Over the summer, when social justice movements were happening across the country, a group of local Newburgh residents considered how they can take action right here in their own city.
They’re now known as Melanin Unchained.
For them it’s all about protesting differently. Not only do they rally together for marches, but they find other ways to create change with things like cleanups, clothing drives, seminars and more.
The founding members include Ali Muhammad, Amir Barksdale, Ahmad Free-Cohen, Wayne Reuben Bowden and Davante Johnson.
“I’ve been organizing around social change and racial change for about eight years now,” said Muhammad, who’s also been involved in local government in Orange and Dutchess counties. “Muhammad Ali had a quote, ‘the service to others is your rent on earth,’ that’s what I’m following.”
Muhammad said that Melanin Unchained’s fruition organically happened over time. They wanted to do more than march and protest in the streets. More people showed interest and they decided mid-summer to start a local group that focused on Newburgh’s needs.
“We wanted to protest differently,” said Muhammad. “We’re not just in the streets – we wanted to do different social events, clothing drives, cleanups, seminars and more.”
Starting right here at home is what was most important to the group. In just a matter of months, the group got to work. Each of them have different positions, they have a brick and mortar headquarters at 29 Prospect Street, have weekly meetings and are always collaborating on what to do next.
“I am the CEO of the business side and secretary of the member side and I’m one of the mentors,” said Muhammad, who is 32. “A lot of the members are 21 to 25 years old, young people of color from the City of Newburgh. They look to me because of the experience I’ve had in life and in government.”
Their goal was to be “disciplined and purposeful” through their work. Some of the members are a part of their research and development group, which sets out to read different articles, books on other organizers and see what’s happening on social media and create a plan on how Melanin Unchained wants to move forward.
“A lot of it has stemmed from what we’ve been doing in our individuals lives,” said Muhammad. “I’ve been doing cleanups in Newburgh for the last six years and they followed suit because they felt it’s important … We want to encourage people in the community to do the same things themselves and address the areas the city might not be focusing on to fix the blight.”
What Melanin Unchained hopes the city sees is that people who are from Newburgh can show up and help create change, rather than bring outside organizations or consultants in for.
“We can do that,” said Muhammad. “We take pride in our community and maybe we can be a part of the process and the change.”
One of their biggest efforts on the horizon is completing a basic needs wellness assessment to see where else they can help out.
“We could have all these grand ideas, but many hands make light work,” said Muhammad. “If we can slowly but surely work with these people that are our neighbors, we can see who needs WiFi or food.”
They have created living, breathing documents to send to donors and others who are interested in who they are to show what they are doing and plan to do for the City of Newburgh.
“We want folks to know we can do it too,” said Muhammad. “Black Lives Matter, at a minimum. All this other stuff is so important.”
The group went from five members over the summer to 14 active members, three associate members and five advisory members. Once COVID ends, they’ll be utilizing their headquarters even more and sharing it with others who are interested in becoming involved.
“We’re learning from each other, and that’s the beauty of Melanin Unchained,” said Muhammad. “The beauty is every individual is doing things individually and then we have the group to come together and provide resources for that individual.”
In November, Melanin Unchained became an official 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“We demand equity now,” said Muhammad. “We want to see it in Newburgh in greater areas.”
Melanin Unchained’s public meetings are on Sunday at 10 a.m. via Zoom. If you are interested in learning more or getting involved, visit their Facebook page.