Bensonhurst Alliance continues dialogue with civic leaders

May 29, 2018 Paula Katinas
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An organization formed by Community Board 11 officials to foster a dialogue among various ethnic groups living in Bensonhurst to prevent minor tensions from flaring up into major confrontations has entered its second year of existence with plans to expand its outreach to neighborhood leaders.

The Bensonhurst Alliance has been busy this year building up relationships with the leaders of various civic organizations, according to Board 11 District Manager Marnee Elias-Pavia, who co-founded the group with Board 11 Chairperson William Guarinello.

“It has been quiet. But we are continuing our outreach to community organizations,” Elias-Pavia said, adding that the goal is to get everyone to work together.

Formed in 2017, the alliance is composed of leaders of the Asian, Russian and Middle Eastern communities in Bensonhurst, as well as members of CB 11 and the 62nd Precinct Community Council.

Elias-Pavia and Guarinello decided to organize the new group in response to ugly, bigoted, anti-Asian comments posted on social media and local news websites after J-Mart, an Asian food market based in Queens, won a bidding war for the former Waldbaum’s supermarket site at 8121 New Utrecht Avenue and made plans to open a new store. The Asian supermarket has since opened at the site.

“We saw some of the unfortunate comments,” Elias-Pavia said.

Bensonhurst, which was an Italian-American enclave for more than 50 years, has become more culturally diverse in recent years as Italian-Americans moved out of the neighborhood and large numbers of Asians, Russians, Mexicans, Arabs and people from Central America moved in.

A 2013 study conducted by the New York University Furman Center named Bensonhurst one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city. The same study also found that 56 percent of the community’s residents were born outside of the United States.

The idea for a multi-cultural alliance has been percolating for years. Guarinello first got the idea a few years ago following a disturbing incident in which pages from the Koran were found torn to shreds on the streets of Bath Beach. Concerned that the anti-Muslim act would spawn community infighting, Guarinello organized a round-table discussion with local Muslim leaders. The ugly comments about J-Mart also emboldened Elias-Pavia and Guarinello to take action to combat the bigotry.

The result was the Bensonhurst Alliance. The new group held a series of meetings, developed a mission statement and got to work.

In addition to an ongoing dialogue, the alliance has found other ways to foster community cooperation.

In May of 2017, the group sponsored a Community Day of Action in which volunteers spent a day sweeping litter off sidewalks and removing advertising flyers glued to street poles along Bath Avenue.

The idea behind the event was to instill a sense of pride in local residents, Elias-Pavia said.

For more information on the alliance, call Community Board 11 at 718-266-8800.


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