I’m not sure I could pinpoint one particular leader who stand out above the rest, but I have known many leaders in my life and they all have qualities I find important and crucial to success of a group. I think the very basics of being a good leader include showing up, acceptance of and support for those around you, ability to give guidance based on group input, availability when asked for assistance, and lastly leading by example and providing direct answers when your example is questioned. I’ve gathered this simple list by taking note of the few excellent professors I’ve had, people with whom I volunteer, and especially the leaders I’ve met here in CUNY Peer Leaders. The patience, love and understanding offered to myself and those in my various communities has helped me identify the kind of leader I hope and intend to be. I find an excellent characteristic of leadership, that I appreciate in particular, is the ability to share one’s own experience honestly. Being able to say, “I hear you. I’ve been there or somewhere similar. This is what happened to me and how I got through to the other side. Does that help? Is there anything I can do to help you get through this now?” is a skill, and I find when people meet me with this response, I am grateful to not feel alone in my feelings, experiences, or journey through life.
This year’s CUNY Peer Leaders Showcase highlighted a range of interests and passions around the theme of “Accountability and Advocacy.” The Leaders worked on projects throughout the 2021-2022 academic year and on Friday, May 13th they showcased their projects in a lightning round format.
The first round of presenters focused on mental health and self-care. Aaliyah McCoy played a snippet of “The Butterfly Effect”, her new podcast focused on internalizing music, mental health, and how to maneuver through life. Katelyn Madera showed parts of “Lying to My Therapist” a compilation of poetry and art for a currently untitled poetry book to spread mental health awareness for students who have been experiencing: burn-out, imposter syndrome, depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Nina Hogan’s “Being a Woman in a Misogynistic World” highlights information about sexual violence and abuse. Including how survivors should be taken seriously, how to end the shame of an act and offers resources. Ruksana Ruhee’s timely “Living with Grief” is a multimedia piece based on the notion of how grief is a universal emotion, whether it is a physical death or heartbreak. It can make one feel very lonely, miserable, broken, and is something that is very difficult to cope with. Favour Anyalewechi’s project focuses on mental health especially the power of saying, “NO!” This project shows how mental health isn’t just only about depression or what society depicts, but also how we interact with others.
Our next round of presentations focused on social justice initiatives. Haunter (Sam) Ascencio’s “Lessons in Q’onnecting” project include the creation of Q’onnections, a paid stipend queer peer mentorship program, and spearheading the creation of John Jay’s new LGBTQ+ center. Dawn Ressy’s “4,645” is a play about social justice viewed through an intersectional lens on the body politic of brown, black, female bodies more specifically those impacted by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2018. Lionel Colon’s online hub for high low income and minority school students aims to increase the accessibility of careers in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). Ayah Djelil project sheds light on the current affairs and the history of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the several misconceptions that are portrayed by western societies (including stereotypes portrayed by the media, educational systems and academia, social institutions, etc.) in refuting the orientalism imbedded within these societies.
Our third group of Leaders presentations focused on identity. Ian Fernandez presented “Beast,” a monologue and rap song he is writing for a musical he wishes to make in the future regarding his experience working at an upstate sleepaway camp as a bunk counselor. Avii Van Praagh project is a collection of written works exploring gender identity, mental illness, and banal societal expectations under American neo-feudalism. Ellie Hubbard’s “Emancipation of Female Sexuality” is a photo series that aims to remove the shame of female sexuality imposed by the patriarchy. It celebrates open sexuality, healthy sex, consent, and many other important components of sex. Malachi Davidson’s “Statement of Purpose” is an EP of self-produced Hip-Hop songs and poems centering his personal experience as a Black man. Malik Brizan-Reed’s “What’s Special about House Music?” is a necessary ethnographic article that goes in-depth about what House music means from a personal Black perspective. While explaining how he has navigated life on the rhythm of House, the history of this repetitive music and how it has evolved into today’s world will be discussed. A discourse about “white-washing” and the “Gay-stigma” surrounding House music will be explained and much more. Sayquan Wooden shared a poem from “The Modern Sense,” a collection of poems, collages, photos, and essays that focuses on themes of identity, creative expression, existentialism, community, and societal change. This project serves to deconstruct & represent the different aspects and realities of these topics in relation to himself and his creative craft. Vaishali Patra’s “views from the other side” Vaishali’s project is a poetry collection revolving around the theme of identity, specifically intersectionality. Tori (Victoria) Caserta’s “The Shadows We Don’t See at Night” is a series of short stories focused around the experiences of one main character who’s just trying to survive the world as a teenage addict in an effort to shine light on the stigmatized stories we often don’t hear until a person’s “gone too soon” because of the disease of addiction.
