New York City Nonprofit Leaders of Color Call for Action and Reform

From City Limits on June 8, 2020

by Steve ChoiFrankie MirandaJo-Ann Yoo and Jose Ortiz, Jr.

New York City is a world city and a pace-setter. It is a beacon of hope to many and a space where creativity flourishes. For New Yorkers, our diversity in many forms — race, national origin, ethnicity, sexual identity or orientation, religious or spiritual beliefs, industries, and occupations — is our greatest asset.

Recent unrest in our city, across our nation, and around the world is a reminder of the fact that our nation remains a work in progress. We are a nation founded on imperfections. Too often, these unaddressed imperfections manifest themselves in the form of the degradation, humiliation, and even death of Black people by those who are sworn to serve and protect.

As leaders of Asian, Black, Latino and Middle Eastern descent, we say this is intolerable. The lives of Black people matter. Being Black is not a crime and peacefully protesting criminal behavior of some in law enforcement does not make us anti-police. While we support the work of our police officers who keep our communities vibrant and safe, we cannot stand by idly while innocent Black people are killed or abused by those who act unlawfully.

The right to assemble, dissent, and peacefully protest is a fundamental tenet of American democracy. True patriots are those who challenge our democracy to be all that it can be.

As leaders who believe in the freedoms codified in the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we also go on record as deploring and condemning the looting of business establishments by vandals and opportunists. Whether mom-and-pop stores, large corporations, or somewhere in between, businesses are vital to our economy. Large, medium, or small, they are at the core of what makes New York City a world class city.

Like all New Yorkers, we look forward to a return to normalcy. However, we do not seek a return to injustice, inequity, unfairness, marginalization, hatred, privilege, or contempt.

We call on our local, state, and national leaders to protect our rights, create opportunities that will jump-start our economy, and move us closer to the more perfect union spoken of by the Founding Fathers. As was the case nearly 250 years ago, we call for strong leadership from our government. We seek leadership that is truly representative of all people, not just the powerful few. With strong and representative leadership we can create and implement meaningful policies that address longstanding structural impediments.

As Americans and New Yorkers committed to improving the quality of life for Black people and other historically marginalized populations, we demand that:

• Black New Yorkers and their allies are provided space to raise their voices and attack injustice;

• systems that perpetuate poverty and stifle economic freedoms be dismantled; and

• opportunities are created to enable those who have historically been left behind to flourish and thrive.

To make these demands a reality, we call for:

Demand 1:

• Changes in police training, practices, culture, and tactics and

• the end to the unwarranted surveillance of political activists and community advocates.

Demand 2:

• Increased access to city, state, and federal contracting opportunities for community-based organizations and small businesses, in particular those owned by people of color, women, veterans, or other marginalized groups

• an end to tax incentives that disrupt the social fiber of low-income communities, foster displacement, and undermine small businesses; and

• greater support for the establishment, management, and growth of worker-owned cooperatives, especially in communities that have historically had low rates of business establishment by neighborhood residents.

Demand 3:

• An expansion of the AmeriCorps, City Year, Jobs Corps, GEAR-UP, and TRIO programs to create additional education, skills training, and employment opportunities for New York’s historically marginalized populations;

• increased federal and private funding for “shovel ready” city or metro New York area-based infrastructure improvement or enhancement projects that will create employment opportunities that provide living wages for our city’s low-income residents; and

• reforms in federal Opportunity Zone legislation that increase capital access for low-income New York City communities without draining those communities of needed tax resources or providing additional tax relief for those who already enjoy numerous tax benefits

It is long overdue that our communities’ needs and demands be prioritized, and it is time for our City to make the deep systemic investments in our communities that we have been calling for far too long. When we have an honest dialogue about how we got here, we will dismantle the system that perpetuates our poverty and disenables our economic freedoms. When we are provided space to use our voice and attack injustice, we will make good on the promise of America for those who were not considered Americans when our country was founded, and for the generations of Americans who have been left behind. Only then can we rebuild.

For all of our brothers and sisters who have and continue to fight against racial, social and economic injustice.

