Interview with Roy Blumenfeld, Co-Founder of Solidaritees

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On February 1st South Slope Pediatrics shared our cultures and promises with all of our patients and families, including our core value #7, being humble.  We’ve had such positive responses to this,  one of the most meaningful coming from SSP parents Justin and Kelly Brandon and Roy Blumenfeld and his wife, Lauren Links, who shared an incredible project they had just launched THAT week.  Their project, Solidaritees, ties in to SSP’s promise to always treating others how we would want to be treated.  Solidaritees is a non-profit t-shirt venture they started to show solidarity with the Muslim Americans and refugees after the current administration signed their executive order on the refugee ban.  These brave families decided to take their sadness and frustration and turn that energy into creating a t-shirt and movement with the most positive, inclusive message….hoping to create a dialogue and helping dissolve the fear of the unfamiliar.  Let’s learn more about this venture and how we can help support and get the word out about this amazing cause, started right here in the Slope.

SSP:  Before we dive into this awesome project you have just launched, can you please tell us more about yourself and the other SSP families who are behind this project?

This project was a joint venture of Roy Blumenfeld and Lauren Links (parents of Gabriel Blumenfeld, 22 mo old) and Justin and Kelly Brandon (parents of Ceci Brandon, 19 mo old). Lauren and Roy are both independent high school teachers (Lauren at Berkeley Carroll and Roy at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School). Kelly is a teacher at the Avenues school, and Justin runs a digital marketing company. Our families have been friends for a number of years now and the bond has grown closer since we have kids so close in age.

SSP: How did you connect and make this happen? What inspired you to do this?

Kelly and Justin organized a postcard making party the day after Trump signed his executive order on the refugee ban so folks could write to their members of congress. I was feeling exceptionally sad and frustrated that day. The immigration order, whether intentionally or not, was signed on Holocaust Memorial Day. I’m the child of four Holocaust survivors, so this day has always been challenging for me. I’m all too aware that refugee policy can be a matter of life or death. Sitting around the morning after, I had the idea of wearing a shirt with Arabic on it as a show of solidarity. Justin said he would do the same, and an idea was born. The seed is the shared belief that there’s nothing more important than standing up for those most vulnerable in our society.

SSP: Solidaritees is such a smart name for this venture. Can you please explain the phrase on the front, why you chose it and also the decision behind not including a translation?

The shirt says “ahlan wasahlan,” which simply means “Welcome,” and comes from a beautiful Arab tradition of welcoming strangers as family. We chose not to include a translation in order to encourage conversation. We hope people will wear the shirts in public and wear them often to encourage conversation with neighbors, colleagues, and strangers. We considered a number of possibilities for the shirt including American phrases like “this land is your land” written out in Arabic, but ultimately chose something that was both already familiar to the Arab community (and invariably elicits a smile from those who can read it) as well as something not overtly political. The shirt just says welcome — who could object to that? Only someone in the grips of xenophobia, which is what we hope to dissolve.

SSP:  I see on your website that you can opt to “buy one forward”. I love this idea, can you tell us more about this and why it is important to your cause?

This was Justin’s excellent idea. “Buying one forward” means you are paying the price of a shirt so that someone else can receive a shirt for free. This has allowed to give out shirts at rallies, such as the Yemeni bodega owners rally at Cadman Plaza. We’ve also given out shirts at Arab-owned businesses and to people who want to support the cause but cannot afford a shirt.

SSP: I understand that this is a non-profit project. Where are the proceeds going?

The first $1000 we raised is being donated to the Arab American Association of New York. All proceeds beyond that (we’ve raised close to $4000 so far) are being donated in equal parts to AANY, the IRC (International Refugee Council) and Immigrant Justice Corps, an organization that provides legal assistance for immigrants.

SSP: How has the response been so far? In addition to purchasing the shirts, how do we help get the word out and support this cause?

The response has been phenomenal. We’ve sold over 800 shirts across the country. You can see a map of where people have purchased shirts on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bksolidaritees . The next step of our project, now that many people have received their shirts and have been wearing them for a few weeks, is for people to start sharing their stories. Our hope is to create a Humans of NY-style account of people’s stories wearing these shirts across the country. We hope the conversation will spark into one that allows for understanding and acceptance. I firmly believe that people’s xenophobia is rooted in unfamiliarity; it’s easy to project when the issue is abstract. But when you’re talking about real people and real conversations, difference often melt away and people’s common humanity emerges. That’s the hope, at least. The best way to support the project is to tell friends and family about it across the country. Tell them to visit our facebook page and take a picture of themselves wearing our shirt! There’s already quite the gallery in the making at www.soldiaritees.org/photos — we recently had someone take a picture in front of the White House!

https://www.solidaritees.org/

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