Our last two, but most definitely not least, presenters focused on Afro-Futurism and New Age concepts and identities! Jasmaine Brathwaite’s The Divine Story: Afrofuturism is a foundational explanation of Afrofuturism, the genre of her next novel. The dissection of story, time, and wisdom as a literary tool will hopefully bring new light to an imperative creative process within literature. Xueqin Ruan’s “Double Mission” is a collection of essays, poems and photos that shares her twin flame journey. This project is important because many twin flames feel so lonely in this world due to people’s lack of understanding. In this project, she will introduce twin flame groups, starseeds, and lightworkers.
The Leaders wanted to bring attention to the issues that they are passionate about. This 2021-2022 academic year has been a challenging year for many, nevertheless they explored various topics and issues that resonate with them and that they wanted to express in developing their Humanities themed projects. Please be sure to check out the showcase if you missed it and the leader’s projects on our website https://cunypeerleaders.commons.gc.cuny.edu which will be posted in late May.
My time at CPL gave me the courage to try to showcase my creative work. I’ve been making art for a long time and have never really been good at sharing it with others. CPL encouraged me to share my work and be proud of my art. I believe that leaders share of themselves for the betterment of many. Being able to share my art makes me hopeful that others will see my work and feel seen in some way. I want to let people know that they are not alone.
Being a part of the CUNY Peer Leader program has gotten me through personal and academic adversities. At the beginning of the program, I had two semesters left of undergrad at Medgar Evers College. I was taking six classes and working a part-time job. On top of that, I dealt with my mental health by relearning how to have fun and discovering what joy means to me. The pandemic and uprise in crime kept me on edge almost every day, forcing me to stay home. That time in my life was challenging for me to overcome, but The CUNY Peer Leaders program helped me to decompress my emotions and realize that I’m not alone in this journey called life.
When I did my research and applied for the program, I knew that it would be an excellent opportunity for me to express myself through my writing. I always had great expectations that this program would aid me in developing into a beautiful and knowledgeable adult. My experience within this community has been amazing. I’ve learned much about gender identity, advocacy, feminism, meditation, graduate programs, and individuality. I’m confident in my leadership to pass down what I learned as a CUNY Peer Leader to others from experience and not ignorance.
The impact of this program will never be forgotten. I felt a sense of community and belonging in the meetings and conversations with the coordinators. The stipend of 1,000 dollars helped me to pay off my 2022 winter class; the recommendation that Kashema wrote for me in my graduate process has gotten me accepted into Craig Newmark School of Journalism, and the meditations and check in’s helped me to express my gratitude for the minor things in life that comes together to create the big picture.
I want to thank everyone for allowing me to be a part of such a great community, and I am looking forward to showcasing what I have put together for the final project.
I have a very close friend who is a passionate filmmaker. Throughout the past year or so I have known this guy, the two of us have established a very strong bond with each other. He was the type of guy who always had my back in my endeavors in my own goals, and I aided him in a number of the films he made by utilizing my acting skills to play different characters in his films. Usually, when I think of someone who is, or at least acts like a leader, I see a person trying to take the helm of a project and be the main driving force behind these different projects so that they may be completed. In the course of the time, I’ve known him, we have completed at least 4 films together, as well as several more films not involving me on his very own. I suppose when you bring a dedicated actor and singer together with a director and producer, you get a recipe for starting up your own content. That being said, being a filmmaker comes with its own set of challenges. Allocating times to shoot certain projects and being wary of each of the actions of the characters and the script comes off as a very difficult job. During my time with this friend, he has shown incredible resolve in his work, and has treated myself and our other friends and colleagues with nothing short of a great deal of respect. Afterwards, whenever we are usually done with filming, we go out to eat something as a form of celebration. I may be a tour guide, but I was surprised at a ramen restaurant he took me to one time that I never even thought about going to. In a way, he affected how I am able to operate my own business in a positive manner through that action. And now, at the time of this post, he has finally achieved getting a job in the drama department at his campus, and he thoroughly enjoys the fruits of his labor in said profession. The way I see this friend and many leaders in general are being the ones who take action to fuel their own objectives while also using their actions to empower and lead all of those who are around them.
