Brownsville café aims to bring change through empowerment - Metro US

Brownsville café aims to bring change through empowerment

Some might think black cats bring bad luck, but for a trio of Brownsville sisters, the felines will help them live out their dream and hopefully bring positive change to their long-troubled neighborhood.

Ionna, Diana and Melissa Jimenez are the sisters behind the new 3 Black Cats Café scheduled to open its doors for the first time Saturday in Brownsville.

The café — which is set to offer an array of pastries, custom cakes, sandwiches, coffees and teas, and more — is opening in conjunction with the Dream Big Innovation Center which will offer mentorship for local entrepreneurs.

Brownsville has one of the highest concentration of project housing in the country and sees high unemployment and crime rates, according to the nonprofit . A total of 14 percent of residents in the neighborhood are unemployed and the median yearly income is $25,000.

The opening of both sites, located at 3 Belmont Ave., comes after the Dream Big Foundation —a nonprofit aimed at empowering underserved communities — interviewed people in Brownsville asking them what would be the best way to help their community. One popular idea was to open a local coffee shop.

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“They wished that there was a place to connect, to decompress and relax,” said Pernell S. Brice, executive director of Dream Big Foundation. “We realized that there was a need, but also through our different visits, we realized there are a lot of brilliant people that need the opportunity.”

After interviewing residents, the nonprofit decided to seek entrepreneurs with a business plan and help make their dream come true — which is where the Jimenez sisters came in.

The sisters were raised in Brownsville and lived in public housing for a long time until having to move out of the neighborhood once the development they lived in began to be revitalized.

Currently living in Crown Heights, Ionna Jimenez went back to Brownsville to help do outreach for the New York City Housing Authority to try to get former residents to return to the area.

“When you are growing up in a community like Brownsville, all you think about is leaving. You think about leaving and not coming back and think about the better picture,” Jimenez said. “As grown up, I fell in love with the community that I was raised in.”

After a few years her sister Diana also became an outreach worker in the neighborhood and then also began baking — an area the sisters realized they were interested in getting into.

However, although they love creating custom cakes, they found that most shops in the city have high prices for their items, so they began thinking of a way to make cakes that would be affordable.

After teaching themselves how to bake, networking and selling their cakes, they found out about the Dream Big Foundation’s interest to open up the center and café. That’s when they decided to pitch their business plan.

“For the last year, when we got the word that we were going to do this, we still didn’t believe it then and we still don’t believe it now,” Jimenez said.

Along with bringing Brownsville its first café, the Dream Big Innovation center will serve as a place for entrepreneurs in the neighborhood to get training, mentorship and have the opportunity to receive seed money for their business. The center will also feature a co-working space, desks, conference room and open space in the basement for events.

“We want people to step in our doors and feel like they are in a different world, where they are able to dream big and take their mind off of things,” Brice said

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According to Jimenez, she believes many of the issues that plague the neighborhood come from lack of resources and she thinks that once those tools are present, then change will begin to happen.

“When there aren’t resources in the community, you have the narrative of high crime and poverty and all of those things,” she said. “We just have to provide [the people] with tools and resources for them to jumpstart and get ready to become entrepreneurs and open businesses and make the change.”

And in the end, Jimenez said she hopes the community will take advantage of the space, both the center and the café, and believe the site’s presence will help bring a different air to the neighborhood.

She added that she considers it crucial for Brownsville residents to work together to bring change to the area they call home.

“The café is a visual, consistent message of change and realizing that change can happen from within,” Jimenez said. “We don’t need people to come from outside of Brownsville to say ‘these are the changes.’”

The 3 Black Cats Café and Dream Big Innovation Center will hold its grand opening from 1 to 4 p.m. on June 18.

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