We all know those people in New York City who, from time to time, you expect have a doppelgänger or two that help them tackle their jam-packed to-do lists. Based on the laws of physics and the number of hours in the day, it’s impossible to imagine they could get so much done—and done well.
Meet Amoni Brown: she’s a self-titled “Jane-of-all-Trades” with an associate’s degree in Electro-Mechanical Engineering Technology, and she’s currently enrolled in the online BS in Business degree program at the CUNY School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS). In between studies, Amoni works as the founder/owner of the Brooklyn Multi-Service Community Center (BkMSCC), a nonprofit organization that provides community services and support in East New York, Brownsville, and Bushwick. And as if that’s not enough, she also works for New York State as a full time Senior Court Office Assistant!
When you consider Amoni’s additional freelance work in real estate and her soon-to-be new mother status, you begin to wonder if she’s found some secret hours in the day that the rest of us simply don’t have access to. As such, Gothamist wanted to know more about how she prioritizes her time, and how returning to school in the middle of an already busy life has helped her grow as a student, a leader, and an activist.
Can you talk about your transition from engineering and technology into the community development and nonprofit space?
My technology work and activism always overlapped. Ever since I could remember, I’ve been involved in community and volunteer work—perhaps I was born with a need to help others. Thanks to my ability to problem solve, my excellent grades, and an interest in technology (though I was always very artistically inclined), I was encouraged into the path of science, technology, engineering, and math (known as STEM). I remember coding on MySpace as a kid, teaching myself HTML just to make an appealing profile. Even now, after changing my degree path, I find myself consistently helping my employer and co-workers with technical tasks. I take care of all the tech work for my companies, and I often build sites and blogs for myself and others.
Throughout all this, I continued my activism. I marched in Washington DC with several individuals from around the country in support of Equal Rights and Prop 8. I was also a part of NYPIRG at City College, We Act CUNY, Access for Women at City Tech, and many other freelance social responsibility efforts before starting my own nonprofit organizations, BkMSCC and Vive Entertainment Enterprises; for me, tech and activism have always gone hand-in-hand.
Can you elaborate on the work you do at BkMSCC? How is your organization uniquely providing the community with the tools that members need to succeed?
At BkMSCC, I oversee operations and technical communications. I also do graphic design, manage our website, teach seminars, enlighten and oversee staff and volunteers, organize events, and learn from The Board. The list never stops.
BkMSCC is a multi-discipline organization that comprises education, training, cultural arts, and entertainment services. Since late 2015, the organization has worked with several individuals, families, and organizations (such as our local libraries, nonprofits, businesses, and national brands) to promote the betterment of the community. BkMSCC specializes in programs, community events, and workshops that engage, educate, and entertain the youth, individuals, seniors, and disabled populations. We promote literacy, culture, leadership, sustainability, multidisciplinary arts, antiviolence, intergenerational unity, and mental stability.
Because BkMSCC has over 60 years of knowledge and roots in the neighborhoods of East New York, Brownsville, and Bushwick, we already have a connection with the community residents and local businesses. We are like a family and we’re known to help and share resources whenever we can. It’s these roots that set us apart.
Where do you see your organization five years down the road? Even ten years? Can you describe the future you’d like to see for NYC and how BkMSCC fits into that narrative?
Five years from now, I see BkMSCC having a big center, similar to the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration. We will provide incubator space, own lots for gardening throughout Brooklyn, and offer a multitude of services. I hope to reach many of the 205,000 individuals in East New York and 300,000 or more of the current 2.6 million Brooklynites. In ten years, I want to give back to other nonprofits and individuals by providing monetary grants and expanding to other boroughs.
In the future, BkMSCC will be a part of NYC’s language. We will be a part of several public libraries, educational institutions, and lives. We will have members who want to give back or create a better generation of individuals.
What inspired you to go back to school amid your work in the nonprofit space?
I struggled while obtaining my engineering degree. I struggled with living, income, and many other life issues, but I knew I needed to finish my education. I completed my degree in the winter of 2015 and walked the stage that following year. But my Applied Associate’s Degree in Electromechanical Engineering Technology and Certificate in Interactive Media just wasn’t enough for the workforce or for myself. At the time, I was still managing my companies, working, and pursuing freelance work in various areas. I knew I couldn’t rely on self-education. Because social responsibility was what kept me going in life, even during times of unemployment and extreme chaos, I decided to take my passion and apply it to my education. I enrolled at CUNY SPS for my BS inBusiness—it was convenient, affordable, and the degree was adaptable
When you began at CUNY SPS, how did your current work experience shape your course of study?