Many starseeds and old souls enjoy their own company. Spending time alone can be comforting and necessary for their vitality, as it allows them to commune with their soul and fill up their energetic resources.
In our increasingly online world, we can be “connected” to more people. Don’t underestimate the power of sharing your story. It’s by hearing someone else’s journey that we feel less alone.
The difference between a follower and a leader is that a leader has the courage to go first. In stepping out, they shine a light on the path for others to venture forward too. Don’t stuck in age, income, hobbies, or occupation. The best way to discover your soul tribe is to look in the mirror. Your tribe are longing for exactly the same thing as you were/are and might only be one step behind you.
You don’t need anyone’s permission, just the courage to stand up. Your tribe is waiting for you. Being a leader, and step forward, so they can find you!
The term leader is a very abstract broad term. Anyone can be a leader in every day life. I know for a fact I am a leader when it comes to every day life. This might sound conceited but being a leader also requires the confidence of knowing you are trying to make strives in your life and in anyone else’s life for a positive change. I consider myself a leader of my own life. I personally have gone through and immense amount of traumatic things in a short time period. This in essence doesn’t make me a leader however it goes to show you the lengths of what I am trying to reach to better my community so these things don’t happen to anyone else. I have been a victim of sexual assault, of a natural disaster that left me and my family homeless and losing friends and acquaintances I thought would be there with me for my whole life in a matter of six months. Yet I still wake up and have better goals for the future. One being now to educate people on the harmful affects that sexual violence has on a person. I plan on being an attorney in the near future and strive to help victims with representation. While also hoping to educate people on the dangers of this I also have a goal to help with individuals with disabilities. My brother has autism and he is nonverbal and can not communicate. There is this app that combats this issue where it is basically a talking app. It has icons and it has a verbal voice so that the person who can not communicate can speak. The issue with this technological application is that its basically 300$. My mom waited three to four years to purchase this app because she couldn’t afford it. I would like to create an application that anyone can use. A lot of autistic individuals come from lower class families and with this being such a high cost it is nearly impossible for them to pay for it. So hopefully longterm goal would be to try and advocate and/or create an application that is either not costly at all or minimum cost that the average every day person can pay for. I hope I can educate people on these topics as best as I can. I consider myself to be leader with the amount of times I have had to adapt to certain situations and how I always overcome them no matter what. So yes. I would say I am a leader.
Leaders or leadership of any form demonstrate a high-quality effort in leading others. A strong leader has high-quality traits and core foundational values that help them reach and help others. We can find leaders in any community and in any culture. Leaders stand out as a voice for their peers and their communities. An organization that comes to mind when I think about leadership and who I think should be recognized is the ACLU. The American Civil Liberties Union was created by a small group of individuals around 1919-1920 as a means to fight back against unlawful civil liberties abuses. Today, they are one of the biggest defenders for the rights based in the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU consists of a million plus members, hundreds of staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys, and offices throughout the nation.
What I enjoy about this organization is that they are here to protect the rights of every individual no matter what background, culture, community, or section of life you come from. They are here to make sure that everyone has a voice and that no one is to be mistreated in any way. They are truly of and for the people. Day in and day out they continue to fight government abuse and defend individual freedoms. Their fights continue in the form of speech and religion, a woman’s right to choose, the right to due process, citizens’ rights to privacy, and so on. Some of their biggest battles throughout the past few years have been gaining recognition not only throughout our nation but has garnered the attention of those globally. They have paved the way for all individuals to take a stand and to empower all of our community activists. We have been through such tough times in the past few years, but it is a breath of fresh air to know that there are people out there that are not going to give up on us and that they are steadily involved in creating future generations of activists and community leaders.
The people that make up this organization are truly inspiring in the way that they dedicate their lives to helping others. This is not an organization of money and positional power. They are the leaders that we lean on to make a difference. I had the opportunity to briefly work with them through a local community initiative and what they wanted us to get out of their meetings was the opportunity to be educated on the issues that we are currently fighting against, our rights, and how to help and educate others. I tip my hat off to all of you out there that are willing to create a better world and the ACLU epitomize that vision. We are all leaders in our own particular ways. Much like the ACLU, leaders band together to make a difference.
Coming to terms with my identity, especially queerness, has been incredibly difficult. I still find myself questioning my identity frequently. A big part of my project for this program revolves around this theme. For the past few years, I have been drawn towards queer artists and look up to them for inspiration. One of them is Alok Vaid-Menon, a poet, artist, performer, and more. They also go by the moniker Alok and use they/them pronouns.
