Member Spotlight: Stephanie Mills

We’re able to create representation and say we’re here, we matter, and we’re present, and for people who aren’t part of the community to see that we have a voice and we are going to represent ourselves."

-Stephanie Mills, Program Director at Hudson Pride Center

Stephanie Mills is the Director of Programs for Hudson Pride Center. Since joining the HPC team in 2011, she has maintained an active role on the Hudson County Alliance to End Homelessness committee, Hudson County HIV/AIDS Planning Council, Jersey City AIDS Task Force, Partners In Prevention’s Board of Trustees, and has contributed tremendous efforts to creating safer spaces throughout Hudson County for our LGBTQ+ community. She was born and raised in Paterson, NJ and is an alumna of William Paterson University. 

Among Stephanie’s proudest moments are: becoming a parent, receiving the “Member of Excellence '' award (Americorps) and being featured in the Business Equality Magazine (Top 40 under 40 LGBTQ+ Leaders). Her overall goal is to empower members of the LGBTQ+ community to become leaders and cultivate self-sufficiency.

Stephanie on why it’s important to achieve policies in New Jersey that welcome and support immigrants to become rooted economically, politically and socially within the state…

As always, if not, we're going to see worse situations. As a nation, if we don't give folks things that they need to survive, we're going to have an apocalypse, which is where we're headed. Folks who are here and found a way to be here- I don't think we should punish them for finding their way.  If you want to keep things safer, you have to give people access to things like healthcare, housing, great medical and mental health counseling, all of these things so that they can create a stable, independent, healthy lifestyle. If not, we're going to keep dealing with things like this pandemic. We have all these things happening and we can't find the answers and we can't contain it, but if people were able to live comfortably, we wouldn't have to worry about it. So I think it's important to make policies to fight for folks who are immigrants because they're here, and they need to be protected too. We all want human rights, so let's just give folks exactly that. We’re born into that. Otherwise, we're just going to be dealing with pandemic after pandemic. We had the HIV epidemic, COVID, the LGBTQ+ movement, and I'm Black, so I don't know if that's an epidemic or pandemic in itself. You have to give people what they need to be good, because if not, they're all going to be bad. 

Who Stephanie is, what she does, and why she does it…

My name is Stephanie Mills, my pronouns are she/her, and I’m the Director of Programs at Hudson Pride Center. With that role I get to oversee our outreach initiatives, our social platforms that allow our folks to interact with peers about issues that they’re facing in their community, and to really celebrate their diversity. I also oversee staff, so I’m responsible for scheduling and making sure that we’re really represented in different arenas, so you’ll see us at different community centers, participating in community events, you’ll see us in medical facilities, or schools, you know we’re really everywhere that there’s a sense of community. We’re just trying to create safer spaces. 

I first started with HPC in 2011. My goal was different then- I engaged directly with our youth and young adults with that program, and it was super empowering to lead a program where I saw myself plenty of times. When I first saw the position available, it was sent to me and I was like “Wow this is literally me!”, you know. I get to be paid for being LGBTQ+ and for supporting youth that have gone through challenges that I’ve been through when I was younger when I didn’t have this platform or resources. I was very proud to even apply for the position, and I ended up being awarded it. It really made me want to go super hard and make sure that the youth understood that they had a space and organization that was behind them. We needed the Youth Connect Program to represent them, and to do that, we needed them in the forefront. They were very much involved with program planning, and giving us ideas that they wanted to see happen or where we should go for outreach. So I do it because if not me or someone else in the community, who else is going to take on this role? I feel like I’m obligated to work to create safer spaces and support our youth with the tools to take on leadership roles, because one day I’m not going to be at HPC and we would love to have someone who was a Youth Connect member be considered to take on this position. That’s why I do it. To make sure that our community has a voice. 

Stephanie on some of Hudson Pride Centers’ recent successes, current campaigns, and initiatives…

This might take a little while, we have a whole lot happening at Hudson Pride. So we’re grant funded to do specific things, one of them being outreach. For one particular program, it’s designed for folks specifically living with HIV, so we go out to the community, find folks who are eligible, enroll them, and help them get linked to medical care and stay adherent to their medication. With COVID-19 we’ve been utilizing other platforms to engage with folks that we normally wouldn’t see at Hudson Pride.  When I say that I mean that we had an open mic for our Lez Fest group, the lesbian, bisexual, and queer identifying people. It was virtual, so we saw that we had folks from Africa and Canada, and we thought “Why have we never done this before?” We had access to areas that weren’t even on our radar. Overall, I think our success is from community leaders, our supporters, and our members in addition to the staff, board and volunteers. HPC really is a community, and everyone has a role to play for us to be successful, and that’s why I think we are- we have amazing staff leaders who are dedicated to similar visions. We’re all about creating safer spaces, and we’re all like superheroes! Everyone has their own superpower and attribute that they bring to HPC to make us so awesome. So we have all these amazing folks who are dedicated to creating a safer space for our community come together and commit to specific outreach and PrEP programs, taking on event planning and social support with the program, along with a magnificent board who can hear you and utilize their network and privilege to uplift you. 

I talked to you a little about Lez Fest, we also have Youth Connect, which is a program tailored for youth and  young adults ages 13-24. We have SAGE for our seasoned LGBTQ+ community, Beyond the Binary, which is for the Trans and Non-Binary communities, and it’s so important to highlight those specific groups because it’s a platform for those communities to come together with their peers who they may not see in person. Although we have a presence in Hudson County and Jersey City, when it comes down to it, we don’t always get to see each other that much. For Beyond the Binary, we have had voice coaches come in and talk about that process, we’ve had medical providers that have offered reassignment surgeries and talk about the process and what is needed, so it helps folks prepare for that journey so that they have less barriers. 

 For HPC, we now have Trans specific services. We previously didn’t have grant funds for Hormone Replacement Therapy, but after hearing our community and having an amazing leader like our Executive director, Liz, meet with the mayor and county folks and tell them that this is what we needed, we were able to secure small amounts of money to help folks who can’t afford to pay out of pocket when it comes to things like HRT, name change, or gender marking change. We know how valuable that is for folks to have, to have their documents align with their presentation. Again, it’s eliminating some of those barriers. The evolution of HPC has been really successful with leaders and our granters, we’re able to discuss the trends in what we’re seeing so we can request for different funding. HPC has been in existence since 1993, practically 30 years ago. The needs that we started out with in 1993 are different now. Now we’re able to communicate with our granters and community and say “This is what we’re seeing. X amount of LGBTQ+ people are dealing with homelessness. We need to have a LGBTQ+ shelter here”  We just had an adult prom fundraiser this past Friday, and it was so phenomenal to be in a space with political leaders, college university reps, high school staff and just party together. Usually we’re working on something LGBTQ+ related, but to be in a space where we can really get to know them on a different level is awesome. We had young adults who aged out of Youth Connect who were able to come, and it was phenomenal to introduce those same youth in our programs to folks who made sure we had what we needed for those programs.