I believed I had extensive hands-on knowledge in business; I wanted to be able to use my knowledge and get credit for it. CUNY SPS allowed me to use my previous experience for credit in various ways. I was able to use prior learning experiences and gain credits toward my degree, by taking a class that helped me to construct a written portfolio to showcase my knowledge in various fields. I was also able to use my Real Estate License for credit. My previous work experience has made some courses feel like a breeze, and it helps that I can share my insights and experiences with my peers and classmates.
And similarly, how has your course of study influenced your career, in the nonprofit space and beyond?
I try to incorporate the lessons I learn in school to my business practices. Thanks to my studies, I began to see my nonprofit as not just charitable work, but as a business. I incorporated better management skills, realizing that everyone desires different management styles from their superiors. I am still connecting with like-minded individuals at CUNY SPS and sharing information I obtain from my courses with my colleagues.
What are some of the CUNY SPS courses that have resonated with you the most?
Business Math, Principles of Management, and Business Law are a few that really resonated. With each of these courses, I wanted to do a PLA. I originally thought I knew everything when it came to those classes, but I was proven wrong! Business Math included information on mortgage lender and health insurance broker calculations. This is the type of information that should be given to everyone—it’s life knowledge. I had no experience in these areas and had to study a little harder for some of the mathematical "life" lessons.
With the management course, I was able to self-check my behavior and management style. I realized that even though I tried to be relatable when working with those in my community, I needed to be more empathetic to some of my staff. I also tried to learn skills that would help me when managing individuals who are older than me, and learned that I need to be less passive at times.
I’m currently enrolled in Business Law and still learning about the background of law, and so much more!
Coming from a world that is so focused on the in-person experience, did you have any initial reservations about an online-only course of study?
Actually, I did. I still hear negative feedback regarding online classes, from both peers and colleagues. I hear things like: “It’s very expensive”; “It’s a scam”; “It’s not the same”; or “It’s not accredited”.
I wanted to continue my studies but didn't have the time to be in classrooms. I did research on cost, online degrees, credit for prior learning and experience, and accreditation for various schools. When I saw CUNY SPS was an online school, I called to see if they offered credit for experience and chose a fully online curriculum, despite the prior criticism. Being that CUNY SPS is a CUNY institution, I didn't question its legitimacy, and I knew it would be affordable, based on my previous experience.
Once you began your courses, was there anything that surprised you, or anything that you weren’t expecting during your studies?
I was surprised by the amount of discipline needed. Some classes that I thought would be easy, were not! This made me realize I needed to have a schedule and stick to it. I knew I would have to bring my school work to work during lunch breaks, but I quickly realized I needed to do more. During nearly all my down time, I read from my texts/e-books or typed up homework.
Outside of school, you’ve clearly got a lot going on! From BkMSCC and freelancing to your work in the NY State Court, (and all while preparing to be a new mother!), how do you manage your time? Do you have any tips for other similarly busy New Yorkers?
Whew! It took practice, YouTube, and advice. There were days I was extremely cranky, days I didn’t sleep, days I forgot to eat, and days I forgot other things. But there were also days everything was done on time, days I was refreshed, days goals were completed, and days I just felt so accomplished that nothing else mattered. My tips are to keep a schedule and stick to it. If you commit to something, do it. Don’t be afraid to say no if you are busy, have a check list to cross off work when done, and praise yourself for any and all accomplishments—even a pat on the back will help. And stay positive! Of course, you should eat healthy, drink plenty of water, prepare, and sleep.
And last but not least, is there anything else you want to add about your CUNY SPS experience, or anyone you’d like to give a shout-out to?
CUNY SPS has helped me a lot. There was a time recently when my family suffered due to my medical bills, and other financial hardships. A CUNY SPS emergency grant helped me to move forward, get back on track, and continue my studies.
I’d like to give a shout out to Dr. Helft and the CUNY SPS staff, my co-workers and business partners, my supportive family, and my understanding friends.
For more information about the CUNY School of Professional Studies and how to continue your own education, visit sps.cuny.edu and see what works for you.
This post is a sponsored collaboration between CUNY SPS and Gothamist staff.