Since poetry is so close to my heart, I’ve always admired their poems. But after I began questioning my gender identity, I felt a closer connection to their work. Both of us are genderfluid and Indian. This brings me a lot of comfort. At times, while my questioning process was especially difficult, seeing a brown queer person alive and thriving in this world gave me some hope for the future.
Alok holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University where they studied feminist, gender and sexuality studies during their undergraduate years and sociology thereafter. They make use of this knowledge to educate their followers on social media, especially Instagram (@alokvmenon). They post book reviews and share important historical details about queer communities of color that often go overlooked, or are violently erased. Some topics they’ve spoken about include medical racism, the colonial history of the gender binary, white feminism, the racist history of body hair removal, mental health, and more.
Their book Beyond the Gender Binary was published in 2020 and was made available to queer youth across the U.S. for free. It was included on a list of 850 books to be banned by Texas Republican State Representative Matt Krause for causing “discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of an individual’s race or sex.” But during a time when anti-trans legislation has been at an all-time high in the country, their work is even more important to spread awareness and support the LGBTQ+ community.
I feel incredibly grateful to have idols like Alok to look up to, even if there aren’t many of us out in the public eye. Their words always act as reminders that despite all the negativity and discrimination, there is hope.
When I first read this prompt I was stumped on what to do. To be honest, I was supposed to complete this five days ago but kept pushing it further and further into the week. I thought about who I should talk about very hard. When I think about leaders that deserve recognition, I think about my father, my mother, and my two older sisters. All of them have a thankless job, being a parent.
My mother and father come from the Dominican Republic and are my biggest influences. I have talked extensively in this program about how much family has affected me and changed me. I never truly acknowledged how much they’ve done for me in my life. They are the ones I listened to when I wanted to learn Spanish by eavesdropping into their conversations and arguments. I used to think what I got from my father was a bad temper, it was really passion. I used to think that I got my complexion from my mother, but it was my heart that I got. These two people with no education past high school always pushed me to be better each day I woke up. My parents have the thankless job of raising me while being kids themselves really. In a new country, with new struggles, and just one boy with two daughters to raise. They were hard are me a lot, but life was hard on them. I am grateful for the things they have given me, especially those I used to resent. I used to resent my stern face and demeanor, but I embrace it. I am a reflection of two hard-working parents from the Dominican Republic who worked to make sure I had it better than they did.
This is where my sisters come in. They were my parents when our parents were working for hours and hours. They were babies themselves raising another. They came to this country knowing no English at 10 and 7 years old respectively. They taught me how to be honest, thoughtful, and humble as well. I was treated better at times because I was the baby and I understand that gets frustrating. They never hated me for it and always reminded me that I am fortunate for the life I have.
I thank my family for making me a person with compassion and dedication. I thank them every day by paying it all forward any way I can.
Leadership is an extremely broad term. I think my parents are leaders; they’re the leaders of my family. My professors have all been leaders to me, my friends are leaders. But in terms of academic leaders, I love the work of Kimberle Crenshaw. She is one of the founders of Critical Race Theory and I have really adhered to critical theory when examining societal issues and I think that Critical Race Theory is a way forward. I also think calling out race for what it is (a social construct) is extremely important in dismantling the systemic racism in our country. Professor Crenshaw coined the terms intersectionality and CRT, which are very important in examining the problems in political systems and how to fix and dismantle racist systems. She and her other colleagues who coined the term CRT in the 80s are still working on it and many law schools have adopted it as a curriculum or added it as a part of their teachings.
I am writing my Human Rights Capstone on the opinions of the Conservative Right on Critical Race Theory. I feel that those in the conservative right who are in the news opposing the teachings of Critical Race Theory are simply uncomfortable with it because it dismantles the system, therefore they would (in an ideal world) have no privilege. They do not care for human rights and try to hide it with claims that CRT is divisive. Teaching about the division created by colonialism and slavery is not divisive: it is just addressing the divisive systems of oppressions that already exist. I am very excited to pursue this capstone paper because I hope to pursue CRT in law school. Let me know what you think about CRT if you have any opinions!