What Pride month means to Stephanie, personally and by being a part of Hudson Pride Center… 

This is a great question! Pride has a couple of layers here. First and foremost, Pride is awareness. We’re able to create representation and say we’re here, we matter, and we’re present, and for people who aren’t part of the community to see that we have a voice and we are going to represent ourselves. So that first layer is just to say that we exist. The second layer is for us to celebrate! Celebrate the progress that we have made and celebrate our community leaders who are working hard to create a safer space to make the changes that we want to see happen. And last, definitely advocacy. We still have barriers that are placed in front of us that we have to demolish, so it continues on with the advocacy to make that change. So Pride for me is a combination of all three, its representation, celebration, and advocacy, all of that meshed into one. Pride means community needs. Folks who share that LGBTQ+ identity, who can relate to each other on some level, coming together saying “I see you, I’m here for you, I support you, we’re in this together”.  So I think Pride for me is definitely community. 

What continues to be a large misconception of the queer community and what can we do to address it?

I think a large misconception when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community is that to be any letter in the acronym means that you have to look a certain way or fit a certain mold. If I had to dig into it a little bit deeper, and I’ll use myself as an example (I’ve talked to my relatives a lot about Pride and they feel comfortable asking me questions that they may not ask someone else), I have a relative who always expresses to me that he sees lesbian women a certain way, and that’s because of his experience with or meeting lesbians. So because of his experience with those particular women, he based his outlook on the whole community, so at times I have to reel him in and remind him, “I know you had that experience but they don’t speak for all of us, they speak for a small part of that particular community” Another misconception is that we have some agenda to convert people to LGBTQ+, and that goes to show that people don’t understand how it works being LGBTQ+. Like, you can’t convert someone! When we fight for our rights, people who aren’t LBGTQ+ are like, “We feel like you’re trying to take over”. And we’re like, “No, we just want you to stop killing us and stop having laws that prevent us from having the same things that you’re able to have!” Another misconception: All gay men are not going to have HIV in their lifetime. Not only gay men live with HIV. We need to break down the stigma around that, and attach facts to it. And last but not least, Black Trans women. We know that Black Trans women face the most violence. I wanted to put that out there because we need to do a better job of protecting our Black Trans folks. I don’t know if that ties to the question, but I definitely wanted to put that out because I’m not sure which stigma contributes the most to the violence that comes upon Black Trans women, but I hope it stops, so note to the public: Stop killing our Black Trans women.  

How is the struggle for queer liberation linked to the fight for racial justice? What can we learn from both movements?

It’s linked by just the fact that we’re fighting for equality. When you look at race, gender identity, sexual orientation, it all comes back to identity factors. These are the attributes of my identity. So when I think of the way that I'm fighting for humanity as a Black person, I'm also fighting for humanity as a non straight person. So they are linked because I'm fighting for human rights on different levels- my ethnicity, my heritage, the way I identify, the way I present to people. I’m fighting for humanity twice- squared even-, which makes this super hard.  There's even a dual conflict with the intersection of being Black and being LGBTQ+, because now when I go into spaces that are exclusively black, I'm fighting for my LGBTQ+ identity to be heard and seen and respected. When I'm in spaces that are exclusively LGBTQ+, I'm fighting for my cultural identity to be seen, heard and respected. So the fight is the same, it's just two different- Or now that I'm thinking about it, is there really a difference? I don't know. They're both identity factors so I don't know if there's a huge difference. One is linked to my lineage, and one is linked to how I identify. So if there is a difference, one battle I was born into- the race battle. I was born Black. It's not like I came out and said I identify as Black. While I feel like I was born into the LGBTQ+ identity, I had to come out. One struggle I was born into, and the other one, I voiced my identity and it makes it another struggle right there. 

Stephanie’s favorite pastimes and joys in these current turbulent times…  

I love going outside and being near big bodies of water. I'm from Paterson, New Jersey, and luckily we have the Great Falls there, so I love just looking out into the water. I love going to Atlantic City and hanging out by the beach. I went to Asbury about a week and a half ago. I love being by the water where I can lose thought, and just letting my thoughts flow, but still not having a whole bunch at the same time. Just like a way to relax. I love looking at stars at night by the beach, that's really dope. I think it does something to my soul, and it's different from everyday city life. Of course, spending time with my kid, my princess! Her name is Kennedy, pronouns she/her. She's six, and going to be seven in October. Just her personality- she’s able to make me smile with a joke, and she loves knock knock jokes. 

Learn more about Hudson Pride Center here!

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Member Spotlight: Chia-Chia Wang

"I think this month is an exciting month to take a moment to celebrate our cultural heritage. But I think that it’s also important to build solidarity with other communities, especially communities of Color and talk about who we are and what we do in conjunction with other communities"

-Chia-Chia Wang, Organizing and Advocacy Director at American Friends Service Committee-Immigrant Rights Program

Chia-Chia’s thoughts on the importance of achieving policies in New Jersey that welcome and support immigrants…

"It’s a question of human rights and equality. Everyone should have the same basic human rights, and that there are many injustices and inequalities in our country that we continue to work to dismantle, eliminate, and reduce. Once we achieve that goal of equity, everyone will feel safe, including immigrants. Whether you or your ancestors came 100 or 200 years ago, immigrants who came after that are all here for the same purposes: to pursue better opportunities for themselves. People should have the right to protection as well as better futures for themselves and their children. With that belief, New Jersey can play a role in creating a pro-immigrant, welcoming environment as well as a state with concrete policies that uphold everybody's rights. I do think that welcoming immigrants does not hurt anyone, so I see all the benefits of fair and welcoming policies."

