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Exploring Life & Business with Zaakiyah Brisker of Community Services Unlimited

Today we’d like to introduce you to Zaakiyah Brisker.

Hi Zaakiyah, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Community Services Unlimited has its roots in the New Black Panther Vanguard. When the NBPP dissolved, a few members decided to continue their work of building a sustainable, equitable and community-driven food system in South Central Los Angeles. In 1977, CSU was created to continue this work starting from pop-up produce stands and small gardening workshops to now having a brick and mortar space called the Paul Robeson Community Wellness Center, previously owned by Paul Robeson’s family, owning a small grocery social enterprise called the Village Market Place as well it’s own mini urban farm called the CSU Mini Expo Farm which is located not that farm from USC. Today, CSU services the community by working with the community to maintain the CSU Mini Expo Farm, working with local farmers and makers to bring quality foods and products to South Central, as well as hosting gardening, wellness and youth program aimed to promote the wellbeing of the community.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
CSU is a collective dream that has been slowly manifesting for more than 40 years. Since then, there has been tension with growing gentrification in the neighborhood, locating funding for our project and bandwidth with meeting the needs of a community that has been grossly impacted by COVID while already being most vulnerable to poverty and illness.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Although CSU has its roots in the New Black Panther Vanguard which has been known to center black issues, like the Oakland chapter of the Black Panther Party with famed Huey P. Newton, CSU is a multicultural space whose diversity is a natural result of building harmony within the community.

CSU specifically specializes in food justice in South Central Los Angeles. This means offering space for community members to education themselves on their relationship to food and building resiliency in a landscape riddled with gentrification. Today, CSU offers Garden Gateway workshops which is a free education workshop that is hosted. It also has become a pathway for community members with low-income to sign up for Calfresh and for community members to save money through LADWP programs.

The Village Market Place is a fully functioning small grocer with only organic produces and locally grown produce. Within it is the Soulful Cafe which offers organic cafe items. The Village Market Place is proud to be the only grocer in South Central Los Angeles to offer a 75% off of produce for Calfresh recipients and an After-school Snack Program for school-aged children. This is make it so that the community can get the most for their dollar.

CSU is currently working toward building a small business incubator for food entrepreneurs in the community. This small business incubator will include training in business finance, marketing and food handling certifications.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
The radical beginnings of CSU is a testimony of the necessary risk that is involved in building sustainable models that promote the welfare of the South Central Los Angeles Community. Risk is always double-sided, involving both the risk of succeeding and all its implications as well as the risk of failing. For far too long has the community been neglected due to apathy and ignorance. At CSU, many of the workers take risks everyday walking out of their doors in a community that has high rates of COVID, violence and mental and physical illnesses. Many of the workers take risks with their work being misunderstood and misinterpreted by those who do not understand our work. Many of the workers risk much of their time to the cause of CSU, a non-profit that must continue find innovative ways to fund itself. However, CSU is proud to work with these works, members of the community, who have prioritized who risk succeeding rather than failing the community.

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Zaakiyah Brisker

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