A cross-section of Islanders stopped by the Cultural Center on Roosevelt Island Day, June 16, to be interviewed about their experience on Roosevelt Island. The event was part of the Word To RI project (WordtoRI.com), which aims to build discussion around social, racial, and political issues on the Island by sharing the voices and experiences of residents from all walks of life and backgrounds.
As Islanders mingled in Good Shepherd Plaza Saturday, Girl Scouts from Troop 3001 walked around with audio recorders. Across the street at the Cultural Center, a Cornell Tech intern and another volunteer conducted video interviews. The room was outfitted with laptops with headphones to listen to already published interviews, as well as chairs arranged in a circle to inspire conversation among those waiting to tell their stories.
Adults were asked questions about their personal response to the Get Out! Film screening in April, as well as about moments where others made assumptions about them, personal connections they were surprised to have, their thoughts about the changing Island demographics, and the impact of the closure of Goldwater Hospital on the community. Children were asked about bullying, their friendships, and whether children of other races or abilities than theirs are treated differently.
Everyone was asked whether they are hopeful about the future of our Island community, and where they draw that hope from.
Participation came from all corners of the Island, and included kids, parents, teens, Coler residents, and Cornell Tech faculty and students.
Girls from Troop 3001 interview Island youth as part of the Word to RI project.
They spoke eagerly and honestly, and their answers differed as much as the people giving them.
One Islander, a 42-year old mother and new arrival to the community, told interviewers she found hope in the friendships her child has made. Another, also 42, was less optimistic. “There is no future on this Island,” she told the interviewer.
For many of those who spoke, housing issues were a large concern. “I don’t know that I’m that hopeful for the Island,” said one participant. “If you want to stay here you need to hit a home run on your housing.”
A graduate student, identifying himself as the only black person in computer science at Cornell Tech, discussed the pressure of representing the community, and how it feels to look around and not see anyone that looks like you. Another Islander talked about “cliques and tribes and groups” that come with gentrification.
If there was any consensus, it was that Islanders of all demographics are actively thinking about the community and the changes they’re seeing.
You can listen to interviews at WordtoRI.com. Island residents, workers, and visitors who haven’t already participated are encouraged to submit their own responses to the project’s questions. Submissions can be video, audio, or visual. Send submissions to GetOutIsland@gmail.com.