I joined CVH in 2009. I was volunteering with Melissa Mark-Viverito’s election campaign for City Council; Diego from CVH (a former organizer) was handing out flyers there and asked me to participate in CVH’s Sustainable Communities Committee. We “counted condos”; reported back on the number of new housing units where low-income families in the community couldn’t afford to live. I live in East Harlem and didn’t want people to be pushed out of our own neighborhood. We organized a rally and held a press conference in front of the Schomburg Plaza at 110th Street and 5th Avenue to call attention; we marched through the affected neighborhood from 110th to 125th street.
In 2011 I got involved with Participatory Budgeting. Councilwoman Mark-Viverito [now the Speaker] was responsive when people of color went and asked her to find it in her heart to let them use those discretionary funds; the people know better. I did outreach to educate people and get them involved—I went door to door, getting people engaged; asking them how they felt about $1 million and how they would spend it. We shared ideas—building a park, basketball court, senior center—things they want for the neighborhood vs. just spending on themselves. I found leaders, got them involved in committees—people who’d be able to step up and see what’s needed; stay involved, engage others.
In September I was selected to attend a PB National Conference in Oakland, CA—there were hundreds of people from all over US. I educated one of the leaders I met there and now he’s on a planning board—a guy named Joey (I called him Jose); to this day we stay in contact!
I’m driven to interact with people in my neighborhood—I like leading someone to the right place where they can get assistance—empowering other people to see how they can be their own leader. I’m going to stay involved this year, keep engaging people in PB; find new leaders, get them to participate. I’m going to make sure City Council members stay involved in this process and not let it go. The government says we have no money, but this is how we get the real dollars—through discretionary funds.