Interdisciplinary artist and creator Kenya Bullock is taking art to a whole new level in Trenton, New Jersey. The 25-year-old artist is the founder and organizer of Tha Block, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting art, healing, and the revitalization of the capital city. The organization has impacted its community heavily, creating spaces for togetherness, education, and community. Kenya Bullock recently sat down with Trenton Journal founder, Kenneth Miles, to talk about what it was like growing up in Trenton, some of the organization’s achievements and initiatives, and its goals moving forward.
So tell me a little bit about who you are, what it was like growing up in Trenton? How did you start the organization?
I am an interdisciplinary artist born and raised in Trenton. [Growing up] block parties were my favorite thing. I remember wanting to be a part of the team that helped run them. One thing that my mom has always instilled in me is that community is your foundation. And that’s important to me. And so that’s where Tha Block came from.
I went away to school for four years, came back, and I raved about Trenton, so many people will talk down on it, but it’s such a beautiful place with amazing people with so much talent. I wanted to come back and bring together a group of my friends at first to do community work, but [I] also [wanted] to use art as a healing tool. When I was in school, I went through a really deep depression. And every night I would come home and I would turn on music, and I would paint until I felt better. And so I realized that that was therapeutic for me right outside of talking to a therapist. I knew that I needed to do something to bring my spirits up. So [when] I came home, I did a fellowship with Ping Chong & Company, which is an Off Broadway theater in New York. My end project was to come up with something that I could do in my neighborhood that would provide impact as an artist. So I came up with Tha Block. I knew that I wanted it to be a nonprofit and I knew that I wanted it to include some form of theater. My background is [in] theater work, I do lighting design, I curate spaces. And so, when I thought about Tha Block, I was like, ‘I’m gonna just do a community theater. I’m gonna teach people about theater, and then I’m gonna teach people about mental health.’ But then it became so much more, it became a hub of redistributing resources.
Who are some of the people who have inspired you to start your own nonprofit?
I started working with Latarsha Burke, [who’s] a mentor of mine, whom I love dearly. She helped me [see] there are people who are willing to come together and do stuff for our community. I always say this, no one’s gonna come save us, we got to lace up our boots and figure it out. I’ve always been an agent of finding other Trentonians and working together, which is [how] we ended up here at Hub 13. It’s a collective of artists who want to do community work, but also [want to] help each other get our names out there. That’s basically how it started. We have rent parties, we give out food, we host workshops, and everything’s free.
What services are you providing and what type of events can we look forward to?
So we far [we host] community meals. Anyone’s able to come and get food but we typically target the vulnerable population. If we’re doing classes, typically we are [targeting] teens. An example of a class that we’ve hosted is the summer camp during COVID. We taught [students] how to establish themselves as artists. We taught them spray painting, we taught them music history, we had them do mental health check-ins with our community care person. And basically, used all of those elements [to] help them, [to] establish their names as artists [and] to learn about art in general, [alongside] mental health in understanding what their temperaments are. Understanding it’s okay for me to be angry [at] this moment. But what’s next? Right? And so that’s just an example of things that we like to do. And, if we’re doing our festival events over the summertime, it’s all about the community.
Did you ever think about moving out of Trenton when you graduated from college?
When I went off to school, I wanted to leave Trenton. When I left school, I wanted to come back. There’s nothing like the love that you feel from here. People say that you find it everywhere, but no, it doesn’t feel the same. The love, the opportunity, the potential. I always believe that service cycles, somebody gave back so that I could have, and I wanted to come back and do the same.
Gun violence in the city of Trenton is a real issue. People have different ideas and different approaches about how to combat violence within the city. What do you think is the root cause? What do people need?
I’m actually happy that you asked that. I think the root cause of it is the lack of resources. We are a super impoverished town. Over 50% of our community is Black. And in that 50% [households] make under $30,000 a year, with at least six people in the household. It’s impossible for you to make an actual living. And there are not a lot of resources being distributed back [into the community]. The city gets tons of funding, and it’s not being used correctly. I think the disconnect, honestly is [with] our representatives. We don’t have good relationships between the community and the people that are supposed to be representing us. We need to have more transparent conversations about where funding is going. And then ask the people where the funding should go. Why aren’t we having real conversations about what we want our city to look like?
What is your ultimate goal for your organziation?
My ultimate goal for Tha Block is to have a physical space that is a hub for community events. We want to have a kitchen to cook all the time, so that people can continuously come and get meals for free and a place to bathe and allow folks to sleep if they need to, but also be able to make my art. I’m a theater artist that wants a black box one day. And so I’m hoping to start that here. We’re here. And we want to do more collaborative work with people.
Tha Block meets every fourth Sunday at 13 West Front Street, where they host a community feeding and giveaway from 12 pm to 2 pm. For more updates be sure to check out their Instagram and Facebook @ThaBlockTrenton.