Change in my community varies according to different definitions of what change is. Change is altering or modifying something, an event, place, or people. In order for change to occur, there have to be some factors that trigger it. Without a trigger or reason, change can’t occur. For me personally, there has to be a cause to fight for or believe in; and in my community, there are certain situations or events that trigger my needs and desire to create a change. For example, the rise in gun violence especially amongst our teenagers. It saddens me to turn on the tv or go on social media only to find another teenager sent to jail for murder or crimes with the use of guns. The use of guns negatively in this present generation is alarmingly high and nothing good to write home about; and the best way I can contribute to helping our young ones and teenagers is by creating awareness either through social media or in person. Unfortunately, there is no particular cure for gun violence in our communities, but the best I can contribute is trying my best to create as much awareness as I can. And also give out important information such as job information, mental health service information, domestic violence hotline. All this information might seem unnecessary or unrelated, but unfortunately most of these teenagers who indulge in crimes mostly either came from broken homes with domestic abuse, the high use of drugs and illegal guns, poverty too, poor or lack of education, unemployed, etc. All these could affect the life of any teenager, and if rendering or giving out useful information like these could help the life of anyone to help them stay away from violence then that would be more helpful.
“People are going to talk about you until the day you die, the best thing to do is ignore folks.”From the 2012 Youtube video Kenny posted about how he was burned.
Kenny Matthews better known as “Ken Dawg” to his 2 million followers collectively on all his social media platforms is showing everyone how to be unapologetically themselves. He loves to dance, make funny Tik Tok videos and share his personal experiences on Youtube, Instagram, and Twitter. “I can still do what you do if not better, and I can still Dougie my ass off,” Kenny said in his 2012 video explaining how he was burned.
Before the tragic accident at 3 years old, Kenny explains how his family remembered him for being a good kid but cursed a lot. He was like any other child and enjoyed playing with toys. He lived with his mother and grandfather in Los Angeles, California. One day when his mother went out to run some errands she left him at home with his grandfather. He remembers being in front of the TV and playing with his toys when he heard the glass window in the living room shatter and a burst of flames violently centering in on him and his grandfather. The only way out was through the same window where the object was thrown, so his grandfather grabbed him and ran through the fire to escape out the window. Sadly, his grandfather was pronounced dead due to smoke inhalation.
85% of Kenny’s body is burned it has affected his hands, chest, and feet. After over 100 surgeries Kenny is thankful that the doctors were able to heal and fix his appearance the best they could. His grandmother’s positive attitude and the strength she instilled in him over the years have helped him become the man and leader he is today. But never the less he isn’t a burn victim but a burn survivor.
As a survivor, Kenny experienced a plethora of adversities he uses his social media presence to spread love and destroy ignorance. This is the real reason I think he is a noteworthy leader. On his Instagram, you can see him doing what he loves and dancing to songs while letting all the internet trolls know he doesn’t care what you say about him. He is going to live his life every day like it’s his last and won’t waste a minute listening to people who think otherwise. Personally from following him through the years he has taught me how to be my authentic self in spaces where I would second guess if I could. In a conversation last year I had with him he told me some words I would never forget and that was to “Stay positive and love yourself first.”
My mentee Foluke has always been a team player and a hidden gem behind the scenes in the LGBTQ+ community at John Jay and in my program Q’onnections. I like to showcase Foluke a little bit with my post because I believe fully in his work and I want nothing more than for the world to see this gem at work.
Foluke started as chief of staff within spectra (The John Jay lgbtq+ club), and while he is still in that role, he has currently gone on to work with John Jay productions. In addition, he co-founded a non-for-profit called Revolution Mental that combines mental health advocacy, education, and a safe space for students and planning to start a mentoring program plus other mental health advocacy projects.
Foluke was also part of the first-ever cohort of Q’onnections, spectra’s queer mentoring program. Now Foluke is returning as a mentor for the second official cohort under John Jay’s Center For Student Involvement.
I decided to sit down with Foluke and get more information about his journey here at John Jay; here is what he had to say.
My journey at John Jay has been an interesting one. Transferring to John Jay last fall amid the pandemic to endure another year of online learning was something I was not looking forward to. Unfortunately, like many, 2020 was probably one of the worst years I’ve lived through and experienced despite the immense darkness, bleakness, and lost hope. Yet, there were a few glimmers of light that somehow kept me going. One was joining spectra. After reluctantly attending the involvement fair that year and honestly not wanting to be there, Looking back, I’m happy I did. During the fair, Sams’ energy and vibe ultimately drew me into a loving community that feels like a home full of excellent and various walks of life and experiences. I have made unique connections and relationships through spectra, and I wouldn’t change for the world. Through the involvement fair, I was also drawn to another club, JJ Productions, since I create music but wanted to learn the ins and outs of music production Shoutout to Artem for his intriguing presentation and background that day. As well as to Artem and Daniel for teaching me everything they know. I appreciate both of you.
