The Browning Chapter: Kindness Through Music

Interview by Tatiana Simmons

Jonathan Mota is a senior at the Browning School in New York City where he helped start the Browning Riley’s Way Chapter and now holds a leadership position. Through the Browning Riley’s Way Chapter, Jonathan is working with other young changemakers on food insecurity. Food insecurity is the limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.

Jonathan wants everyone to know that it’s important to recognize that their work is enjoyable and that the Browning Riley’s Way Chapter is very passionate about what they do. They are willing to do whatever it takes to make the impact that they want to see.

Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you first got connected with Riley’s Way.

My name is Jonathan and I’m a student at the Browning School. I’m currently a senior and of Mexican and Bolivian descent. I first got connected with Riley’s Way when they reached out to the school asking if they wanted to do a Chapter. After Lauren Shenkman, Director of Partnerships and Programs at Riley’s Way] spoke with the director he thought that I would be interested because of my previous work in volunteering. Beginning when I was 13, I used to go to my local food pantry to help pack and give out food, unload trucks, organize the different storage rooms, clean the space, etc. Later on, I taught a literacy class for Spanish-speaking adults and helped design the curriculum, and researched appropriate materials for the students to use. So, based on my experience we started working on it last year and now we are an official club.

Chapters are a relatively new initiative for Riley’s Way. Can you tell me more about what they are?

Our Chapter is very unique because we are the first all boys school that Riley’s Way has worked with. Chapters are essentially a group in the school that focuses on a goal and connects with a partner outside so that they can work together to complete that goal. Our Chapter is focused on food insecurity and so we are partnered with a food pantry, The Flushing Food Collaborative and are looking to partner with Homemade GM’s to enhance our vision.

The Browning Chapter decided to focus on food insecurity because Jonathan has a personal connection to food insecurity. His family has always gotten through economically difficult times with support from other organizations regarding food. He remembers how difficult it was for his family to think about buying food at a time when it was very difficult and knowing that he can help somebody else in a similar situation brings him happiness. Their group witnessed similar situations during the pandemic and agreed that helping people be fed is honoring their humanity. Riley’s Way gave the group a chance to use their experiences to enhance their level of impact in their community.

How did you start the Browning Riley’s Way Chapter?

It began with planning for the Chapter that started last year when I was a junior. We began with logistics, so reaching out to as many people as we could. This is an upper school club, so we worked on many announcements and participated at club fairs. After that we focused on getting people and we got permission from the school to run the club and for the materials that we needed. After that it just grew a little bit.

What projects are you currently working on?

Our slogan is “kindness through music,” so being that a lot of us are interested in music and are musicians, we thought it would be cool to implement music into our kindness approach. Our biggest project right now is working on a concert happening in two weeks to raise money for food insecurity. We are also inviting other people as well that we hope to donate all the proceeds to a company working to combat food insecurity.

Their group has a diverse combination of musical abilities. They all sang Lean On Me but some members play the guitar, piano, bass, violin, and drums. Their project manager is actually going to be attending the New England Conservatory next year! A lot of their members are involved in school bands and have a strong passion for them.

Tell me about a moment that you enjoyed most working with the Riley’s Way Browning Chapter. 

I honestly feel like I love every moment. I have been doing volunteer work for a long time and so this just translates to what I’m doing now. I enjoy every moment of it. The group of people I am working with are kind and focused, but my favorite moment was our last meeting. We had a rehearsal for the concert where we will be singing and my favorite part is the acapella part of the song when we were singing and it was just a really cool part.

How do you hope to see the Browning Riley’s Way Chapter grow?

I hope to see them just do a lot of projects. Unfortunately this is my last year so I won’t be running the club anymore, but we have more students already coming in ready to take over. I’m trying to help them as much as I can to learn what it means to be a leader, what it means to be kind, being efficient in your work, and just see how that turns out in the long run. I want to come back and visit one day and see in the Browning Newspaper or on Instagram what they’ve been up to and how they’ve continued the work that we’ve started here. I hope to be able to see that they have even bigger concepts than we’ve had [this year].

Regarding my future, I will attend Middlebury College but am currently undecided. I do not plan to major in music but will continue my music passions casually. Aside from that, I have a youtube channel, ¡Fuerza! that focuses on Latinx diversity and culture in which I have been able to make some music to inform people on some topics. I hope to continue doing that on my channel and hope that it grows with time.

What are some goals you have for the Chapter as it’s your last year?

I just want to be able to inspire the guys staying in. I knew that before Riley’s Way at Browning the social opportunities were limited and being someone that likes to volunteer, now that I know Riley’s Way is here I hope they can plant the seed to help other people be more inspired and that it feels good and it’s fun to help the community and be in contact with them. Being able to show them that it’s something worthwhile and they can make a big difference even though they might think that they can’t.

What does kind leadership mean to you?

Kind leadership is not a definition for me, it’s a way of being. I’ve always seen being a kind leader as something you do, not something you can explain. The best way to teach someone is through examples. However, some things that you can do is always listening to your group, their needs and wants.

How do you feel that the Chapter embodies Riley’s Way values of kindness, empathy, and inclusive community?

Just by being there. Our inclusivity is that we don’t look at people in a different way, we see everyone, we welcome everyone. Inside of our group meetings and daily interactions we make sure everyone is welcomed, no matter the kind of day we are having. We have established that kindness, empathy, and inclusive community are our core values. As a group in the Rileys Way community we have the responsibility to show not just the school but everyone around us what it means to be kind. It could be sharpening someone’s pencil or giving them a hug when they need it, whatever it may be, we aim to do that as much as we can.