Last month a Trenton-based organization, We Are Building Open Opportunity Structures Together (We Are BOOST), held sustainable design seminars at a spa in Highland Park. Last week it fielded a panel of environmental speakers at the Princeton Public Library’s environmental film festival. Currently it is sponsoring emotional intelligence classes at Classics Bookstore in Trenton and held a recent “regifting” event to collect donations to benefit the needy; Labyrinth Bookstore on Nassau Street was one of the drop off points.
Since BOOST was founded in 2005, it has staged more than 200 seminars. “I have been told by some foundations that the green movement is lily white and wealthy, and they want me to help get more African Americans involved,” says the man behind this whirlwind schedule Tim Razzaq. “BOOST brings diverse audiences together.”
Next in this aggressive series of events will be an “Inventing the Future” forum, “Rebuilding Communities from the Inside Out,” set for Saturday, January 17, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Planet Havana, 449 South Broad Street in Trenton.
More than a dozen people, ranging from Alvyn Haywood of Mercer County Community College to Priscilla Hayes of the Rutgers Solid Waste Renewal Group, will speak. Prizes will be awarded to the Trenton Week without Violence Youth Poetry Award winners. Topics include Challenges and Opportunities of Urban Agriculture, Chromium 6 and Urban Environmental Racism Revealed and Exposed, Clean Water: an Urban and Global Crisis, and Building Strong Communities One Daughter at a Time. Admission is free, though donations are welcome. Call 206-202-2883 for vendor inquiries or E-mail email@example.com.
Razzaq, 40, has been active in community development for 20 years. A self-educated high school graduate, Razzaq marches to his own cadence and has the ability to attract other marchers in his quest to make change happen by leveraging people’s passions. Eric Maywar, owner of Classics Bookstore, says Razzaq has “more energy than anybody I know. He seems to be involved in just everything. He is a big proponent of getting people together to talk about issues.”
Razzaq is an effective talker who has had much success using E-mail to attract sponsors, speakers, donations, and attendees. “Busy people with busy lives don’t have time to make those contacts,” says Razzaq in a telephone interview. “We are a public policy and advocacy organization, not a service provider. We are building bridges and bringing new energy and attention to the issues.”
The website (www.weareboost.com) offers an opportunity to donate, but Razzaq says no one has offered a money donation through the web. BOOST has not yet achieved the status of a 501c3 nonprofit organization, though Razzaq has been working toward that for two years. He says the legal work is being done pro bono by a member of the Trenton Society of Friends, with which Razzaq is associated.
Razzaq currently runs both BOOST and his consulting firm from his home office in Bordentown, but he also has space in the Trenton Makes complex at 449 South Broad Street. He aims to expand BOOST’s current budget of $50,000, which includes in-kind donations of space and speakers’ fees, and to move to 2,000 square feet of commercial space in Trenton, but says he does not base his plans on grants from foundations.
BOOST’s board of directors includes Haywood, Marcy Fisher and Denise Higgins of Catholic Charities, Barbara Stange of Simply Natural Living, Amini Sababu of Positive Black Images CONNECT, Sean Jacobs of BrioVim Yoga, and filmmaker Christopher Zelov of the Manhattan-based Knossus Project. Event sponsors include Trenton Makes LLC; Advancement Enterprises Insurance and Financial Services; Planet Havana Restaurant and Night Club; and Royalty Productions and Services LCC, also the designer of the group’s website.
Jason Kliwinski, a LEED certified architect who graduated from the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 1994, lauds how BOOST workshops attract people of differing ages, races, and incomes — “from down-and-outers and struggling college students to business owners interested in hearing what it can do for them and local residents who want to know how they can help themselves.” BOOST, says Kliwinski, is responsible for “more public relations and outreach than I have seen from any other organization, largely credited to Tim, who has the drive and energy.” Kliwinski, an associate at Spiezle Architectural Group, has been featured at four BOOST events.
Razzaq grew up in Bordentown, the son of a U.S. Army soldier and an office manager, and raised his son in Trenton. He has two sisters and a brother, and his son, who graduated from Trenton High, is at Florida State. Razzaq changed his name from his family name, Glass, in 1987 when he started a company, Razzaq’s Books, to go door-to-door selling Afro-centric literature. He did so well that he got a job with the publisher of some of those books, Red Sea Press, from 1990 to 2001. He also did community organizing for the Latino Community Land Trust in Trenton, which manages a five-story housing complex.
Despite being frustrated and bored by high school and one semester of college, Razzaq was eager to learn. In 1997, based on his publishing contacts, he began to organize book signings and conferences, eventually forming a grassroots education group, the Communiversity of Trenton. It ran from 1997 to 2002 and focused on Afro-centric history and health. “We wanted to take university knowledge into the community,” says Razzaq, “so people could have easy, affordable access to education. We created our own syllabus and our own library, pooled our money, and flew university leaders to Trenton.”
Meanwhile, as a community outreach consultant, Razzaq worked with the Hanover Street Civic Association and the Old Trenton Neighborhood Coalition. Through Isles, he did organizing on an AmeriCorps contract and earned a $5,000 scholarship. “The community really misses the COT [Communiversity of Trenton], but we have to get folks to rally around current trends in urban revitalization and redevelopment and capture the opportunities that will be generated in the areas of jobs, housing, business, education, careers, and entrepreneurship,” says Razzaq. Last year he had a contract for community outreach and advisory services for the owners of Broad Street Bank, an historic building developed for mixed use/green complex.
“What people see in the E-mail newsletters and on our website and blog are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg,” says Razzaq. “We do have big picture plans but have to take our time building the public will and consensus.” Like global warming, he says, achieving BOOST’s goals requires a paradigm shift. “We cannot use the same mindsets and thought processes that created these problems to solve them.”
Quality can matter more than quantity, when it comes to staging events, but that concept was put to the test when this reporter trekked on a December weekday to attend BOOST’s event at Eden Organix. a Highland Park spa. The reporter, the speaker (interior designer Patricia Gaylor from Little Falls), and the spa owner, Valerie Mason-Robinson were the only attendees.
Gaylor, who was a pioneer in sustainability design, says that though community education workshops rarely benefit her high-end design business, she is committed to doing them. She had been a BOOST speaker for a Philadelphia event that attracted 15 people.
An even more recent successful event took place on Saturday, January 10, at the Princeton Public Library, where Razzaq moderated an excellent session on new approaches to community building and creating an environmental economy. The four-person panel from We Are BOOST fielded questions from an excited and involved audience of about three dozen.
Razzaq is frustrated only by what he says are “failed policies and practices” of government but denies any political ambitions. “I wouldn’t run for dog catcher,” he says. “My job is not to promote myself, but to promote whom I represent. I am not the new kid on the block. I just had to wait for the general public to catch up and open their minds wide enough for cutting-edge community-based approaches to urban revitalization and self empowerment. BOOST is the real deal and is geared to stay the course.”
Inventing the Future Forum, BOOST, Planet Havana, 449 South Broad Street, Trenton. Saturday, January 17, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. “Rebuilding Communities from the Inside Out.” www.weareboost.org.