NHS Brooklyn Alumni Spotlight: Nia Rock, Former Board Member and Finance Committee Chair
Nia Rock is a former Board member and Finance Committee Chair at NHS Brooklyn. In this Alumni Spotlight, Ms. Rock shares fond memories of the organization and community during her service.
What was your responsibility to the organization and community as a Board Member?
I was a Board Member at NHS Brooklyn (formerly NHS of East Flatbush) from the late eighties to the mid-1990s. Louis Kilkenny, then Executive Director of the organization, recruited me to join the board because I lived in the East Flatbush area and there was a critical need for my support. Before that, I was a member of the NHS Jamaica board.
During my tenure, I actively participated in the overall planning process, assisted in executing and monitoring NHS Brooklyn's goals, and provided financial oversight. It was also my responsibility, along with the other members, to determine which programs were consistent with the organization’s mission and monitor their effectiveness. Our Board meetings were very granular, community-driven, and hands on. As an organization, we were always seeking to support and be an integrated part of the community, which is why we purchased the building in East Flatbush. It was a bold strategic move for a nonprofit organization, but it solidified our stalwart roots of community-centric engagement and commitment.
Finally, and most importantly, I could articulate the organization's mission, accomplishments, and goals to the public and garner support and resources. Working with NHS Brooklyn solidified my commitment to contributing positively to communities.
What was the community like when you were with the organization?
In the 1990s, East Flatbush was a burgeoning community of mostly African-American and Afro-Caribbean families. Vibrant with multifamily homes, minority businesses, and a unique culture, it was booming with opportunities. The community of East Flatbush was also ripe with homeownership opportunities. Many residents rented, and NHS Brooklyn provided guidance in weighing the option of renting versus buying. The organization also had wrap-around services, such as lending and pre- and post-counseling, which helped many see a clear path to homeownership. NHS Brooklyn was also very focused on supporting and protecting the investment of current homeowners. For example, my mother-in-law was one of the first recipients of their weatherization assistance program. The program enabled my mother-in-law and income-eligible families (primarily low-income) to reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient.
What impact has NHS Brooklyn had on the borough?
NHS Brooklyn has always been at the forefront and on the pulse of the community’s needs. They are constantly seeking a new frontier. A great example of that is their expansion into Canarsie, Brooklyn. Canarsie has a different population than East Flatbush, but there is also a need there for the services NHS Brooklyn provides. Over a decade ago, there was flight. The community was not as diverse, and realtors actively sought to sell homes to a more diverse population. Many current homeowners were former residents of East Flatbush, and the organization's footprint there has helped support them with familiar and trustworthy resources.
NHS Brooklyn has always been agile and able to pivot. One excellent example of this skill is their development of an affordable property management program. NHS Brooklyn knew how important this innovative service would be because they have always had boots on the ground, listened to the community's needs, and evolved their offerings to stabilize even more homeowners.
What are your thoughts on the organization’s past and future?
I believe that we are "back to the future." The term that comes to mind for me is “Sankofa.” Sankofa is an African word from the Akan tribe in Ghana. Its literal translation is "It is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind." The word derives from the words SAN (return), KO (go), and FA (look; seek and take).
The word is associated with the mythical Sankofa bird, depicted as having its feet firmly planted forward and its head turned backward. It is a symbol for the Akan belief that the past is a guide for planning the future, that learning from the past ensures a strong future. NHS Brooklyn consistently puts this wisdom into practice.
NHS Brooklyn has the same goals now as it did four decades ago when it was founded: to build wealth in the community by supporting home buying and the maintenance of those investments. Unfortunately, we see the same things now that we did when the organization formed: predatory lending, rising interest rates, and housing discrimination. The significant difference between then and now is that now data is used as a veiled redlining tool. In addition, the financialization of the housing market and housing speculation are driving up rents and pushing out longtime lower-income residents. Coupled with the 2008 foreclosure crisis, the financialization of housing by investors and some homeowners has stripped half of all Black wealth while expanding the racial wealth gap. NHS Brooklyn’s awareness of and concern about these trends is apparent in their efforts to reduce inequality brought on by these social changes. The organization's primary strength is its keen understanding of critical community and housing issues that negatively impact Brooklyn neighborhoods and residents' economic and social health. Examples of this awareness are their new and timely tenant support and property management programs.
Finally, NHS Brooklyn’s work has always been the gold standard and blueprint for homeownership education and the delivery of products and services that leverage individual and community successes and organizational influence. They have addressed community inequities related to quality housing and neighborhood life for four decades. Based on their long-standing structure, they have promoted residents’ voice and agency in decisions about their individual properties and the overall community. Given these simple but powerful elements, I have no doubt they will be serving the needs of Brooklyn for years to come.
you're invited to celebrate with us!
This Alumni Spotlight is part of our year-long celebration of our work over four decades of building communities and transforming lives.
Please join us on October 12 at the iconic Brooklyn Museum for our 40-Year Anniversary Gala.
For information, tickets, and sponsorship opportunities, go here.
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