You Want to Defund the Arab American Association? Really?

The Post's Andrea Peyser on AAANY
Background image via Gawker

Recently there has been a lot of New York Post-type noise about a certain sum of city money that gets allocated to my organization, the Arab American Association of New York. Granted, when this noise began, I dismissed it as drama that only the Post would care about. But since this story has now officially led to a death threat and wannabe councilmen claiming it as grounds for their own advancement, I feel it’s time for some real talk.

I am the Deputy Director of the Arab American Association of New York. We are a community-based organization located right in the neighborhood—which happens to also be the largest Arab community in the city. We serve well over 100 people a day through our direct services, or about 4,000 people a year: teaching them English, helping them get jobs, helping permanent residents become citizens, and providing SAT tutoring and college readiness for youth. Our budget—and this is public information—is approximately $550,000 per year. I’m going to repeat that. We serve 4,000 people, and employ 12 staff members, with $550,000 per year. Since everyone screaming about funding is having a hard time putting numbers into real-life perspective, that’s about $132 per person that we serve. Which would mean that the $7,500 we received from Councilmember Gentile this year serves about 57 people. The remaining 3,943 clients? We’ve got to figure that out on our own.

And in the process of serving 4,000 people per year, no one at this organization, and I mean no one, makes the wage they deserve, despite the enormous amounts of effort and work put in each day by our tireless staff. We are an organization that runs on passion for assisting others, and the drive of those who feel the need to support and empower their community. This is, sadly, fairly typical of a nonprofit. But nonetheless, we’ve been blessed with staff that have made significant sacrifices throughout the 15 years of our operation in order to keep our doors open. (And speaking of our doors, the front one is broken. We honestly can’t justify using the funds we could use for salaries in order to fix it, when the other one works just fine.)

All of this is why it’s so incredibly infuriating to read the articles of Andrea Peyser, Bob Capano and Rich Calder over the past two weeks, not to mention the comments on social media, that are calling for city officials to revoke our funding.

None of these articles, and none of the internet trolls working hard to undermine our fearless Executive Director (without whom this organization wouldn’t be half as effective), have mentioned our social services, nor the benefit this organization provides to the community. I suspect that this is because they’ve never taken the time to visit us, and they don’t actually care about these services being provided to the Arab community. Otherwise, why would one be okay with treating 4,000 people per year as collateral damage to their ill-founded political rants?

Here’s a quick tutorial for everyone—from Peyser to the trolls—on how councilmember-funding works for nonprofits:

Councilman Gentile and other elected officials make awards through something called “discretionary funding.” This funding is something each organization must apply for, and must use exclusively for the program designated by the elected official. As is clearly stated on the council website: our discretionary funding is used for our Arab American Family Education Initiative, which encompasses ESOL instruction, SAT tutoring and youth leadership programs, and civics instruction. That’s right, Mr. Calder et. al.: we teach immigrants English. Are you happy now?

Yes, our organization conducts advocacy and civic engagement efforts on issues like police reform, immigration reform, and education initiatives. We represent the issues that affect this community the most, and we do a damn good job of it. But again, if you’re worried about city-funding going toward, god forbid, Arabs building political power: none of this is covered by discretionary funding. Our advocacy efforts are covered by private foundations that are invested in building the power of social movements. Don’t agree with the priorities of those foundations? That’s fine. You can go support Pamela Gellar’s group instead. (Though, one should be careful. Her organization is actually classified as a hate group.)

Finally, as Councilmember Gentile pointed out: discretionary funding goes to local programs serving local residents. Don’t agree with a 5-year-old Palestinian child under occupation defending himself with rocks against machine guns? Well, I don’t agree with a councilmember calling a 5-year-old “barbaric.” But, that’s an issue not fit for this local blog, nor this local council budget. In the meantime, would you like more than 57 Arab immigrants in your neighborhood to learn English? Awesome. You should ask your local councilmember to give us more funding.

Here’s the simple fact. Our Executive Director is a nonprofit leader by day—every other day, to be precise, because she is part-time—and an activist by night. And since she’s not a city employee, this is totally okay. If anything, you should be going after the councilman who apparently uses your taxpayer dollars to tweet about Palestine. (And let’s remember Ms. Peyser’s own tendencies toward compassion—she notoriously once called an established female journalist a “war slut” on record.) Meanwhile, we’re not setting the best example locally, either. With Bay Ridge discussion groups (albeit, the usual suspects) teeming with hateful comments, including a call to “assassinate this troll racist bitch,” which still remains on the page and has been liked by several community members. I don’t think I need to fall over myself pointing out the irony here.

Honestly, the local domain is the part I’m most disappointed by. It’s a shame that the first time a bunch of my neighbors are actually concerned about our funding, it’s because they want to take some of it away. (And that it comes on the heels of a New York Post article, nonetheless!) And while I have my suspicions that this is about more than just a lack of knowledge regarding how city funding works, I’m going to chalk it up optimistically to folks simply not understanding who we are, what we do and who we serve with our $7,500 of funding.

