How NYU students can live up to the legacy of mutual aid in NYC

Queer activist Je’Jae Cleo Mizrahi speaks about radical and inclusive mutual aid organizations near Washington Square Park.


Aaliya Luthra

Washington Square Park has a rich history of hosting radical and inclusive mutual aid organizations. (Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Sasha DuBose, Dining Editor

When walking through Washington Square Park, I, like many other NYU students, tend to think only of which exit will get me to class the fastest. But the park has a rich history. From the Beatnik Riot in 1961 to the late-night park parties in 2020, Washington Square Park has always been a place for expression and resistance. 

Je’Jae Cleo Mizrahi, the founder of NYC Queer Activists, embodies the park’s legacy of social justice. For over 15 years, they have partnered with local youth collectives whose voices are often ignored. Mizrahi has worked with various New York City-based organizations like Jews For Racial & Economic Justice, Bend the Arc and many others. Being a long-time New Yorker from the Lower East Side, Mizrahi has always had an affinity for Washington Square Park.

“Washington Square Park is where all the hippies and artists and queers and weirdos could run free and be their most authentic selves,” Mizrahi said. “All my art and organizing activism in Washington Square Park has always been about highlighting the underrepresented New Yorkers that I care about.”

NYU students should engage with local organizations that uphold the collective passion of New York City — a place many students may think of as a second home. With so many grassroots collectives in our backyard, there are many ways to give back to a city that we benefit so much from. Here are seven organizations you can get involved with that are based in lower Manhattan, as well as what Mizrahi has to say about them.

Black Trans Liberation Kitchen

Black Trans Liberation, led by Black transgender activist Qween Jean, works to uplift trans and gender-nonconforming folks by providing hot meals and a community for homeless trans people. BTL partners with local farmers, chefs and organizers such as FIG, Rock Steady Farm, Pixie Scout and Brooklyn Grange. 

“Every Wednesday, Qween Jean — who is a Black trans woman and amazing abolitionist herself — is offering artisan, dietary specific, vegan, healthy and wholesome food for Black and brown, queer and trans folks who are in Washington Square Park,” Mizrahi said.

Wednesday nights with BTL are filled with nourishing food, fun games and amazing music. BTL typically congregates near the Washington Square Arch, but currently meets at 239 Thompson St. during the colder months. For more information, follow @blacktransliberation on Instagram.

Youth Alliance for Housing

Youth Alliance for Housing is a collective of young people fighting to transform the housing system. With the belief that housing is a human right, YAH created a community housing support network prioritizing the needs of young people. 

“I’ve been involved with them, contributing to their publications as well as organizing,” Mizrahi said. “All of their members are under 25, all people of color. They partner with Project Reach, which is led by a queer Asian man who created a nonprofit to educate urban youth and advocate for their needs.”

In addition to facilitating housing mutual aid, YAH organizes community pop-ups, rallies, food handouts and publishes a zine about housing justice. For more information, check out YAH’s linktree.

Bluestockings Cooperative Bookstore

Bluestockings Cooperative is a worker-owned and operated bookstore on the Lower East Side. Formerly a volunteer-powered women’s bookstore, Bluestockings has become a feminist bookstore and haven for queer and trans people in NYC. 

“For decades, there has been an epidemic around mental health and homelessness, and this is one of the few places being led by queer people, women and people of color providing direct mutual aid for those in need,” Mizrahi said.

The store sells books written by LGBTQ+ authors and hosts conversations with authors and queer book clubs. Bluestockings offers free COVID-19 rapid tests, fentanyl test strips and Plan B pills as well as a free store stocked with shelf-stable items from their Amazon wishlist.

“What’s so unique about Bluestockings is that they have a donation store for anyone. No questions asked,” Mizrahi said. “People regardless of identity or class are able to pick up hygiene products. You can acquire anything from deodorant to thermals to protein bars.” 

For more information, follow @bluestockingsnyc on Instagram and check out their website.

Feminist Collages NYC

Feminist Collages NYC weaponizes street art to combat oppression and bring awareness to gender-based violence. Feminist Collages NYC was founded in Paris in August 2020 and has since expanded to form collectives in 15 countries. 

“We took over an abandoned restaurant in the West Village with protest art of BIPOC folks who were lost due to transphobia on the night of Transgender Day of Remembrance after the Club Q shooting happened,” Mizrahi said. “We wanted our white allies to witness their legacies and educate about the state of hate we live in.”

Feminist Collages NYC posts facts about gender-based oppression which is often ignored by mainstream media. The collective is gender diverse and trans-inclusive, open to women and gender minorities only, with the exception of co-ed Wednesdays. Direct message Feminist Collages NYC via Instagram or Twitter to get involved.

Art & Acceptance

Art & Acceptance at St. Luke’s meets every Saturday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., providing queer homeless youths from ages 18 to 29 with a safe space to engage with art, music and dance. Volunteers arrive at 4 p.m. after registering for their weekly orientation, while the art space is open from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. The program provides home-cooked food, metro cards, clothing and toiletries. Art & Acceptance also connects queer youth with social workers, legal counsel and medical staff, and they are always looking for volunteers to get involved.

“It is run by artists and social workers. Unlike traditional nonprofit settings, there’s really no paperwork for clients,” Mizrahi said. “You don’t feel like there’s a separation between client and provider. People can just walk in. It’s just two people sharing a hot meal, playing games and doing different types of arts and crafts.” 

For more information, follow Art & Acceptance on Instagram at @artandacceptance and check out their website.

Hetrick-Martin Institute

HMI is the nation’s oldest organization helping LGBTQ+ youths ages 13 to 24 through frequent programs and special events, including outreach homeless services and youth pride fests. HMI provides on-site family counseling and advocates for queer youth through their Center for LGBTQIA+ Youth Advocacy and Capacity.

“I was a member and teaching artist for many years in the arts department. Being really focused on mostly queer youth of color was something that I really loved,” Mizrahi said. “They have all sorts of social services as well as a back to school program for high schoolers who need more educational support or have been socially marginalized from their public schools. It’s really a safe haven and a gem of a nonprofit that deserves donations and volunteers.”

For more information, check out HMI’s website and Instagram @hmiyouth.

To follow up with Mizrahi’s work, follow fae on Instagram and view their portfolio.

Contact Sasha DuBose at [email protected]