Chia-Chia on who she is, what she does, and why she does it…

"My current title and position with the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is Organizing and Advocacy Director. I started with AFSC about 16 years ago as a pretty junior staff member that didn’t really know anything about Quakers or Quakerism. I was very curious to learn about it and was looking forward to a different policy environment. I was working in New York before with a really great organization called Children’s Defense Fund doing a lot of public benefits work, but I felt like I needed a space that could speak to my own experience as an immigrant and being foreign-born. I found AFSC and have been here ever since. I believe in the work because I work with really, really good people and everybody wants to see changes. That’s one of the reasons why I come to do what I do, people want to see change and believe in change. My own values are really because of my family. You know, my grandparents taught me how to not take advantage of others, and really see how you yourself can contribute to your community. That has stayed with me."

AFSC’s recent successes and ongoing campaigns…

"One success would be helping to ban of ICE Detention contracts in New Jersey, which just became law last year. It was really quick, but it wasn’t just about the policy that became law. It was about how we were able to get support from legislators, the community, and the State, and move the public to stand against incarcerating people for profit. For me, the most significant thing is that there is a change of hearts and minds, there is a broader support for immigrant rights and for anti-detention work. 

Now, we are advocating for the passage of the Values Act (A1986/S512), in coalition with other NJAIJ members. We continue to support Temporary Protected Status holders to obtain permanent residency, and serve a large number of DACA holders and their families.

We are working on two new program areas. One is to cultivate immigrant women’s leadership in immigration, anti-detention, and anti-deportation organizing. We want to support them as they share their stories and call out the injustices they face. The second new program we’re working on is supporting the leadership development of Black immigrants, primarily focusing on those of West African and Haitian descent. Haiti is very special for me and others (such as Serges Demefack who’s going to be the lead person for this work) because of the multiple oppressions that Haitians face in their country, in Latin America, and in the US. We hope to see more Haitian leadership in coming years."

Chia-Chia on what AAPI Heritage Month means to her personally…

"This month is an exciting month to take a moment to celebrate our cultural heritage. Though, t’s also important to build solidarity with other communities, especially communities of Color and talk about who we are and what we do in conjunction with other communities. There’s a need for that. There’s often a disconnect between Asian Americans and other immigrants and communities of Color. I say that because I’m usually the only Asian person in rallies and policy work. It’s exciting to see people like Amy Torres, as well as a few other leaders, joining the policy and organizing work in New Jersey.

In terms of myself, I have a little bit of a different experience. My grandparents moved to Taiwan, and my mom went to Taiwan when she was two years old. I lived the first 22-years of my life in Taiwan, and I believe that - and this is getting political - Taiwan is not part of China. I have the experience of being categorized or defined as a stateless people, and there is often ignorance among advocates to make comments like “Why don’t you want to be part of China'' or “Why don’t you want to be Chinese” or “What’s the difference, they’re all the same”. While fighting for others rights, it’s sometimes hard to assert your own rights because it’s not something that everybody else has to fight for. It takes time to invest in relationships to have conversations about the perception of who Taiwanese people are. I want to just mention that I do have my own identity, and that might be different from others. I encourage people to not generalize because of my last name or where I came from."

AAPI Heritage Month as part of Chia-Chia’s work at AFSC…

"I don’t think there is any Asian person in leadership at AFSC. Because of this, I’m proud to be where I am in a small local leadership program, but its difficult. I do think that within the Asian and Asian American community, there’s a lot of silence about the oppression that we faced years ago and continue to face. When you face or receive unfair treatment, Asian Americans usually don’t say anything. In general, there's a common culture where we don't want to talk about politics. “Why do you work in nonprofits?”, “Why do you talk about policies?”, “You should work in finance.”, “You should try to be a lawyer or a doctor” or “Work to support your parents”. Theres an endurance in order to survive hardship or oppression or discrimination and not talk about it. We need to change that. If we don't talk about those discriminations or oppression or the unfairness that we encounter, things will never change. Larger communities must also realize that Asian Americans face a great deal of discrimination. One day, I was just walking down the street in Newark and kept reflecting to myself, “how am I being seen on the street?”. An altercation happened where someone spat on my shoes and joked about it. This was not a joke to me, but I didn’t want to start a fight. Did they not expect me to speak up because I’m Asian? Maybe. I do think that those things can be very hurtful, and if you don’t talk about it, then you’ll never be recognized."

Chia-Chia shares her thoughts on indigeneity within the AAPI Community…

"I love the word Pacific Islander. I haven’t read much about Pacific Islanders but Taiwan is an island that's in the Pacific. There were a lot of indigenous communities that I grew up with and I’d like to be recognized as part of that community, rather than the inland community. I also want to highlight Pacific Islanders as the original people in many parts of Asia."

What’s the last book you read/what book has impacted you the most?

"I can’t name one! I have a lot of different interests. In recent years I enjoyed fictional novels based on true history. I love those. I read a lot of African history, about African wars based on tribal history and conflict. I really enjoyed those, and learning and appreciating the little things about it, like how food sometimes united them. I’m also very interested in psychoanalysis. I like reading on how people’s minds change their behavior or how there are certain things that are passed down through generations. 

Recently, I’ve picked up some Chinese writing because I’m forgetting how to write things. I think that I’m going to lose it more as the years go by, so I’ve started reading traditional Chinese books, from novels to self improvement books."

Check out AFSC-Immigrant Rights Program here!

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Member Spotlight: JV Valladolid, Environmental Justice Organizer, Ironbound Community Corporation

“When we talk about environmental injustice, we are talking about our neighborhood being seen and used as a dumping ground for corporations. We are talking about the land being sacrificed and people being displaced. We are talking about our neighborhood being targeted by companies because they want to build on our community.”

-JV Valladolid, Environmental Justice Organizer, Ironbound Community Corporation

 

An introduction to JV…

"My name is JV, and my pronouns are JV. I am an Environmental Justice Organizer with the Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC) based in Newark, New Jersey, unceded Lenape Land. But that’s not really who I am. I self-describe as a Newark-native and child of immigrants. I see my current job as an extension of my previous work in education focused on Reproductive Justice. I started organizing with the Masakhane Center which is a youth-driven organization providing community-based sexuality education in and around Newark. I became an educator with the Masakhane Center, where I helped orientate youth about reproductive justice."

An introduction to the Environmental Justice Department at ICC…

"Under our Environmental Justice department, our team works to reconnect people to the earth, and bring attention to the pollution in the neighborhood. Here at ICC, we have an urban garden called Down Bottom Farms. We have youth and adult programs, volunteer opportunities, and community events that operate out of Down Bottom Farms. Our team also works to bring attention to the terrible air quality in Ironbound caused by three existing toxic gas power plants, congested diesel truck traffic, an incinerator, and one superfund site (a superfund site is an abandoned toxic waste site that requires a cleanup response due to hazardous materials and conditions). More than 50% of what is burned in at the garbage incinerator comes from outside of the Ironbound. The asthma rate in Ironbound is three times higher than anywhere else in the state of New Jersey. We know that the environmental and health hazards in our community are a consequence of the emissions from the corporations and factories in the neighborhood. When I think about all the connections between environmental justice, health, political decision-making - I realize that each factor impacts the other.

