but five or six years ago, when police brutality wasn’t at the forefront, it was hard for people to realize just how important this is.”
The founding members of Operation POWER are community organizers who lead through education, equity and economic development.
Last year, Jabali graduated from Columbia Law School and now serves as an attorney for the New York City Council.
“I got into this as an undergrad,” Jabali said. “It was so difficult for me to get my peers to recognize how important it is to get our unity [and] address systemic issues. We have been talking about mass incarceration for years … This isn’t new, but the visual is new.”
After several attacks on the minority community, East New York residents have been prompted to take action, according to Jabali.
“Historically it’s been a problem for us to realize the urgency of our condition,” Jabali said. “You can get rid of police brutality, but that system is feeding [something] else. You can get rid of the police, but it may come out some other way.”
The Operation POWER meetings focus on maintaining leadership, enhancing public speaking skills, understanding the nature of capitalism and public judicial systems.
“We got to think complimentarily,” Jabali said. “This group thinks about our elected office power. How do we get folks of radical minds and ideologies to effect change and how do we get them into positions of leadership?”
The program is hosted every second Saturday of the month. The meetings are open for membership of East New York residents.
“This is a call to the community that there is something that can address our issues,” Jabali said. “This is one of the few organizations that is dealing with our issues on a multi-platform level.”