EVERYONE deserves the right, and needs to, speak. Additionally, everyone needs to listen. Often with incredibly hard and uncomfortable realities, humans are guilty of talking at each other, not to. Everyone must speak their truth. And, everyone must listen.
As part of our series about 5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Pizza.
Marisa became involved in Farmingville in 2009, when the community was in the height of a racial divide. When she joined the Farmingville Residents Association’s civic board in 2010, they were on the brink of closing the office. Marisa made it her mission to keep FRA (Farmingville Residents Association, Inc.) alive, and 10 years later, they are still going strong.
Marisa is fortunate to work with wonderful teams of empowering people who allow her to do what she loves. This covers a wide breadth of tasks for her community. She has established a county-wise Anti-Graffti taskforce, vice-chairs the Green Party of Suffolk County, works with the Suffolk County Board of Elections, along with more local endeavors, such as sitting on the board of Town of Brookhaven Women and Youth Board, the Farmingville Hills Chamber of Commerce, and the Farmingville Historical Society.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up in Farmingville, in Suffolk County, Long Island. My parents have always encouraged me to live life and be who I am. My sister is 14 years older than me. Even though I always dressed differently than the norm, I had a welcoming experience growing up. I have loved volunteering from an early age. I have always had cats and dogs. They are my family, and I am so lucky to have them as my family members.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read Anna Quindlen’s “Object Lessons” in 9th grade. It taught me to always remember that the world cannot ever be tied up in a perfect bow. We, and life, are perfectly imperfect.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
This is from Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul (no author credited). To me, it perfectly sums up the human experience:
Life isn’t about keeping score. It’s not about how
many people call you and it’s not about who you’ve
dated, are dating or haven’t dated at all. It isn’t
about who you’ve kissed, what sport you play, or which
guy or girl likes you. It’s not about your shoes or
your hair or the color of your skin or where you live
or go to school. In fact, it’s not about grades,
money, clothes, or colleges that accept you or not.
Life isn’t about if you have lots of friends, or if
you are alone, and it’s not about how accepted or
unaccepted you are. Life just isn’t about that.
But life is about who you love and who you hurt. It’s
about how you feel about yourself. It’s about trust,
happiness and compassion. It’s about sticking up for
your friends and replacing inner hate with love. Life
is about avoiding jealousy, overcoming ignorance and
building confidence. It’s about what you say and what
you mean. It’s about seeing people for who they are
and not what they have. Most of all, it is about
choosing to use your life to touch someone else’s in a
way that could never have been achieved otherwise.
These choices are what life’s about.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership, to me, is formulating a vision and following through. Collecting data, and pouring over facts that ultimately lead you to your end goal. You do not wait for the popular path. You blaze the trail.
In life we come across many people, some who inspire us, some who change us and some who make us better people. Is there a person or people who have helped you get to where you are today? Can you share a story?
Countless amazing people! My parents and sister, from a young age, always told me to go out and get involved in my community. Be the change that I wished to see in the world. So, I have. I am also grateful for my boyfriend and friends. I go a million miles an hour by nature. Even when I am sure it isn’t easy, they support me.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
The systemic change discussions between law enforcement and the black community. It resonates with me because we lived through our own version of this struggle in Farmingville, and ultimately, have systemically changed our community.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
As human beings, we all have views, beliefs, and feelings. That is the beautiful part of the human experience. However, if all parties do not work together in tandem and have the hard conversations, there will always be massive things unsaid and undone.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
I live in Farmingville, New York. You may have heard of my hamlet. In 2004, there was a movie, titled “Farmingville”, which aired on PBS, and won Sundance Film Festival awards..
In the current world, much of what we in Farmingville learned, worked toward, and ultimately achieved, resonates deeply.
In the late 1990s, about 1,500 people relocated from Hidalgo, Mexico to Farmingville, NY. Some came to Farmingville legally, and some did not obtain citizenship. A rift formed in our once sleepy suburban town and it was full of protests, fire bombings, flag burnings, which lead to two (2) attempted murders. Hate crime rates were through the roof. Things hit a fever pitch around 2006, right around when I graduated from St. John’s University and moved back to Farmingville full-time.