Through Sam and spectra, I became involved in Q’onnections as a mentee, a common theme of hesitancy and reluctancy begins. I joined about a month into the program’s beginning. Although late to the party, being a part of Q’onncetions honestly couldn’t have come at a better time. My mentee experience occurred during my first semester here at John Jay. During this time, I was heavily defeated due to COVID, watching the world burn, and being involved in frequent turmoil. In addition to feeling very lost in life and struggling to figure out and truly accept who I am. Which I still struggle with from time to time, but thanks to Q’onncetions, that picture is slowly coming along and becoming transparent. So thank you, Sam. I truly appreciate you!
Returning to Q’onncetions as a mentor this semester is something I’m very excited about. Returning to and giving back to a program that has done and provided a lot for me, plus being able to help students like myself, is tremendous. To my mentees, you all are amazing, and I can’t wait to begin/continue our journey together. Although I’m very excited to return to Q’onnections. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. Honestly, that sentiment can be applied to everything I’ve done here at John Jay. I never thought I would be in any of these positions, let alone starting a non-profit organization. After Q’onnections, I became an executive and served as the treasurer for JJ Productions. Once again, becoming a treasurer was met with immense hesitation and took a lot of convincing by those around me to do it. I was very reluctant because I am a huge perfectionist and very fearful of messing anything up. But as their treasurer for about two years now, it has been an interesting ride, to say the least.
To speak on my project a little, Revolution Mental began as a project within my Social Entrepreneurship 101 class during the 2021 Spring semester. The course was structured in which we, the students, select a social issue we are passionate about and want to reform. So my four other partners and I decided on Mental Health as our realm of focus. This in itself, albeit stressful, was a wonderful adventure to embark on, from conducting interviews with a multitude of experts within the field to deciding what products and services to provide, conducting and compiling research, website design, and more. Revolution Mental aims to provide mental health education and incorporate advocacy, awareness, support, and safe spaces for students. The plan is now to develop this further and spread this as far as I can. Built by students for students, feel free to check it out if you would like.
It truly surprises me from an introverted, quiet, and reserved kid to a still introverted but more outspoken individual. Honestly, everything I’ve done here up to this point has been an enormous surprise; frankly, I never saw myself becoming that kind of person or doing the things I am doing, but look at where we are today. But, of course, I couldn’t do it without many’s guidance, support, and love.
With this being my final semester, what is next for me? I’m not 100 percent sure. But I plan to attend grad school for either clinical or forensic mental health counseling. When will that happen? I have no clue, but hopefully, it will occur sooner than later. Additionally, I plan to get my other mental health advocacy projects off the ground while furthering Revolution Mental.
All in all, my two-year journey here has been life-altering, and I wouldn’t change anything. Thank you to everyone who aided and supported me along the way. You are all amazing. Thank you, to my spectra family, for all their support throughout everything, plus giving me this opportunity, and thank you all for reading.
For as long as I remember, my mom- with the little money she had earned- would buy a slice of pizza and would always split it with my sister and I- with barely eating anything- or even at times- not even feeding herself properly. She was very selfless and gave out food/ things even if she didn’t have enough for herself.
My mother was the primary breadwinner of the household after my father passed away when I was really young. She worked full time earning the minimum wage, and struggled to support our livelihoods- we had a lot of nights where we slept on an empty stomach. But she still managed with everything in her power to help others.
Witnessing this- I consider myself as socialistic, therefore I am an ardent believer of mutual aid and the redistribution of money/ assets to people that are in dire need of financial help. Whenever I get the ability of earning income where I have some leeway to buy a person in need of a meal, I always grant that opportunity to do so.
I understand the struggles growing up as a person of color in a working class and immigrant family. From struggling on a daily basis to have our basic needs met, living paycheck to paycheck, and witnessing this similar situation in my neighborhood around me (financial insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, lack of mental health resources) propels me to fight for change for folks that are under served. The experiences that myself and people like me, undocumented folks, people of color, immigrants, and many more people around me encounter a lot of barriers and difficulties navigating through daily life because of the way different institutions set up obstacles that impede us from being at our best potential. I am also an Empath, so it is in my nature gear towards understanding what others are going through, and noticing all of the things going around in the world, oppression that certain groups of people are facing merely because of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, and many more makes me want to speak up and stand against injustice. Because of this, I do advocacy centered around racial discrimination, gender based violence through educating myself about institutions and systems of oppression, as well as spreading awareness through teaching others about what I learned.