Our current effort is to increase public awareness of the fourth power plant trying to make its way into our community (Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission). We are preparing community members to provide public testimony. The struggle is strategic on the part of our opposition, where they are probably thinking that with enough time, people will forget and the community will stop showing up."

JV on the environmental justice fight in Newark, New Jersey…

"Newark isn’t unique in the fight for environmental justice. Newark is an environmental justice community, meaning that the people who grow up here have no choice but to be exposed to environmental hazards. Newark is similar to the other environmental justice communities across the country, which are low-income, predominantly residents of Color, and/or undocumented. Communities that look like Newark are likewise targeted by power plants, luxury housing, and highway construction, which consequently bulldoze people off the land. What makes Newark special in the movement, though, is that our community has been leading the fight for an environmental justice bill moving through the legislature, which is meant to protect overburdened communities in New Jersey from further pollution and harm."

JV’s thoughts on achieving policies in New Jersey that support immigrants…

"When we talk about environmental injustice, we are talking about our neighborhood being seen and used as a dumping ground for corporations. We are talking about the land being sacrificed and people being displaced. We are talking about our neighborhood being targeted by companies because they want to build on our community. I have been thinking about the recent Census, and how every Census year, pockets of our community go unaccounted for. The Census doesn’t reflect that our neighbors have been pushed out. Or that the area is filled with waste, so community members have been forced to move. The majority of our community is working class, undocumented, and people of Color. They are hardly ever counted, but face the most extreme injustice. There aren’t strong enough policies that exist in New Jersey that protect our communities from harm."

JV’s sentiments about Earth Day…

"Earth Day brings up a lot of memories and feelings for me. The first time I actually saw something blossom was in my adult life. I visited Soul Fire Farm and had the opportunity to see a pea blossom. I saw this beautiful flower, wondered what it was, and someone told me it was a pea. I became emotional, and still do just thinking about it. A lot of the places we live in don’t have green spaces, so there's not enough opportunities for us to build an intimate relationship with the Earth. Too often, programs focus on teaching people about the Earth, but I don’t think we need to be taught that exactly. Instead, I think we should be helping people reconnect with the Earth."

JV on the intersection between reproductive justice and environmental justice…

"The intersection between Reproductive Justice and Environmental Justice is often overlooked. Reproductive Justice to me is the right to live in a safe and sustainable community and have full autonomy over one’s body. We know that there are health issues that are happening to people’s bodies just because of where they live and the pollutants they are surrounded by. There isn’t enough validation given to this part of the work, despite the amount of research that exists on the impacts that environmental hazards have on people’s bodies. For example, high asthma rates in children, cancer as a result of toxins, and so much more. It’s also really important for me to highlight that whether we choose to parent or not, toxins from our environment live in our bodies and get passed down. Whether someone chooses to parent or not, there are reproductive challenges that arise, which range from fertility issues, gynecological issues to pregnancy outcomes. People who are Black and Brown, low-income and undocumented already face higher risks of reproductive challenges. 

Giddy Health recently published an article titled “Environmental Racism's Toll on Reproductive Health”, which details how the Ironbound community’s environmental concerns contribute to reproductive justice concerns in the neighborhood. The article also brings to lights’ ICC’s campaign against the fourth power plant (PVSC)."

JV’s inspiration…

"My mother inspires me deeply. My mother has a rare diagnosis and the way she’s had to navigate life has informed my work. Throughout my time as a Reproductive Justice educator, I recognized the lack of educational material for people with disabilities. Now in my organizing work, I try to always think of ways of making information and events accessible and relevant to all people."

Check out Ironbound Community Corporation and the rest of their services here!

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Member Spotlight: Jennie Vega, Social Services Manager, Oasis - A Haven for Women and Children

“If I can be a voice, that’s what I was meant to be in this world”

-Jennie Vega, Social Services Manager, Oasis - A Haven for Women and Children

 

Who are you, what do you do, and why (do you do it)? 

“I wanted to break the cycle that my grandmother went through, that I also went through, watching her struggle. Just in general, asking questions and seeking resources. I remember being that child that had to translate for my grandmother, and watching people laugh and smirk at her hurt me. A social worker has a unique and privileged opportunity to assist people to claim their rights and also improve their circumstances. My grandmother went through so much and didn’t have someone to advocate for her. Seeing her go through those struggles and not finding solutions to her situation helped me realize that people need help, and if I can be a voice, that’s what I was meant to be in this world.” 

What are some of the organization's recent successes? What are the initiatives that Oasis is leading on currently? 

“There’s so much that we do, where do I start? On a basic day here at Oasis, we open the doors officially at 8:15 am, where we provide women and children with a hot breakfast, so that allows a lot of our women and community to come in and get a warm meal before they go to work or take their child to school. We then provide our community members with a hot lunch at 12 pm, which again gives them an opportunity to actually be able to sit somewhere and build relationships with the other women in the community, which I feel is super important. We provide adult education classes, like GED, citizenship classes, ESL classes, computer classes. Oasis is so flexible that we’re able to adapt to whatever the need is within our community. If the women come to us and tell us that it would be great to have a certain type of class, we’re able to do so, which ultimately helps the community in general. We assist our community with food bags, clothing, and baby items. In the social service department if a client comes through our front door and just needs help translating a letter that they received, or filling out an application, or making phone calls, or generally communicating when they’ve had difficulty before, we come in and assist the clients with that voice. Our hours are usually 8:15 am to 2:30 pm. After 2:30, it becomes a program for kids. We have our afterschool program where we service about 100 children, a teen boy teen teen girl program, and in the summer, we have a summer camp. 

We’re all over the place in a great way, but we try to help in whatever way we can. During the pandemic a lot of the kids had to stay home for a full year so bringing them back in and providing them with support, love, and nurture has always been our goal as well as our community members’. We’re doing a lot, we have a new mommy series that we’re starting, the program will provide mothers with access to resources. When we finally opened our doors after the pandemic, we received a lot of phone calls, and a lot of the women that came in were actually informing us about how hard it was to get access to healthcare and things like that. We’ve identified that that’s one of their big needs, and that we can be that bridge for them. We’re actually hosting a community baby shower to kick it off! Last time we had one, about 90 women came and it was a full baby shower. I think the most important thing was them building a community among themselves. A lot of women have come to us and said that they’re on their own and don’t have a lot of family, so helping them build that community is very important. 

