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Brooklyn Youth Turn To Cooperatives For Economic Opportunity

A group of Red Hook youth have started a guerilla marketing business–owned by its employees.

Brooklyn Youth Turn To Cooperatives For Economic Opportunity
[Top photo: Mikhail Kolesnikov via Shutterstock]

Red Hook is a predominately black and Latino part of Brooklyn, where around 38% of the population lives below the poverty line. For people raised and growing up in such an environment, the prospect of financial security–much less owning one’s on business–can seem like a prospect that’s perpetually out of reach.

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Recently, however, a small group of young people have banded together to form a guerrilla marketing business, called Kaluk. They come from Red Hook’s public housing and the South Brooklyn Community High School, a public school in Red Hook for students who have dropped out of school or are off-track for graduation. With the help of Center for Family Life and Good Shepherd Services, two community organizations in Brooklyn, they are establishing Kaluk as a worker cooperative, where each employee shares control of the business.

Flickr user Steven Pisano

“Cooperatives are a way for people to have a voice in how they’re treated and what a democratic workplace should look like, especially people of color and low-income people,” says Vanessa Bransburg, the Director of Cooperative Development at Center for Family Life. “Co-op development works outside the box for people who feel like they’ve been left out of the economic system.”

Being in a low-lying part of Brooklyn, Red Hook was hit especially hard by Hurricane Sandy. The devastation that followed amplified the struggles facing people who have experienced chronic unemployment and under-employment. Worker cooperatives like Kaluk present an opportunity for people from the area to break into the economic system.

Aida Pedroza and Luis Fernandez are two of Kaluk’s founding members. Both are 20 years old and have spent most of their lives in the neighborhood.

Flickr user Diego Torres Silvestre

“We all pretty much come from Red Hook so our main priority is to help the community here,” says Fernandez.

Indeed, the cooperative is a way to keep money in the community and raise all boats. Kaluk is offering its services mostly to small local business, non-profits, and arts organizations in Red Hook. There is also talk that local government agencies are considering employing the group. As Kaluk grows and prospers, so too will its clients.

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Guerilla marketing is a form of grassroots marketing focused on creating memorable experiences and catching people’s attention, sometimes through stunts like flashmobs. The concept is based on getting ideas to spread through word of mouth or social media. A lot of the marketing will be for particular projects or ideas that their clients want to become common knowledge out on the street.

Despite, the class schism growing within Red Hook as some Brooklynites look to the area for cheaper rent, Kaluk members are quick to emphasize the spirit of cooperation that exists within the community.

“Red Hook is extremely, extremely diverse,” says Pedroza. “There’s definitely people of different classes here, but we all pretty much blend together. When we have community events everybody shows up. People from the projects and people from the condos come together.”

Kaluk is rapidly growing. It was founded with just four members, but the co-op is already looking to recruit 10 more members because theres so much local demand for their services.

“People should know that you don’t have to wait until your thirties to think about a career or feel like you have to be older to be successful,” says Pedroza. “We’re freshman in college right now and we’re already starting–no, making–our dream jobs.”

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About the author

Jay is a freelance journalist, formerly a staff writer for Fast Company. He writes about technology, inequality, and the Middle East. He read a lot of Walter Benjamin in college and his favorite sci-fi author is Ursula K

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