I used to be a Nasher in Sadie Nash Leadership Program (a sisterhood circle), where I took courses discussing about about intersectionalities and identity development, including discussions about ethnicity, gender expression and sexuality, we also learned about systems of oppression and planned community action towards the construction workers that would harass on the way to entering the building where we did classes. From there I learned a lot of knowledge and learned to take off organizing and working around various social justice issues; I attended a domestic violence workshop at John Jay for three days to learn about journalism covering domestic violence, and how it can be recognized, and resources available for victims of abuse. In my highschool I also helped organize and implement a full-day event to educate students about social issues, where my group facilitated a workshop about decriminalizing sex work. I also attended an internship called TORCH, partnered with the National Insititute of Reproductive Health and Justice, where my fellow peers and I (centered around black and brown youth) attending training sessions and facilitating workshops in our communities about sexual and reproductive rights and health. When the Parkland shooting occurred, the students in my school and I took to the streets to protest against gun violence, where we made collective banners about marching for our lives and protesting against the NRA not caring about our livelihoods. We chanted in the city as well as outside our school because of how students across the nation felt threatened and their lives were in danger of being victims of gun violence.
Currently I am participating in a sisterhood circle called Sisters in Strength, which is a branch of Girls for Gender Equity- a youth organizing program centered around needs and interests of the girls in the program; community organizing around gender-based violence and confronting individual and institutional discrimination that threaten the safety of girls and women.
I am also advocating against gun violence in a program called Youth Over Guns where we have discussions about intersectional identities, the complexities of systematic oppression as well as how gun violence affects our communities. We learn about pushing towards legislative advocacy to prevent gun violence, where we also work towards keeping schools and communities safe.
Audre Lorde once said, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self preservation and that is an act of political warfare.” I believe as people who are marginalized because of their intersectional identities and their rights are trampled over- we are conditioned to constantly work in a system that is harming our wellbeing, thus we need to learn to prioritize self-care in order to continue to fight for our rights and freedoms. We need to prioritize our wellbeing in order to survive and continue to blossom.
I face the new semester with great trepidation; my own experiences with burnout, my mental health, and the brevity of the past winter break have all set me up for a very daunting academic chapter. I feel myself needing to breathe, to relax, and not take everything so damn seriously. Leadership is difficult for those who have charisma; it’s tempting to feed off of the accolades of others and never ask for help. I can’t afford to do that anymore.
Recently, I’ve chosen to do something different. Asking for help has never been easy for me, but at this point, it is vital for my continued health. I have resolved to ask for help when needed, to give myself breaks, and not crumble in the face of a mistake. In this journey, I have found others who have trod this path before me and now help others by sharing their own failures and mistakes. It takes great humility to be able to be vulnerable with those you barely know in order to help them. To me, those folks are true leaders; non-hierarchical, lead-by-example, vulnerable, authentic leaders. I am so honored to be among them and to have found people who have been where I’ve been and gotten through it.
Change in a community is hard to measure…
I’ve been thinking a lot about how a person can change things around themselves. We all want to make big positive changes in our communities and lives but there’s so many different wants and views, even people wanting the same change go about it in differing ways. To answer the question I guess you have to really pick something you want to change and start with something small. Small changes can snowball and eventually become entire movements. Small changes here and there can also inspire others and cause a long chain of small changes that shift a community entirely. Making small changes whether it be in our daily routines/mindset or deciding to advocate or act on something can really cascade outwards and help shape life for the better.
I want to say I’m making a change in my community. I’m coordinator of a program that helps underrepresented and low income students get into the STEM fields. We offer tutoring, college ready courses and even mentor them on projects and lab work. We provide opportunities that these high school students normally wouldn’t receive and it helps them get into college and sets them up for a path towards a career. I’d like to say that is how I make change in my community, but it feels like I’m taking credit for the drive and work our students put into our program. I don’t like looking at numbers or writing up statistics for our program for that reason. I didn’t make a change in these students lives, I just gave them an opportunity showcase their talents and that kind of change and all the benefits that come from it should be seen as their efforts. Maybe that’s part of making a change for your community, giving someone else the tools or chance to change. So when I think about how I change my community I look more into how I can help support my community. Whether a student was having a hard time with a subject and the tutoring helped them pass a test or they discovered a field of science they really enjoy that they didn’t know even existed, that’s how I measure the change I make.