As a 21 year old starting work full-time, I saw positive changes begin in my community. I wanted to know what organization was responsible for things beginning to shift.
It turned out the civic Farmingville Resident’s Association (FRA) was formed in April 2006 by a group of residents who decided to truly take action. Instead of fighting about right from wrong, FRA took the approach of “let’s see what ALL residents have in common, and work from there.” What were those commonalities? We all live in Farmingville, and we all love our community. Just those two points showed that all 15,000 plus residents had things IN COMMON.
I actually joined the organization in 2009, when I had settled into ‘adulting’ a bit. Things were still new then, and there were still tensions. But we held consistent town hall meetings — for years and years — and had all members of our community came together to have the hard, uncomfortable conversations, in the same room.
Farmingville is a diverse working-class community. The room would consistently be filled with strong presences from our African American community, our Latino community, our Caucasian community, our Portuguese community, our Asian community, our police department (from the Inspector of our 6th precinct to bilingual officers), and our elected officials. FRA made it imperative that ALL aspects of the community had to see each other, have the hard discussions, and come up with solutions.
In 2010, I was voted in to join the Board of Directors and since 2014 I have been the Executive Director. But what I look forward to most every year is our Community Day in August. Why? Because this event is now held in partnership with Helping Hands Outreach Ministry, One More For Jesus Church, Sachem Public Library, YMCA Long Island, and the incredible COPE unit of the 6th precinct of the Suffolk County Police Department. We put it on as a team and represent the melting pot of beliefs, cultures, and races which make up our community. But, to us, we don’t think twice about it these days.
When the world is in a true struggle today, having very real and very challenging conversations regarding the black community and the police, in Farmingville, we are partners. We are equals. We have come so far from where we began. We have learned what worked. And, we continue to work each and every day to become better.
From where we started to where we are today, my hope is that our small piece of the globe can serve as a manual for every community around the world to read and duplicate. If it works in Farmingville, my hope is that every community around the globe can be systematically changed for the better.
We are 14 years into our journey, and we are just getting started.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
The overall summary of what the Farmingville community has accomplished together is summarized above. From our success (that we continue to better ourselves on and work on each day), we have learned the following:
- Hold town hall meetings. Often. For years. ALL members of the community who stand on all sides of the situation MUST be in the same room (area, etc.) regularly, having the hard discussions. We did this for many years in our hamlet, and still do. Systemic change is created by the entire population.
- EVERYONE deserves the right, and needs to, speak. Additionally, everyone needs to listen. Often with incredibly hard and uncomfortable realities, humans are guilty of talking at each other, not to. Everyone must speak their truth. And, everyone must listen.
- Speak your truth. There is no one right or wrong. There are rights and wrongs on all sides, as perceived by the other side. Be honest. Now more than ever is the time to lay all cards, feelings, stories, and hardships on the table.
- Find your commonalities. I personally, in my humble opinion, truly believe that every single one of us can find one thing we have in common. Start with the basic. Do you all love your community? We know what divides us. We know there are serious issues at hand to be bettered and changed. Start with one thing that everyone in the room agrees with.
- Be open to change. Change is HARD. For everyone. To systematically, and truly, change the United States of America, communities across the country have to be 100% open to change.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
Absolutely. The first step that we took in Farmingville was getting everyone from all aspects of the community in the same location to discuss the situation. Leaders from all cultures and races. Elected officials. Police officers. Bilingual officers. Residents. People who had previously gone out of their way to avoid one another HAD to all be brought together.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
I am. If you watch the documentary on Farmingville, then came to our hamlet today, you wouldn’t believe it is the same community. I would love for the film directors to shoot a modern update. If Farmingville, NY could successfully create systemic change, the model and approaches that we took can be repeated throughout communities across the nation.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
This is your home. You live here, work here, and you want it to be the best that it can be for everyone.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Pink. She is real and inspiring.
How can our readers follow you online?
Marisa Pizza on Facebook or @marispizza11738 on Instagram.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!