So I’m extending an invitation to everyone from Ms. Peyser to my neighbors. Want to voice your opinions about AAANY to AAANY? Reach out to me directly—I’ll start taking office hours. And if, even better, you’d like to throw five bucks at us so we can fix our door, it’d be much appreciated.

38 comments on “You Want to Defund the Arab American Association? Really?

  1. wow, what a shame. A wonderfully written article, and I’m ashamed about my fellow new yorkers wasting their time trying to destroy such hard and good work.

  2. FB determined the “assassination” comment as not offensive which does not excuse the fact that it remains.

  3. If the organization receives less than $10,000 a year from Gentile, who funds the additional $500,000 for the AAANY?
    Calling people who disagree with Linda bigots, zionists and trolls, doesn’t really lead to open and honest conversations.
    If Linda really wants the BR community to rally around her, she needs to stop being so aggressive and hateful when people disagree with her.

    1. Hi ScarlettNY. This is public information but sometimes it is hard to find, so I’ll break it down here. The majority of our funding – nearly 70% – is through private foundations and our own fundraising efforts. City funding accounts for less than 15% of our budget, and the remaining quarter is through NY State. Hope that’s helpful.

          1. Best practices for an organization with a budget this size is an audited financial statement, either on the website or available to constituents via email. This is different than Guidestar.

      1. I’ve seen equally vile posts on Linda’s Facebook and Twitter pages from her followers. Calling for death to Jews and whites. One cannot feign outrage when she condones the same behavior on her own page.

        1. Right; no need to stand above that type of behavior. What I don’t understand is condemning an entire association based on one part time person. While I whole-heartly believe that Sansour thinks and acts like she is entitled to play any role she wants when she wants to while hiding behind the I’m not a politician bullshit stance; to condemn an entire community association that has done nothing to promote or support her “personal” agenda is just wrong. If the idea is to push her out: I don’t take issue with that.

          1. I don’t believe that most people are condemning an entire community based on Linda. However, the communities silence, indicates that they agree with her. She continues to to speak on their behalf.
            Bay Ridge is a loving, welcoming community. Arabs have lived in harmony, as locals, for generations. Linda’s divisiveness is destroying what people hold dear about this community.
            There is an absolute need to stand above unacceptable behavior, let it begin with the loudest “victim” aka Linda.

          2. It’s a sad shame that there don’t seem to be any other prominent and vocal Arab American leaders in Bay Ridge who can or are willing to counter Sarsour’s hateful rhetoric. But that doesn’t mean the rest of the Arab American Bay Ridge community agrees. As a Bay Ridge Jew with numerous Arab American friends in the area I can attest to that.

    2. Good answer! She’s a bad influence in our community. She also is a bad influence on our children. Get her out of our community. #freebobo

    3. I admire the organization and Linda’s ability as an organizer – however, she has to understand that when you say controversial things you’re going to get to a strong response back. Dismissing anyone whose opinion is different as a zionist, bigot is not helpful. The issues that fact the Muslim/Arab community are relatively new to people in the community. People are more likely to be sympathetic to these issues if they understand them better.

  4. Hey at least not there is no longer any debate about Hey Ridge being a socialist propaganda publication. And I like how Kayla tries to discredit the NY Post..but yet uses the SPLC as some sort of authority on defining “hate groups”. Both are equally bias towards thier political ideals.

    Linda is a Hamas supporter. Thats all her non-Muslim neighbors need to know about the AANY.

    1. So a well-written, informative blog is “socialist propaganda” if an article doesn’t jive with your jingoistic, ignorant opinion? I won’t offend smart and sensible conservatives by assuming you’re politically aligned with them. More likely a basic bro who prides himself in ignoring facts, just like “news” publication you defend.

  5. 2 questions open to all (but I’m looking for concrete facts):
    –Some believe that Sarsour is a bad influence in our community. Why specifically? She may be, but I’d like to know why. Most people I know in Bay Ridge have no idea who she is.
    –Aside from Sarsour, is there anything the Arab American Association does that is hurting Bay Ridge? I don’t have an answer.

    1. By the way, the New York Post is a paper that a lot of community members like and grew up with, including myself.

  6. Lines are blurred here. Advocacy, lobbying, and service provision have to be delineated in nonprofit. In this article the deputy director uses her title (not just her name, as a private citizen) while making political statements.

    1. Hi LauraNY. We do not lobby, as we are a 501c3. Advocacy and social services *are* delineated by funding source, which is the essence of this article. Government funding goes to social services, not to advocacy work.