In solidarity,

Steve Choi, Executive Director, New York Immigration Coalition
Janelle Farris, President & Executive Director, Brooklyn Community Services
Damyn Kelly, JD, PhD, President & CEO, Lutheran Social Services of NY
Frankie Miranda, President and Chief Executive Officer, Hispanic Federation
Jose Ortiz, Jr., Executive Director, New York City Employment and Training Coalition
Eileen Torres, Executive Director, BronxWorks
Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director, Asian American Federation
*Sudha Acharya, Executive Director, South Asian Council for Social Services
Diya Basu-Sen, Executive Director, Sapna NYC, Inc.
Esther Benjamin, CEO and Executive Director, World Education Services
Carla Brown, Executive Director, Charles A Walburg Multi-Service Organization, Inc
Jessica Clemente, Chief Executive Director, We Stay/Nos Quedamos, Inc.
Robert Cordero, Executive Director, Grand Street Settlement
Joan Oby Dawson, PhD, Chairperson of the Board, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement
Karen Dixon, Executive Director, Harlem Dowling-West Side Center
Kevin Ervin, Executive Director, Change for Kids
Sabrina Evans-Ellis, Executive Director, Youth Development Institute
Lakythia Ferby, Executive Director, STRIVE NY
Jeehae Fischer, Executive Director, The Korean American Family Service Center
Debbian Fletcher-Blake, Chief Executive Officer, Vocational Instruction Project Community Services, Inc.
Ingrid Floyd, Executive Director, Iris House, Inc.
Margaret Fung, Executive Director, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)
Peter Gee, Interim Executive Director, The Door
Lisa Gold, Executive Director, Asian American Arts Alliance
William Goodloe, President & Chief Executive Officer, Sponsors for Educational Opportunity
Anita Gundanna, Co-Executive Director, Coalition for Asian American Children and Families
Sunil Gupta, Dean, Adult Continuing Education & Workforce Development, Borough of Manhattan Community College
LaShawn Henry, Chief Executive Officer, Urban Strategies of New York Inc
Paloma Hernandez, Chief Executive Officer, Urban Health Plan Inc.
Wayne Ho, President and Chief Executive Officer, Chinese-American Planning Council
Jukay Hsu, Co-founder & Chief Executive Officer, Pursuit
Marwa Janini, Executive Director, Arab American Association of New York
Carine Jocelyn, Chief Executive Officer, Diaspora Community Services
Dominique R. Jones, Executive Director, Boys & Girls Club of Harlem
Roderick Jones, Ed.D, Executive Director, Goddard Riverside
Amaha Kassa, Executive Director, African Communities Together
Gabrielle Kersainr, Executive Director, Brooklyn-Queens-Long Island Area Health Education Center
Sanjana Khan, Executive Director, Laal NYC
Jeremy Kohomban, President and Chief Executive Officer, The Children’s Village
Harvey Lawrence, President and Chief Executive Officer, BMS Health and Wellness Centers
Hong Shing Lee, Executive Director, CMP
Linda Lee, President & Chief Executive Officer, Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York, Inc.
Mae Lee, Executive Director, Chinese Progressive Association
Regina Lie-Seid, Executive Director, Chinese Methodist Center Corporation
Maria Lizardo, Executive Director, Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation (NMIC)
Rosemary Lopez, Executive Director, AIDS Center of Queens County
Derrick A. Lovett, President and Chief Executive Officer, MBD Community Housing Corp.
Vanessa Luna, Co-Founder, Chief Program Officer, ImmSchools
Glenn D. Magpantay, Executive Director, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)
Marissa Martin, Executive Director, The Advocacy Institute
Yesenia Mata, Executive Director, La Colmena
Kavita Mehra, Executive Director, Sakhi for South Asian Women
Mari G. Millet, President & Chief Executive Officer, Morris Heights Health Center
Paul Moore, Deputy Executive Director & Chief Operating Officer, Morrisania Revitalization Corp
Haydee Morales, Executive Director, Casita Maria
Dr. Danielle R. Moss, Chief Executive Officer, Oliver Scholars
Linda Oalican, Executive Director, Damayan Migrant Workers Association
Reuben Ogbonna, Executive Director, The Marcy Lab School
Toyin Omolola, Chief Executive Officer, Dsi International Inc
John Park, Executive Director, MinKwon Center for Community Action
Marjorie D Parker, President and Chief Executive Officer, JobsFirstNYC
Liliana Polo-McKenna, Chief Executive Officer, Opportunities for a Better Tomorrow (OBT)
Malcolm A. Punter, Ed.D, MBA, President & Chief Executive Officer, Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Inc. (“HCCI”)
Jocelynne Rainey, Chief Executive Officer, Getting Out and Staying Out
Marble Reagon, Executive Director, Women’s Center for Education and Career Advancement
Zareta Ricks, Executive Director, Opening Act
Janet Rodriguez, Chief Executive Officer, SoHarlem, Inc.
Jerelyn Rodriguez, Chief Executive Officer, The Knowledge House
Rosita Romero, Executive Director, Dominican Women’s Development Center
Nathaly Rubio-Torio, Executive Director, Voces Latinas
Jeannette K. Ruffins, Chief Executive Officer & Executive Director, West End Residences
Marrisa Senteno, NDWA NY Chapter Co-Director, National Domestic Workers Alliance
Sharon Sewell-Fairman, Executive Director, Workforce Professionals Training Institute
Frederick Shack, Chief Executive Officer, Urban Pathways
Nikita Sheth, Chief Executive Officer, Womankind
Yvonne Stennett, Executive Director, Community League of the Heights
Jennifer Sun, Co-Executive Director, Asian Americans for Equality
Bishop Mitchell G Taylor, Chief Executive Officer, Urban Upbound & Center of Hope Int’l
Robert Taylor, Executive Director, Youth Action YouthBuild East Harlem (YAYB)
Joseph Turner, President and Chief Executive Officer, Exponents and Co-Chairperson, NYS Harm Reduction Association
Christopher Watler, Chief External Affairs Officer, Center for Employment Opportunity
Kimberly Watson, Chief Operating Officer, Graham Windham
Andre White, Executive Director & Chief Executive Officer, Phipps Neighborhoods
Angela Williams, Executive Director, I Have A Dream – NY Foundation
Thomas Yu, Co- Executive Director, Asian Americans For Equality
Lourdes Zapata, President & Chief Executive Officer, South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBRO)

