ABNY’s first CEO, Melva Miller, leads by expanding the organization’s reach

How would you describe what you do?

ABNY is primarily a unifier. In founding ABNY, the founders brought together stakeholders from across the city [in order] propose innovative solutions to solve the city’s most pressing problems. I really see the work I do as a community builder. You need to think holistically when thinking about city growth, for example, how public transport affects the growth of a community and schools, how education contributes to growth.

How is power exercised in the work you do?

In my experience, power lies in the ability to lead from behind. We can’t do things on our own, we need others. It’s building a coalition that gets things done. When you do this, you build relationships and foster those relationships in a way that people respect. My holding power or the holding power of the organization really lies in the relationships we have with other stakeholders in the city. You need the public sector, the private sector, non-profit organizations, whether it’s real estate or artists. These are the things that make New York great and we need New York [to be] behind these things.

What are the benefits of holding power?

People need to feel invested in something in order to appreciate it and be proud of it.

If we bring stakeholders together around an issue, whether it’s based on historical relationships or context, people will come and we can leverage our power to get things done. When we tried to get a full count for the census, we were able to make phone calls, sit around a table with government, the nonprofit sector, the for-profit sector, and come up with a comprehensive plan. How you use power – because of your reputation or connections, you can leverage it to get things done. People will listen and they will be enthusiastic.

Our community art program around Covid was a space that ABNY has not traditionally been in. We said we want you to lead this and we will support you and there was a better outcome because the community felt invested because of how inclusive we made it.