We just expanded our childcare facility on the first floor, so now we can take care of more children. A perk now is that we have a rooftop garden, so we’re really excited to facilitate workshops outside. And guess what- we have a new wellness center so we’re going to have yoga classes, parenting classes, etc. The expansions of the rooms have given us access to service as many people as we can. We actually also have a new thrift store in the building called The Nest. One of the great things about it is that we have a retail internship program that is funded by the sale of gently used clothes to our community members for cheaper prices. It’s a 10-week program that will train women in retail, customer service, and other skills to prepare them to go into a retail workforce, put something on their resume, or just a general place to be."

What does Women’s History Month  mean to you personally, especially being a part of the social justice movement in NJ? 

“Women’s History Month means so much to me. It reminds me to remember and honor the women who have paved the way for me, like my grandmother, my mentor, my ancestors. But it also reminds me to not forget that there’s also a lot more work that needs to be done, and I should definitely be part of it. It makes me really sit down and think about everyone who’s fought for women to be in the positions that they’re in. I can’t even identify someone in particular because so many crucial people took part in creating where I am today."

How do you embed social change and social Justice into your work as a social services provider?

“As a social worker, one of my goals is to provide the client with advocacy. When a social worker engages in social change, or works with women and children, they do what they can to make sure that our clients are treated like human beings with respect in that whole entire process. Allowing the right people to hear them out is so important because that’s where social justice lies. It’s part of a social worker’s professional responsibility to be that advocate. As much as we hear people say that social workers are superheroes, I don’t view it as that. I see it as our responsibility to be that voice. Working hard to achieve that kind of social change for women and children is really difficult, but at the end of the day it is our responsibility. Our job is never done- we live it and see it every day. We do this for everyone, including ourselves.”

Tell us your favorite story that reminds you of why you do this work?

“When I first started at Oasis, there was a woman who had come in who seemed as if she was very upset and frustrated. She had just applied for services through an agency, but was told that she needed an interpreter because the only person to help her spoke English. She didn’t have any community support or any family to help her, so when I saw her at Oasis, I asked to just go with her, however, the agency still denied me as an interpreter thinking that I was a personal interpreter and not knowing that I was with my own agency. So what was the point of telling her to get her own? It seemed to me that there was a lot of miscommunication throughout the office, and it felt like we were both being mistreated. After asking to speak with a supervisor, they realized that Oasis had a very close relationship with this agency, and I immediately got an apology. I then spoke to the first person that serviced us and made the point to tell them that they shouldn’t have to know who I am or where I work to treat their customers with respect. It reminded me of being a child ith my grandmother at these services and not being able to advocate for her the way I can as an adult. I just couldn’t believe that we were experiencing the same thing years later. After this, she brought me coffee using her own savings, something that made me think of what my ancestors, my grandma, and even my mentor had gone through just to be heard- that cup of coffee was everything to me. Six years later, she still comes to visit and brings me coffee.”

As a direct service provider, how do you take care of yourself or counter vicarious trauma?

“Being completely transparent, I’m still working on identifying those things too. What I will say though is that I do have a great support system where I can go back and tell people how I’m feeling. I like to go on long walks on the beach year round, as crazy as that sounds. But I honestly have yet to identify how I’ve been taking care of myself because I really feel like this is just part of me. It never feels like I really need to take care of myself, but I know I have to. Being able to feel the feelings that I am and allowing myself to grieve definitely helps me out with it. “

What’s something about you (a fun fact) that not many people know?

“I love to collect antique tea cups! I talk a lot about my grandmother, she was really my drive, the one who took care of me, and she loved pretty antique cups, so when people would come, she could serve them and it felt like she had a lot. We would go to thrift stores together and would buy one cup, and I stayed with that. Now, at least twice a month I go to antique shops everywhere just to find one teacup. I have a total of 35 porcelain tea cups! Just talking about it right now, maybe one day I’ll host a conference and we can use the teacups.”

Who inspires you?

“Obviously, my family and my children. But also, my community. When I see my community members sharing their knowledge and their skills and ideas and the way that they come together to help one another- honestly, that’s the true meaning of community and that just reminds me of how resilient they are. Where I am today is because I had a community of people who pushed me here, who empowered me, so they inspire me every day. Every time I see someone get up early in the morning after working late hours to take their child to school and give them love- that’s inspiration to me.” 

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Member Spotlight: Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director, New Jersey Institute for Social Justice


Headshot, Andrea McChristian

“It is important for us not to be operating in silos as communities of Color, but rather we must work together because our collective advocacy gets things done”

-Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director, NJISJ

Andrea tells us who she is, what she does and why…

I am the Law and Policy Director at the NJ Institute for Social Justice (NJISJ). NJISJ, based in Newark, New Jersey, uses cutting-edge racial and social justice advocacy to empower people of color by building reparative systems that create wealth, transform justice, and harness democratic power – from the ground up – in New Jersey.   

I do this work for my ancestors who lost so much for me to be able to be here today. I do it for my current community because as a lawyer, I feel it incumbent upon me to use my expertise to support communities of Color. I do this work for my parents. They invested so much in order for me to have what I have.

Andrea on the importance of achieving policies that are rooted in racial and social justice… 

As the most recent Census data shows, people of Color are 48% of New Jersey’s population (and probably more!). Our state cannot prioritize racial and social justice without recognizing we are home to some of the worst racial disparities in the country, such as mass incarceration, education, health outcomes, the racial wealth gap and more. Being that our population is so large, our voices must be heard. We are excited to work with NJAIJ on a number of issues, from redistricting to ending mass incarceration. It is important for us not to be operating in silos as communities of Color, but rather we must work together because our collective advocacy gets things done.

Andrea on what some of the Institute’s campaigns and recent successes are…

The Institute’s work focuses on three interconnected pillars: economic justice, democracy and justice, and criminal justice reform. Our aim is to topple the walls of structural inequity in New Jersey, specifically for communities of Color. Within our economic justice pillar, we recently were able to get a student loans data collection bill passed. The new law will allow for greater transparency in New Jersey to understand how much debt graduating students are accruing by race, ethnicity, gender, and first generation status. This is critical to our work to ensure debt-free college. We were also successful in introducing the first in the nation statewide Reparations Task Force bill, and continue to fervently advocate for this legislation as part of our #SaytheWordReparations campaign. The Institute is also about to release a racial wealth gap report, which will target the various factors that have led to New Jersey having one of the highest racial wealth gaps in the nation.