Read the article on City Limits website here.

Executive Director Colin Smith reflects on 8-year tenure at Change for Kids

You have been the Executive Director at Change for Kids since 2009. What was your first year like?

Tough, Colin-Smith_1 (1)but surprisingly fun. Raising money in 2009, during the heart of the Great Recession, was difficult to say the least. We were essentially building a donor base from scratch at a time when everyone was seeing their disposable income and wealth collapse – particularly in NYC. They were looking for ways to cut donations, the needs at our partner schools were getting even more challenging, and we had minimal infrastructure in place to address either challenge. Three things made it “surprisingly fun.” First, starting over allowed us to rethink every aspect of the organization. Second, we could envision a brighter future and I think people were really looking for that brightness in those pretty dark days. And third, the sheer extent of the challenge made the small group that signed on (for the Board, Junior Council, and staff) as tight as any team I’ve been a part of. The staff at the time were two folks, both of whom were some of my favorite co-workers: Mike Quinzio, a great friend from college; and my little sister, Caitlin (it doesn’t get much more grassroots than that). We had a blast together every day. It felt like we were all in this together, working toward a crazy, ambitious goal. I’m proud that those ethos have been maintained ever since.

What are you most proud of accomplishing as Executive Director?

That’s hard. I’m proud of all of the last 8 years – not only he good times, but how we’ve responded to a lot of times when we were on the ropes. But if I’m forced to pick one, it’s Super Chefs 2015. That year, we brought our annual gala to a new level. We were closing in on ten schools- it seemed as though the organization was light-years ahead if where it had been, even just the year before.  We hosted 600+ supporters and the night was capped off with a speech by an amazing student, Leonard, who sparked tears of joy from an inspired crowd as he talked eloquently about the impact we had made in his life. Then and there I saw just how far Change for Kids had come over the years. The picture of Leonard, his principal and I at the event still adorns my office as my single fondest CFK memory.

Kids say the darndest things. Tell us about one of your favorite moments with a student or group of students.

It’s hard to beat one of my first experiences with Change for Kids, almost ten years ago. I had just joined the Junior Council and volunteered to chaperone a field trip to the Central Park Zoo. When I hopped on the bus from the school to the Zoo, I noticed one student sitting by himself and staring off to the distance outside of his window. I sat next to him and struggled to chat with him on the ride down. It turns out he was in the special education program and had a particularly difficult time socially. When we arrived at the Zoo, my primary job was to keep up with that particular student for the entire trip. The task severely stretched my limited fitness. He darted around the Zoo, pointing out different animals and asking me 100 questions along every stop in our obstacle course. When the trip ended, I rode back with him and didn’t feel like either of us paused our conversation for a breath. The next week, I received a letter from the student’s teacher saying that she had never seen him more engaged in school (and happier) than in the days following that trip. I was hooked from that point on.

What advice would you give the incoming Executive Director?

