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Jennifer Seda: Cleaning Up, One Street at a Time

Jennifer Seda: Cleaning Up, One Street at a Time

Hi folks! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth, back with a guest who is working hard on UN SDG#6: Clean Water and Sanitation. Jennifer Seda, founder of The Anti Litter Project, is making a huge dent in her corner of the world. Let’s see how she’s doing it! 

Spiffy: Welcome Jennifer! Can you tell me about the challenge that you are addressing? 

Jennifer: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! So, we reduce the litter that lines the streets of the South Bronx sidewalks and community gardens by hosting weekly clean-ups.

Spiffy: I’ve seen some of those sidewalks! What motivated you to host street and sidewalk clean ups?

Jennifer: In the beginning, what motivated me was my love for my borough and its history. That love continues to motivate me. It’s less about picking up trash and more about building community connections through our love for our neighborhoods and green spaces. Most people in New York City don’t want their sidewalks to be filled with litter, but they don’t want to be the person to clean it up. I understand because this is a basic city service that isn’t being fulfilled. What motivates me is knowing that change—throughout our history—has come from public pressure and policy reform. A mentor once told me—this isn’t for just you, you’re doing this work for everyone else. That has really stayed with me.

Spiffy: That’s amazing, Jennifer. Can you tell me how The Anti Litter Project is working to make the world a more equitable place?

Jennifer: Through inclusivity. By furthering my environmental education, being open and receptive to ideas that aren’t mine, and being a voice for the communities where we volunteer. Through my presence, simply saying good morning and hello to everyone who walks by. By representing the South Bronx and being a second generation Puerto Rican cis woman.

Spiffy: What about any recent milestones? Do you have anything you’re particularly proud of? 

Jennifer: The most recent milestone would be becoming the clean up division of Mission Helping Hand (MHH)—the amazing Bronx based mutual aid organization. The Anti Litter Project started right outside my apartment and we always posted about it on Instagram. At the time, we were volunteering for MHH and hadn’t volunteered in a while. The founders, Ludi and Bruce, called us in for a meeting to ask how they could help. They are truly helping hands. So we began the process of being a part of their mutual aid and using their three liberated gardens as a base and starting point for our clean ups. They have really supported us and have shown us that we aren’t alone. We have been able to use their resources, tools, funding, and manpower to impact and clean more sidewalks of the Bronx.

Dexter and Tania multitask by weeding and picking up trash on our first day cleaning up the Schomburg Arts Community Garden. (Image courtesy of Jennifer Seda)

Spiffy: Can you share about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn?

Jennifer: One failure was hosting a clean up—making a sidewalk litter free—and then coming back the next week to find it littered again. It looked like we hadn’t even cleaned it the week before. That’s when I realized that, even though that would always be a possibility, I really didn’t want the block to look like this. It’s something I had to accept, but not accept. Regardless of what it looks like next week, we are going to clean this block and, through trial and error, figure out other permanent ways to keep the litter away.

Spiffy: I know you can do it! What is something unexpected you’ve learned from someone recently?

Jennifer: Most recently I learned the way water reacts to sound—it creates crystals. And the way plants react to sound is really important. A new friend from Connecticut was observing  the way people in the Bronx react to and use sound. Two people, not that far from each other, were playing different songs. A co-worker and friend from the Bronx River Alliance taught me that sound and music brings people together. Mixwell from Connecticut always says, “keep driving through the green lights” and that was a green light for me because music and art is a way to bring more community members into the green spaces and stay with the movement . If it’s fun and you get to be creative and express yourself

Spiffy: Before we sing off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience? 

Jennifer: Well, Spiffy, the garden that has been most difficult to maintain has been the most fulfilling. One couple talked to us and said, “you guys have done so much in this short amount of time! Before, we wouldn’t walk down this side of the street, but now we can. We want to get involved in the garden and bring seeds and grow.” The work that we do at The Anti Litter Project got me and my partner our conservation crew apprenticeships. Go with your gut, sometimes you have to take that risk and do that thing that inspires you, even if it’s not inspiring everyone else around you. Take things step by step and see where it takes you, and record your journey because it’s a story to tell.

Spiffy: I love that suggestion, Jennifer! I’m excited to see how your story and the story of the Anti Litter Project continues to unfold! Thanks for taking the time to tell me about it, it’s been an honor! 

 

Jennifer Seda was born, raised, and lives in the Bronx. She graduated from The City University of New York (CUNY) Lehman College with a bachelor's degree in food dietetics and nutrition. She co-founded the community clean up group, The Anti Litter Project, and currently works as a conservation crew apprentice at the Bronx River Alliance. (Nominated by Impact Hub New York. First published on the Ladderworks website on May 18, 2021.) 

 

© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.