Aissatou Bey-Grecia has been a resident in Harlem since 1967. Currently, she is the director of Workforce Strategies and Initiatives at McKissack and McKissack, the oldest minority and women-owned design and construction management firm in the United States. As an advocate of community involvement, Bey-Grecia has been involved with the community in a number of different ways. She served as vice president of Friends of Morningside Park and has led other initiatives that successfully installed 35 community playgrounds, seven of them located in central Harlem.
As director at McKissack and McKissack, Bey-Grecia works to develop the local workforce and aims to increase community participation for projects in the New York and New Jersey area. Some of these projects include the Residents Building Project at Coopers Ferry Partnership, the expansion of the Manhattanville Campus of Columbia University, the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Skilled Nursing facility and the Harlem Hospital modernization project. She believes that businesses benefit greatly from having a skilled and diverse workforce. “We need to make sure our community members are held accountable for some participation within the community,” she explained in an interview with Amsterdam News. “Our businesses need to hire from within and we need to hire trained workers. People want to be employed, but people have to be ready.”
As a graduate from Harlem Prep High School and Antioch College, Bey-Grecia now uses her outreach skills to empower people by helping them find employment that matches their interests and abilities, and making sure they’re equipped to do the job well. When asked about Harlem’s unemployment rate, (which is more than 50 percent among people between the ages of 16 and 25), Bey-Grecia said she doesn’t feel good about it. “There are many factors that we can address directly and some we need to have addressed,” she remarked. “We should not lose faith in the fact that we have the ability to educate ourselves and be prepared.”
For any person of color and for any female who is looking to start a business, Bey-Grecia says the first thing one needs is a plan. “Be clear about what you love in your heart, not just what makes you money,” she said. “Find a mentor, get about the business and start to build a network and a platform for your business.”
Currently, Bey-Grecia is looking forward to projects that she has been waiting to launch for much of her life. With Friends of Morningside Park, she wants to bring more community involvement to Morningside Park. “I have a love for the community barbecuing that happens there,” she said. “The new neighbors don’t like it, so I’m making sure there’s a good presence for the community to have meetings in that area.” She’s also excited about her upcoming project with The North Star Neighborhood Association, the Education Is Not a Crime campaign. It promotes the importance of education and recognizes that educational persecution does exist in the community.
“Everything I commit myself to is meaningful,” said Bey-Grecia. “Everything should be a building block for your passion and for the benefit of your community. What’s a small contribution you can make while you’re on this Earth?”