        1. 501(c)(3) orgs CAN lobby. They can spend up to $1 million on lobbying, up to $250,000 of which can be grassroots. They cannot explicitly support or not support specific candidates. Direct services coupled with advocacy make nonprofits effective.

  7. I’m not sure that your blog shud be proselytizing and using this blog for this type of thing, even with the disclaimer (which nobody will read) that Kayla works for the company in question. Kind of sketchy if you ask me. Kayla, you really should refrain yourself on this issue. The issue here is not with the good works are not AAANY — no one is discounting that — rather, the question here is lays with Linda, her views, her behavior, the things she said, etc. I am not sure how anyone could argue how Linda carries herself “gels” with a non-profit social services organization. There is a big difference between those that help the needy and the things Linda says in her speeches throughout the nation. If you do not see that then I am not sure what else there is for me to say. But let us stop pretending. This smells of cognitive dissonance.

    Finally, as a deeply entrenched Brooklyn, I am very aware of the good deeds and extensive range of services for urgent relief of the Arab American Associaton of New York has provided the Syrian community since 2001. But I have become concerned for the future of this essential organization under the leadership of its notorious Executive Director Linda Sarsour.

    I believe that Kayla and others are putting their organization and those who aid from it in great danger by keeping Mrs. Sarsour as the face of said organization. It is important to understand that I am not an opponent of Ms. Sarsour, but I do not think that she should be the Executive Director of this organization. Mrs. Sarsour says many things which are necessary and many of these ideas need to be heard and discussed by the people, however Kayla it paints your organization in a political perspective and putting women and children that help in the danger of waking up one day to no more Arab American Association. And that is the true irony here – not the odious trash that anonymous persons post on messageboards or on Facebook.

  8. More overt racism from @disqus_U4w4fxEgDD:disqus and company, likely members of the #freebobo movement, and unable to process rational, objective thought. Your Bay Ridge is changing. Just like my mom’s Italian Harlem changed. Just like my Dad’s Italian Flushing changed. It’s NYC. It changes. You live in a liberal city, known globally for its culture, universities, industry and inclusive policy of taking in immigrants in hopes for a better life. There’s plenty of cheap real estate in Alabama. Go for it.

  9. Pretty HILARIOUS how the majority of Linda Sarsour’s critics- don’t LIVE in Bay Ridge but still hold claim to it. Great, you lived here in the 70’s, 80’s, we get it. Most of your claims against Linda are exactly what she is fighting against: racism, bigotry, and hate. If you are not a white supremacist, what do you have to worry about? If you are not a racist, bigot, or islamophobe, what exactly does she do that scares you? Being a woman, a Muslim, covers her hair, empowers the her community to integrate into American civic life? Not sure, but your hate for her, is on you. Not her. You claim she’s a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer: where is your proof? In this great Nation thats called slander and libel- she LEGALLY has the right to sue you. The only terrorists I see are the idiots posting stupid shit in the comments thread or in Facebook groups threatening a woman to kill, rape, and hurt her family. What if the role was reversed and it were a white, catholic woman advocating for her community? There would be outrage. Also, all you non-profit regulation experts, an organization can LOBBY, conduct advocacy, and provide social services. Your issue here isn’t really with Linda or AAANY, its with your distaste that someone in the Arab/Muslim community is actually looked upon as a City, State, and National leader. Your issue is with women who command power. Your issue is your hate of a people based on their faith. So, instead of going after a organization thats promoting civic engagement, youth leadership, teaching english classes, and fighting for justice- you should reflect on yourself and how your ignorance has created a community of hate.

  10. Pretty HILARIOUS how the majority of Linda Sarsour’s critics- don’t LIVE in Bay Ridge but still hold claim to it. Great, you lived here in the 70’s, 80’s, we get it. Most of your claims against Linda are exactly what she is fighting against: racism, bigotry, and hate. If you are not a white supremacist, what do you have to worry about? If you are not a racist, bigot, or islamophobe, what exactly does she do that scares you? Being a woman, a Muslim, covers her hair, empowers the her community to integrate into American civic life? Not sure, but your hate for her, is on you. Not her. You claim she’s a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer: where is your proof? In this great Nation thats called slander and libel- she LEGALLY has the right to sue you. The only terrorists I see are the idiots posting stupid shit in the comments thread or in Facebook groups threatening a woman to kill, rape, and hurt her family. What if the role was reversed and it were a white, catholic woman advocating for her community? There would be outrage. Also, all you non-profit regulation experts, an organization can LOBBY, conduct advocacy, and provide social services. Your issue here isn’t really with Linda or AAANY, its with your distaste that someone in the Arab/Muslim community is actually look upon as a City, State, and National leader. Your issue is with women who command power. Your issue is your hate of a people based on their faith. So, instead of going after a organization thats promoting civic engagement, youth leadership, teaching english classes, and fighting for justice- you should reflect on yourself and how your ignorance has created a community of hate.

Comments are closed.