Within our criminal justice pillar, we have a major campaign called #150YearsisEnough, aimed at closing New Jersey’s three youth prisons. Through this campaign, we were able to get the closure announcement of two of New Jersey’s youth prisons, as well as ensuring that New Jersey became the first state in the nation to test all of its incarcerated youth for COVID-19. This secured the release of over 100 young people from state youth facilities. Most recently, the Institute also won the appropriation of $8.4M for the development of restorative justice hubs in four cities that are disproportionately impacted by youth incarceration. Our campaign is now hyper-focused on closing our state’s failing youth prisons once and for all.  

With our Democracy and Justice pillar, our #1844NoMore campaign restored the right to vote to 83,000 New Jerseyans on probation or parole. Our advocacy also led to online voter registration, automatic voter registration, early voting in New Jersey, and limiting police presence at polling locations. We are currently involved in the redistricting process, as part of our #FairDistrictsNJ project, to ensure that racial equity is at the heart of the redistricting process. And we are working diligently with partners to ensure that same-day voter registration is passed into law this year.  

We have a very busy body of work, and we are very excited to keep expanding it.

Andrea on what Black History Month means to her…

When I was in college, acting was my primary extracurricular activity. A number of racist incidents occurred on campus, and I felt that my specific grievances as a Black woman weren’t being addressed. In response, my friends and I decided to reactivate Yale’s NAACP, which had been dormant for about a decade. One of our first activities was centered around Black History Month, where we put facts all over campus about historical Black figures. For me, Black History Month is personal because it represents a shift in my life towards doing racial and social justice work.

Black History Month also provides an interesting moment after the racial reckoning of 2020. It was then that many people (for the first time) understood the depth of structural inequity. We may now see legislators using hashtags and talking about racial equity, but, at the same time, we see that they are not willing to invest in Black and Brown communities. So I reflect on Black History Month for personal reasons, but also see it as a rallying cry to address the persisting injustice that communities of Color face. We must expose that New Jersey has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. We must expose that there is a lack of investment in communities of Color. We must expose that there is a long and horrific history that has led to the inequities we see today. That is what it truly means to honor Black history.  

Andrea gives a piece of advice to people of Color interested in policy advocacy…

It frustrates me to enter a space and see nothing but white faces speaking about racial justice. It is critical to have allies, but the experts who are most needed in this work, and who have solutions grounded in lived experience, are people of Color. Sometimes people of Color may opt out of these spaces because they believe they don’t have the fancy degrees or sufficient system-knowledge to be present. But, people of Color are experts in their experience. It has nothing to do with a fancy degree or title, and everything to do with your expertise as an impacted person. I encourage community members to get involved. Know that you are the expert and have the power to get the work done. You don’t want people outside of your community telling you what you and your people need. You know what you and your people need.

Andrea shares what she is passionate about outside of work…

A lot of what I am passionate about is connected to my work. I am passionate about being a Black woman. I am passionate about social and racial justice. But outside of work, another passion I’ve recently rediscovered is acting. Right now, I am part of a community play. It is really exciting to have an outlet. As part of self care, it is important to make time for hobbies. There was a time when I questioned myself what my hobbies were, because work is such a large part of my life. But, as I continue to do this work, I am passionate about making sure I am a full person. The work of social change is not 9-5. It consumes a person, and it’s easy to burnout. You have to make sure you are taking care of yourself first to be the best steward of this work.

Visit NJISJ’s Action Center: Take Action (njisj.org)

Call on NJ to create a statewide reparations taskforce at 400yearsnj.org  

Endorse Fair District NJ’s Unity Map sign-on letter to ensure racial equity is central to the legislative redistricting process

Urge President Biden to award Fred D. Gray, a lawyer of the Civil Rights Movement, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom: Petition · Give Mr. Fred D. Gray the Presidential Medal of Freedom! · Change.org

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Member Spotlight: Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director, CAIR-NJ

It's a blessing to be a part of a social movement that stands on the frontlines. We proudly and humbly stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and the legacies of those who did tenfold of what we are doing today. Championing these causes and being a voice for the voiceless is a huge honor and blessing."
- Selaedin Maksut, Executive Director, CAIR-NJ

We had the honor of interviewing Selaedin Maksut, the Executive Director of CAIR-New Jersey, a state chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR). CAIR is the largest and oldest civil rights organization, with 25 chapters nationwide, advocating for the rights of Muslims in the United States. We sat down with Selaedin to learn more about himself, the work CAIR-NJ is committed to, and the current effort to designate January as Muslim Awareness and Appreciation Month in New Jersey.

Selaedin explains the work that CAIR-NJ is committed to…

CAIR provides free legal services to community members facing discrimination on the basis of race and/or religion. The cases that we see range from hate crimes, employment discrimination, land use discrimination, government surveillance, and initimdation when traveling. The National office is leading efforts to fight the federal government’s “watch-list”, a long arbitrary list of American Muslim who are routinely detained while traveling in and out of the United States.

Other components of our work include educational programing like Know-Your-Rights (KYR) trainings, cultural competency trainings, and education around civic engagement and advocacy. With the KYR trainings, we make sure that community members know their rights and how to advocate for themselves. The cultural competency trainings educate employers on making workplaces/spaces more inclusive and welcoming of their Muslim employees. For example, for the holy month of Ramadan, employers can ensure that their Muslim employees feel comfortable practicing their faith during the work day. We have seen cases where Muslim employees, especially Muslim women who wear the headscarf, have been threatened or made to feel unwelcomed. We work hard to prevent that. Lastly, from the state legislature to local municipalities, we pursue advocacy efforts that champion the conserns of the American Muslim community. We work on issues as local as providing Halal food in public schools, to state legislation that highlights Muslim contributions to the state. 

CAIR-NJ is currently advocating for January to be Muslim Awareness and Appreciation Month in New Jersey. In his own words, Selaedin shares why it is important to have a month to celebrate the contributions made by the Muslim community… 

CAIR-NJ is leading efforts in New Jersey to make it the third state in the country to designate January as Muslim Awareness and Appreciation Month. The month would celebrate the contributions made by the Muslim community to New Jersey. This is really important to us because our state has the largest Muslim population per capita in the country: approximately 3% of the population is Muslim. We want to highlight the magnificent contributions that they have made to the state, and celebrate the richness of our diverse community, so other New Jerseyans can be more understanding and welcoming of their Muslim neighbors. 

