After decades of serving the Caribbean community locally and abroad, the Caribbean American Center of New York (CACNY) is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The Brooklyn-based center has been a leading organization in helping communities of color with a multitude of services and this is only just the start, said its founder who sees an even bigger future for the center.
“We want the center to go on with the sort of services that we can provide to impact the community for the next 30 more years,” said Jean Alexander co-founder and executive director of the CACNY.“What we want to do now is a more of hands-on approach as to what is required in terms of our youth and the issues — and to deal with hardships the kids have.”
A one-woman staff, Alexander has managed the non-profit organization solo for most of its existence, she said. She is also a board member for the West Indian American Day Carnival Association (WIADCA).
“Almost for the whole 30 years I’ve done all the typing. I do all the begging and I don’t only do it for CACNY, I also do it for WIADCA,” she said.
The Caribbean American Center of New York was founded by Alexander and Christopher King in 1980, almost a decade after she immigrated to the states from Trinidad and Tobago. When she came to Brooklyn in 1971 she discovered the lack of services and programs available to immigrants, and recalled a childhood where similar services were also absent, she said. Recalling her childhood and having to leave school early to care for her family, she was inspired to ensure that she could help the children, particularly in avoiding situations she encountered.
“Me not having those opportunities made it so much more important that I do the best to help other young people, especially the immigrant community,” said Alexander. With financial support from Manufacturers Hanover Bank and backing from Caribbean community leaders, Dr. Eugene Stanislaus, Karl Rodney,and Burchfield Moore, the group formed the first board for the center. The lack of a salary in running CACNY is a challenge and finding volunteers to display similar commitment is difficult she said, but Alexander continued to manage for three decades because she felt it was her responsibility.
“I’m not crazy to think someone is going to sit here even for a week to help — especially as a small non-profit that only relies on voluntary hands,” she said. “I have never been paid and nobody in here has ever been paid. But I have the motivation because the burden is on my shoulder.”
Alexander created multiple programs and services over the decades, but there were several she was most proud of including her aid to the homeless and immigration advisories, some still running and others now defunct. With the exception of an annual gala, every other service or program the CACNY creates is free, and next month the organisation will be hosting a joint event with Summit Charter Academy, which will show families and college bound students how to apply for financial assistance, she said.