So the really short answer is, I make change by just trying to be supportive.
There are so many things that I consider to be a hobby to me, so many activities and ideas that I like to explore beyond a classroom setting and the workplace environment. For a long time, the things that I cared about the most and dedicated the most time to I would sheepishly shrug off as being merely a hobby but I am starting to consider the ways in which I may be something like an expert in these areas. I would consider myself to be an expert in the hobbies that I have invested the most time into for the last 4 or 5 years officially, but really since I was a child.
I consider myself an expert in writing because ever since I was a child I had a passion for writing and reading, which is the reason why I majored in English Literature (and recently graduated from Hunter wohooooo!) I have spent hours on hours writing within an academic setting, since I was young even being placed in accelerated classes. While I struggled in other topics like math, barely passing with an average grade, I always excelled in writing and reading. I even wrote personal statements for my friends when we were entering college. Throughout the years I feel I have really fostered my love of writing and I can see clearly now how it has positively impacted many areas of my life. I incorporate writing in so many things I do, from songwriting, to planning out creative projects, and even in navigating communication on a daily basis. Writing will always be one of my passions, and something I continue to invest time into daily, thus making me something like an expert in the topic. I am even currently writing an ebook meant to help other writers who want to expand in their journaling practice, because I believe that journaling truly changes lives and helps your mental health, titled “Wisdom in Dark Paradise.”
Growing up, I moved around a lot with my family. It was often the case that I would switch schools the following year, and by doing so I learned to adapt to different environments. The reasons varied depending on the time frame, at times we moved to be closer to my mother’s job, and another time we moved to New Jersey to stay in a bigger home when my little brother was born. A single working mother with two young children meant the constant need for childcare, and looking back I can’t think of anyone more influential than the women who presumed the role of our caretakers. Where would we be without them?
I believe I make a change in my community by babysitting and providing childcare. The general attitude toward that of a babysitter is that it’s typically a job for teenagers, and that anyone can do it. But is that really true? To me, I think those who we leave our children with are of the upmost importance. Can you really leave your child with just anyone? Also, considering that nanny’s and babysitters spend a lot of time with the children I think it is inevitable that they become an influence in the young child’s life. To me, this is one of the most important jobs and quite frankly I feel very honored when a family considers me as their primary babysitter because to me I feel like I become a part of their family. In my perspective, they are trusting me with the aspect of their life that is the most important and I take that responsibility happily because of the way that I grew up.
I think I’m being a change in my community by being a babysitter because I not only aid mothers that were similar to my own and in need of additional help around the home, but also I get to share the things I have learned with kids that I consider an extension of my family. When I help with homework, I am providing the role of the tutor. When we are cuddling watching movies, the feeling of comfort and nurturing is mutual and I am just as excited to be there as they are when I arrive to their house. Babysitters can become such a vital and influential role in a child’s life and I believe that caretaking creates a positive change within a community, as the relationship can last a lifetime.
Every person on the planet lives a different walk of life. Some live in extreme wealth in a first-world country, and some live wondering when their next plate of food is served. The world has a lot of issues, and it’s up to those who can combat these issues to bring change. When I was 15, an incident occurred at my high school which resulted in me going through a very traumatic event, and I still live with many of the scars from said incident to this day. But with that event, I decided that I would not let my own trauma label me a victim. I remember a month after the Parkland shooting, I attended my first protest in Manhattan marching alongside 10s of thousands of others to demand there be better gun control in our nation. From then, I linked up with other organizations that helped shed light on a wide variety of issues, ranging from climate change to sexual misconduct to police brutality and more. I also gave up many hours during the warmer months to tend to a garden in a majority black and often underserved community in my borough. I dedicated many hours of my week to attending protests, rallies, vigils, and meetings with various organizations to aid them in what I believed could be right for many people. Nowadays, I am not as active as I was in high school, but I still make the effort to help out in food drives in underserved communities, aid friends and associates with the problems they struggle with in their lives and try to better myself as a human being through my actions. For me, when I see people making change in their community, I see it through the lens of how they are able to help out one person, a group of people, or an entire community. I intend to use a large portion of the earnings I make in my career path to aid in many causes around the world that need attention, and I encourage all who can give a little bit to do the same. Hopefully there will be one day where many of the conflicts that arise in this world come to cease.