For me personally, New Jersey is home. Growing up after 9/11, it was difficult to see my faith and community be vilified in the media and by politicians. Now 20 years later, we are better positioned to combat islamophobia, and having Muslim Awareness and Appreciation Month would help introduce a more positive representation of our community and faith.

CAIR-NJ’s recent wins and successes…

Our organization wants to be able to bring Halal food to all New Jersey schools, especially those school districts with high populations of Muslim youth. In 2021, CAIR-NJ was able to get confirmation from the Atlantic City Public School system to provide Halal food to children. This was a major win for our organization and our community! Another recent success was CAIR-NJ’s conversation with New Jersey State Senator-Elect Edward Durr, where we were able to confirm his commitment to stand against Islamophobia. In the past, the Senator had made problematic tweets about the Muslim community and we thought that the best way to address our concerns with him was to have a conversation. This is a person elected to a high political office in our state, and now has the power to draft legislation that impacts all of his constituents, including Muslims. Such hateful speech coming from a legislator fosters an environment that is hostile to Muslims and other marginalized groups. During our conversation, the Senator recognized the responsibility he now has—to ensure the safety of his constituents and make New Jersey a more welcoming state. Senator Durr disavowed Islamophobia, made a commitment to not use such negative rhetoric moving forward, as well as support our advocacy efforts concerning the Muslim community.

Selaedin shares his thoughts on the social justice movement…

The work is fulfilling because it's faith-based work that seeks to ensure everyone has equal opportunity, their civil rights are respected, and is treated with dignity. Once you are in the field, you see the impact right away and the change that can be made. It's a blessing to be a part of a social movement that  stands on the frontlines. We proudly and humbly stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and the legacies of those who did tenfold of what we are doing today. We are carrying the torch that people have passed down to us. Championing these causes and being a voice for the voiceless is a huge honor and blessing for me. 

We asked Selaedin who he would choose as a mentor. He responded…

If I had the opportunity to choose anyone as my mentor, it would be Malcolm X – a man who was so successful in his work that even the United States government felt threatened by his existence. I refer back to his life story often. The courage and strength he had was like no other. He was well ahead of his time. His Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and coming back as a changed man is an especially inspirational part of his life for me. He changed his entire approach to his civil rights work when he encountered the Islamic tradition and the Muslim world. I take so much inspiration from that part of Malcolm X’s life, and his overall legacy that he left behind for us all. 

Check out CAIR-NJ’s website!

Get involved with CAIR-NJ!
Volunteer and internship opportunities are available!

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Member Spotlight: Alain Mentha, Executive Director, Welcome Home Jersey City

 

“In New Jersey, we have a richer diversity of immigrant communities than in most states…New Jersey can be a leader in just immigration policy, and it starts with prioritizing that immigrants live thriving lives in our state.”

-Alain Mentha, Executive Director, Welcome Home Jersey City

 

Alain's background ranges from philosophy to the music business and academic book publishing industry, but it was the 2016 election that pushed Alain to become more mindful about various immigration issues, especially at the local level. “There has always been this nativist, xenophobic and demogogic discourse happening in this country, but it wasn’t until 2016 that it was truly in my face.  After the election, my wife and I were stunned. I knew I couldn’t spend the next four years just shouting at the television screen while people's lives were being impacted. We decided we would begin volunteering with a resettlement agency.”

 

Alain’s work with the resettlement agency included folding bed sheets, setting up apartments for refugee families, and serving as an English Language teacher. One experience resonated with Alain. “I was helping set up an apartment for a refugee family that had arrived from Eritrea. It was a couple and their six year old child. My daughter was six years old, too, and was volunteering with me. We decided to personally meet the family for some coffee. While we couldn’t exactly communicate due to language barriers, our children had no problem playing together. Our families got to know each other and learned how to communicate as best we could. Since that experience, I have never looked back.”

 

Prior to 2018, many individuals Welcome Home Jersey City (WHJC) served were refugees. That all changed when the resettlement program in Jersey City was suspended, leading the organization to serve asylum seekers, asylees and undocumented immigrants. Alain shares what brought the organization to the NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice (NJAIJ). “Because of our shift in the population we started serving, I became drawn to NJAIJ. I wanted to learn more about immigration policy and the lives of undocumented immigrants in New Jersey. I wanted to understand the programs and services that undocumented immigrants were entitled to, the barriers they were facing, and how WHJC could best serve this population locally.”

 

WHJC serves refugees and asylum seekers from across the world. “Many people we have met through WHJC are from the Middle East, North Africa, and East Africa. We have always supported Afghan SIV (Special Immigrant Visa) holders. In 2018, as we started working with more asylum seekers, we began meeting people from West Africa. They were being released from immigrant detention centers in New Jersey. As a result, our work started converging with anti-detention and immigrant justice organizations.”

 

WHJC work has evolved over time, from first helping set up housing for refugees, then connecting the community to education and employment opportunities. Today, WHJC is tapping into advocacy issues impacting the communities they serve. “WHJC is advocating for the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would benefit Afghan parolees. Currently, parolees do not have a pathway to citizenship, unlike refugees or SIV holders. Humanitarian parole only lasts a year. Once that year is up, they have to apply for asylum, which requires people to undergo a repetitive process. The Afghan Adjustment Act would put all Afghan parolees on a pathway to citizenship. We also advocate for the release of community members held in detention centers into the care of their community and community organizations, rather than being shipped off to a detention center in another state. We call for releases not transfers, just as other organizations have been amplifying across the state.”

Outside of their advocacy efforts, one of WHJC’s popular programs is Fun Club. “Every week, WHJC convenes the community for our Fun Club program. We help children with their homework and get them exposed to different activities, like dance and crafts. Simultaneously, we help parents on specific projects, like English classes for example. We then eat together in community. To be honest, I think we are more known for pizza than anything else!”