Bring your A game because we have a staff, Board, principals and supporters who don’t miss a beat. We just held our April Board meeting, focused on next year’s strategic goals, and the depth of the engagement and conversation was inspiring. Our team wants to do big things, and it has the horsepower to achieve those goals. I feel the same when I speak with sponsors, pushing for their next volunteer activity; or schools, driving us to provide greater service. Our community is an impressive collection of talent and drive. Enjoy it because that’s a real, and unique, privilege.

What’s next for you after CFK?

First, I never want there to be an “after CFK.” I’m planning on taking a different leadership role here, but this place will always be a central passion in my life. I see us becoming a national organization, helping hundreds of thousands of students. And I want to do my part in the years ahead to help make that happen. But to directly answer the question… I want to make the largest impact I can. What that looks like next is TBD. I’m looking forward to exploring industries and opportunities where I feel like I can leverage my time and leadership to make a difference – whether that’s a for-profit, nonprofit or in public service. This is an exciting time for my wife and me as we look to our next chapter.

Meet Change for Kids’ School Manager at P.S. 15 and P.S. 314: Rakia Wells

We are thrilled to welcoFullSizeRender (18)me Rakia Wells to the Change for Kids Team! Rakia is the School Manager at P.S. 15 in Manhattan and P.S. 314 in the Bronx. Learn more about Rakia, as she shares with us her passion for service, volunteerism, and her favorite memories from elementary school!

What drew you to Change for Kids? What are you most excited about doing in your role as a Change for Kids School Manager?

I am a strong believer in the power of service and youth enrichment. I saw in the School Manager role the opportunity to combine these two ideals together and build strong communities within our schools. I’m excited to work alongside teachers, staff, and coordinators to create a community where students can thrive and continue to love learning in all its aspects.

What do you hope to achieve at P.S. 15 and P.S. 314?

I hope to be a rich source of support for P.S. 15 and P.S. 314 to continue to grow, build, and develop community engagement initiatives and student experience opportunities. With a strong background in volunteer management, I’m extremely motivated to provide an enriching volunteer experience where volunteers not only give back to a community but witness the impact of their service and feel valued — and hopefully want to volunteer again! Our parents and volunteers make our programs come alive and I hope to cultivate sustainable engagement initiatives that will continue to inspire our students.

What did you do before you joined the Change for Kids team?

Prior to joining Change for Kids, I was a Senior Volunteer Manager at Reading Partners where I onboarded all of our volunteers and lead our community building events. I have worked in the education sector for both corporate and nonprofit entities, working as a Study Abroad Recruiter for college students as well as having a lead role in volunteer management.

When you were in elementary school, who made the biggest impact on you?

When I was in elementary school, the teacher that had the largest impact on me was my first grade teacher, Mrs. Yamamoto. Mrs. Yamamoto was the biggest believer in supporting the imagination and brought teaching to life in the classroom. Whether I was learning how to write my name in Korean, practicing speed-reading techniques, joining “worm club,” or enthusiastically singing about math, she never stifled the excitement to learn, and I’ll always remember her for that.

Do you have a favorite memory from your elementary school days?

One of my favorite elementary school memories was in the 4th grade during our science period. I wasn’t particularly interested in the sciences; however, my 4th grade teacher Mr. Faris was an expert in engaging children on subjects they believed to be boring. One day, Mr. Faris brought a huge jar of dill pickles to the front of the class and sat the jar next to an electric contraption. Each pickle looked like an oversized cucumber floating in a sea of green. Mr. Faris announced we would be learning about electricity today and he would demonstrate the power of an electric current by attaching one of the pickles to his homemade contraption. This stunt was known as the “Electric Pickle”. Mr. Faris would then proceed to attach a pickle, to what can only be described as a mini car battery, and showed us the effects of electrocuting my favorite vegetable. The pickle would light up from the inside, a fantastic lime green, with steam pouring out from the top.

All the students were mesmerized by the eerie glow emulating from the middle of the pickle and jumped as sparks began to fly from the clamps. Interestingly enough, Mr. Faris continued with the experiment, while I sat in the corner covering my face thinking at any moment the pickle would explode and we would all be sprayed with pickle juice.

I’ll never forget Mr. Faris or his many science experiments. By the end of the year, science became one of the least boring subjects imaginable.

Most of us learn to read–and love reading!–in elementary school. What was your favorite book? 

My favorite book in elementary school was Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar. I loved reading out loud in the classroom, especially books that used a lot of characters, because this really gave me a chance to show off my acting skills. With all of the wacky characters and weird story lines, I always felt right at home!