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Community organizer David Alexis finds his voice and his village

The son of Haitian immigrants, David Alexis has experienced many of the struggles he’s spent his career helping others overcome: joblessness, debt, and lack of support. Alexis is a longtime community organizer, particularly in Brooklyn, where he lives with his wife and two children. He’s a Lyft driver and co-founder of the Drivers Cooperative, the largest employee-owned co-op in the country. Last year, he ran as a democratic socialist candidate for State Senate in District 21 in Brooklyn, New York, which includes the neighborhoods Kensington, Flatbush and Midwood.

He spoke with Carefully about how he navigated his young adult years, why community is so vital to families, and the importance of asking for help.

CAREFULLY: What role does community play in the lives of young families?

DAVID ALEXIS: Young parents who are responsible for children don’t always know it all, and they don't always have someone to guide them. Even more compounded, many didn’t grow up with a mentor or parent supporting them along the way.

It took a ton of people to invest their time in me so I could do a better job to support my family. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t had that support. We often talk about how it takes a village, but what does that look like? How are we able to take advantage of services like early intervention? Had Carefully been a fully fledged thing when I was first raising kids, it would have been exactly what I needed—but I didn't know how to put that need into words.

How do you approach your work as a community organizer?

As someone who’s seen the beautiful and ugly that can come when we organize, I’m particular about creating community rules of engagement. We all come with our own baggage. It’s really important that when we get triggered—which is a normal thing to happen—we have spaces and structures to allow us to navigate the situation in the best way possible. Sometimes it will be ugly as crap, but as long as you have a way to help people move through the process, that’s a great thing. Practice makes progress.

Where do children fit into this process?

Children are the most vulnerable constituency in a society. They don’t have a voice. Things are just done to them. What information can parents receive that gives them options, and the courage to take the initial steps to ask for help if they need it? The right information and resources, offered to the right person, from the right messenger, can be really powerful.

What’s the historical context behind where we are today with childcare and community?

For the last 30 to 40 years, public services—like the New Deal and Public Works—changed the lives of millions of people, helping them improve their circumstances and enter the middle class for the first time. That shows the impact of these programs. But we’ve seen a lot of austerity. Starting

Photos via David Alexis for State Senate

in the late ‘70s with President Ronald Regan, we saw a divestment through money for staff and jobs—this idea that the government can be too big.

The result? Gentrification, increased cost of living, loss of jobs and opportunities, and a big change in the job market. Unemployment increased overall in black and brown communities. Manufacturing went to cheaper markets abroad. We lost a lot of jobs due to deindustrialization, to jobs moving to China, and to the crack cocaine epidemic, which terrorized working communities, particularly black communities.

“The right information and resources, offered to the right person, from the right messenger, can be really powerful.”

All these factors started a cycle in working communities: Folks who’ve been displaced worked really hard to build up their community, making it an attractive community to invest in, and then investors came in and took advantage—and the very folks who built up the community now couldn't afford to live there. They couldn't even afford to shop in their community. It’s the story of New York City, and any major city in the U.S.—San Francisco, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Austin.

Within this broader context, where can families find support?

In my activism and personal work, whether organizing as a father with other fathers around breastfeeding, or as a person who lives in East Flatbush and seen the divestment over the last years, or as a driver who worked in the gig economy—who was worked over by Uber and other predatory companies, and tried organizing to push back against that, and having to rely on services because the job alone wasn’t enough to allow me to provide the things I needed— In all these hats I’ve worn over the years, it’s become clear to me that the services I’ve been able to rely on have been universal programs.

“Sometimes you’ll get rejected 99 times, but that 100th person who responds, who helps to work and organize with you, the impact is enormous.”

To be really revolutionary, make healthcare, childcare, and education universal. Look at public works projects. Look at social security. Things we have to share regardless of class are some of the most durable institutions. But we’ve gutted programs that used to help the middle class. In the U.S., the mentality is that some people are more deserving than others. If I can be conspiratorial when I say this, for a country that highlights freedom, it includes a freedom of certain groups to dominate others.

Let’s linger on the same question—where, then, can families find help?

It takes a village to raise each individual. When you’re on the brink of poverty, or wondering whether you can stay in your home and pay your bills, or when you’re one paycheck or misstep away from the end, you begin to see what is really important. It always starts with the people. With the mother who was not going to let her situation define the life of her family. Or the dad going to work three jobs and finesse his way forward until he could take advantage of an opportunity to change the trajectory of his and his children’s lives.

I started a work co-op for drivers. I became a lactation consultant to help change the vision men have of breastfeeding. I want to be a part of the change we want to see. Whenever you reach your limit, reach out for support. Sometimes you’ll get rejected 99 times, but that 100th person who responds, who helps to work and organize with you, the impact is enormous. That 100th person who reciprocates is a game changer, and can be so impactful that it was worth it to go through those 99 folks just to find that person.


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