Rising up, Hakim Jeffrey didn’t suppose a lot about politics. However folks would usually level out that his identify sounded similar to the identify of his consultant in Congress, a rising star within the Home and fellow Brooklyn native.
“All of them would simply inform me, ‘It’s best to meet this man some day,’” Mr. Jeffrey mentioned.
He brushed it off. Mr. Jeffrey, who lived within the Bay View Homes, a public housing improvement in Canarsie, considered himself then as “only a common 16-year-old boy from the tasks.”
Then, at 18, he began engaged on a brand new farm on the improvement, considered one of a number of the New York Metropolis Housing Authority had helped construct to offer wholesome meals for residents.
He beloved it.
Earlier than, he had been an introvert who skipped faculty to play video video games. On the farm, he would give necessary folks excursions, displaying how he grew chard, kale, tomatoes, squash, basil and different produce.
Mr. Jeffrey, now 24, acquired extra concerned, discovering function in serving to a public housing group usually neglected by the skin world, except a constructing was falling aside.
On a cloudy March afternoon final yr, considered one of his tour individuals had a well-recognized identify. That was when Hakim Jeffrey met Hakeem Jeffries.
“‘You will have the good identify on the market,’” Mr. Jeffrey recollects Mr. Jeffries telling him.
The assembly between Mr. Jeffrey and Mr. Jeffries, 53, a Brooklyn Democrat and the Home minority chief, was possibly simply an amusing coincidence. However Mr. Jeffrey additionally noticed it as one thing a bit of greater than that: a second that highlighted the underappreciated potential of Brooklyn’s youth.
Civic management is usually the bailiwick of older folks, particularly in New York Metropolis’s public housing system, the place almost 43 p.c of the households are headed by folks 62 or older. Mr. Jeffrey goals to alter that.
“How we are able to enhance our existence — it begins with our younger folks,” he mentioned.
Mr. Jeffries, the congressman, grew up in a modest brownstone in Central Brooklyn, part of town that within the Eighties was additionally formed by the drug commerce. He was a part of an earlier technology of Black politicians — together with Mayor Eric Adams and Letitia James, the state’s legal professional common — who got here up in Brooklyn.
Individuals frequently ask if Mr. Jeffrey was named after Mr. Jeffries, who’s 30 years older. Past their upbringing within the Black group in Brooklyn, there’s no connection, Mr. Jeffrey mentioned. His father was Muslim and favored the identify Hakim. However he doesn’t thoughts the comparisons.
Initially from Bushwick, Mr. Jeffrey moved together with his mom and sister to Bay View in 2009. He mentioned his weight loss plan, like that of different youngsters who lived within the Canarsie advanced, included copious quantities of meals from Dunkin’, Popeyes and McDonald’s close by.
Mr. Jeffrey mentioned it felt just like the atmosphere was “designed to maintain you unhealthy.” He has bronchial asthma and mentioned he seen how folks residing at Bay View usually had diabetes, hypertension and different well being issues. The group district that features Bay View has an weight problems fee of 41 p.c, about 16 share factors increased than town total.
Earlier than he found the farm, he felt unmotivated. He had no plan for his life after he graduated from highschool in 2017, and spent most of his days “killing time.”
His mom introduced house a flier that marketed a brand new AmeriCorps program run by Inexperienced Metropolis Pressure, a nonprofit, on the Bay View farm, which was inbuilt 2016.
There are 9 such farms throughout town, and the quantity is rising. Bay View is the biggest; its two acres was an empty discipline the place Mr. Jeffrey would play soccer with different youngsters.
He was skeptical. However he mentioned he would strive it.
This system enrolled younger folks between the ages of 18 and 24 to assist run the farms and finally get jobs that would use these expertise. Mr. Jeffrey mentioned his “complete complete life modified.” All of a sudden, folks appeared involved in his future.
He discovered pleasure in educating residents at Bay View about wholesome meals. He took to it so effectively that Inexperienced Metropolis Pressure employed Mr. Jeffrey in 2019 to coordinate different farm staff at Bay View.
He was not too long ago promoted and now works with younger folks at Bay View and 5 different developments, together with on Staten Island, in Queens and in Brownsville in Brooklyn.
Andrea Mata, NYCHA’s director of resident heath initiatives, mentioned Bay View residents “needed to come to phrases with not seeing him as usually.”
“There’s by no means sufficient Hakim to go round,” she mentioned.
The farms produce 1000’s of kilos of produce yearly, accessible free to public housing residents. When Mr. Jeffries visited final March, he lauded Bay View farm as a promising mannequin for the best way to enhance vitamin in underserved communities. He additionally had some phrases for his tour information.
“That identify is fairly straightforward for me to recollect,” he mentioned in a speech. “Hakim Jeffrey, thanks a lot in your extraordinary management and your work.”