Often in interviews, I have found myself saying that I don’t want to just take a job, I want to join a team. What I don’t have time to explain in an interview setting is what I believe a good team looks like.
When I moved to New York City after college, I ended up getting involved in local advocacy. North Brooklyn at that time was facing the building of a new power plant, issues related to a waste transfer station, and the proposed curtailing of the G train. I met a few volunteers with the North Brooklyn Greens and got active.
This team was incredible. I had been in solid theatre ensembles and work crews before, but I knew this team was special. We would meet monthly at the Polish National Home, shoot some pool, go into the meeting room in back, report updates, discuss issues, task out actions for the next month, and then head back to the bar to shoot some more pool. If someone on that team said they could and would get something done, you could go ahead and check it off the list as a fait accompli. I can’t count the number of times I heard Mark say, “What’s their number?” to follow up with a new volunteer or group.
We registered hundreds of people to vote. We had liaisons to different committees focused on local environmental and transit justice issues. We built relationships with labor and community leaders. We supported a great candidate who used his candidacy not only to bring up issues, but also to build political leadership in the community. And the best part was, we had fun… and still really like each other!
Then 9/11 hit. Brooklyn, like all the boroughs, was in upheaval that day and the days that followed. Phone service was knocked out for hours. People were lined up at the end of Metropolitan Street, from which you could watch the smoke coming from the towers. I had been at the laundromat before heading to poll watch (it was Election Day in NYC), and a post office worker who lived in the neighborhood rushed breathless through the door to tell everyone what had happened. He worked at the post office in the World Trade Center and had run out from the building as soon as the plane hit and hadn’t stopped until he reached the laundromat.
Moments like that day are the times you want to be with the people who matter most. Since the phones were all down, there was no one to call. I headed to Mark and Christina’s apartment and knocked on the door. It turns out, everyone else had the same idea.
It was in that moment—on 9/11 in Brooklyn, huddled with the whole team around the radio trying to understand what was happening and what we could do to help, trying to call other friends and failing to get through—that I realized how much I loved that bunch. I didn’t want to be anywhere else in that moment than with that crew, because I knew as soon as there was some idea of how we could get out and be useful to the neighborhood, this is the team that would work the problem and make even one tiny corner of the world a bit better.
When I’m looking for a new team, that crew has become my north star. A high bar, indeed.
What I learned at life that day: A good team is the one you want to be with when everything goes sideways.
Featured image photo credit: George Hodan (Williamsburg Bridge)