Alain has met a multitude of people and has had the opportunity to hear their stories. One story in particular resonated with Alain. “In 2019, WHJC held an event to commemorate World Refugee Day. At the end of our program, a refugee woman spoke up to tell her story. She had migrated from Syria to Thailand, where she was told that she could make her way to the United States. With her was her husband and her four children. News came that her two adult children would have to apply for refugee status separately. She had to make a decision: head to America with only her two youngest and her husband? Or wait, so that her family stays united, but with no guarantee that they will make it to the U.S.? She had to make the hard decision to leave behind her two adult kids. Life for the two adult children was hard in Thailand. They didn’t have legal working status in Thailand, which led them to be detained and imprisoned.” Alain shared that once the woman finished her story and asked for help in reuniting her family, a man in the audience spoke up. This man turned out to be related to the former chief of police in Bangkok, Thailand. He was able to contact the former chief of police and get the children released from jail. Alain reflects on this experience.This story is not just a wild coincidence. It shows the difficult decisions and the hard journeys that people must take as refugees, as well as the power that advocacy and speaking up for change has.”

To Alain, achieving policies in New Jersey that welcome and support immigrants is important. According to Alain, “immigrants bring so much value and richness to this country. Immigrants also bring a spirit of entrepreneurship, which is one of our main drivers in our economy and in our communities. America has always been a country of change and reinvention, which immigrants amplify. In New Jersey, we have a richer diversity of immigrant communities than in most states. Our State Legislature and Governor have a chance to support immigrants by passing laws that empower our communities and keep them together. New Jersey can be a leader in just immigration policy, and it starts with prioritizing that immigrants live thriving lives in our state.”

As the holidays approach us, Alain asks readers to broaden their understanding of home and family. “At WHJC we try to broaden the meaning of family and home to be more than just the people and place you return to at night. Family and home is our community that makes us feel safe. What can we bring to our community to ensure that we all feel safe? We have the responsibility of creating that sense of home and family for 85,000 Afghan refugees arriving in the United States. I can see Jersey City being home to dozens, even hundreds, of newly arrived Afghan refugees. And WHJC will be here to support them.”

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Member Spotlight on Edgar Aquino-Huerta, Farmworker Organizer, CATA - The Farmworker Support Committee

“Everything that people eat everyday, especially on Thanksgiving, is picked by a farmworker. Everything is produced by an agricultural worker. Everything is picked by essential hands that are not paid any attention to. Essential hands that have been through severe cuts, coldness, pesticide poisoning and much more. Hands that are not valued, but should be since they feed everyone.” -- Edgar Aquino-Huerta, Farmworker Organizer, CATA

 

Edgar was born in Puebla, Mexico, then migrated to the United States at a very young age. Edgar became an advocate a few years ago. He saw how his immigrant community was excluded from public programs and the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic had on his community. He saw the work CATA was doing in the community and was very impressed. He eventually joined CATA: “CATA does a lot of things. We do outreach on the farms to do pesticide trainings, facilitate health and safety trainings with the farmworkers so that they can navigate their work spaces, and outreach for the new driver’s licenses law. Not only do we try to build knowledge among the farmworkers, we also get them involved in advocacy efforts, like raising the minimum wage. Many people make below the minimum wage, even after working on the farms for over 20 years. We fight with them to improve their lives.”

 

For the past five months, Edgar has worked with community members to get them ready to apply for the driver’s licenses law. Edgar has been able to assist 45 community members start their driver’s license process in New Jersey since May, securing 11 of those members with their actual license: “I get calls sometimes from community members saying, ‘Hey, I got my license in the mail! Thank you so much’. I live for those moments. It’s another weight taken off their shoulders because they can drive with a little less fear on the road”. Edgar also shared that the most important thing about the work he does with CATA is building the confidence amongst farmworkers: “I do not come into their spaces and act as if I’m the professional. I get to know them as people. I learn about their experiences and what moves them. I try to console them when they are fearful about their situations. I try to give them animo, courage, to move forward because there are people advocating for them”

 

Many of the community members that Edgar works with are Mexican immigrants and Central American immigrants who work in the agricultural sector of south Jersey with certain lived experiences: “Many community members I work with do not have any form of documentation. This prevents them from applying for programs, like driver's licenses. I see that community members have been discouraged. They fear losing their jobs, or getting hurt on the job. But I also see people who fight for better. I know one community member who advocated for the driver’s licenses law since the very beginning. Today, he has his license and gets people involved in organizing campaigns.”

 

Edgar says that CATA is involved in various campaigns: “CATA works with the Let's Drive NJ/Driver’s Licenses for All campaign to ensure all community members, regardless of immigration status, have access to driver’s licenses. CATA also works with the Recovery For All coalition to advocate for the Excluded New Jerseyans Fund (ENJF). We also have community gardens and have weekly market days where community members can get fresh produce. CATA has three offices in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland. Each office does different things, but very important work.”

 

Edgar says that there are many ways for people to support CATA’s work: “People can visit the website to learn more about our initiatives. It would be very helpful if people share our Facebook updates, and join our community meetings every month to update the community with news that support immigrants. Also, any information that would be helpful to our community, please share! The more we educate the community, the better.”

 

One day, Edgar searched up his last name and found millions of google searches on Dolores Huerta. As he researched her, he found out how her advocacy efforts to better the lives and working conditions of farmworkers: “Sometimes I tell people that Dolores Huerta is my grandmother since we have the same last name. I like to believe we are related in some way. I didn’t know people like her existed, and definitely didn’t know I would do similar work as her in the future as a farmworker’s organizer. I would think about her all the time when I used to work the fields in the summer. I would stand up to oppressive bosses and stand up for my fellow workers because I knew that Dolores Huerta would do the same. ”

 

Thanksgiving is around the corner, and often Farmworkers and other agricultural workers are not acknowledged in the food system. One thing that Edgar would like people to know about the lives of farmworkers, is that “everything that people eat everyday, especially on Thanksgiving, is picked by a farmworker. Everything is produced by an agricultural worker. Everything is picked by essential hands that are not paid any attention to. Essential hands that have been through severe cuts, coldness, pesticide poisoning and much more. Hands that are not valued, but should be since they feed everyone.”

 

Edgar shares what brings him joy, and how he wishes to use his talents to further the farmworker rights movement: “I have been writing my entire life. I like to write about the world, but in a creative way so that people can picture it in their heads. I am also a videographer. I come from a low-income family, so we didn’t have money to buy cameras as a kid. When I got my first camera in seventh grade, I would direct videos with my cousins and upload them to YouTube. I eventually worked on PSA’s for my high school, and my work has developed greatly. I now want to document the lives of farm workers by creating cinematic testimonials from our community members. I want to capture how farmworkers feel, and what their experiences are like”

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Member Spotlight on Helen Zamora-Bustos, Organizer with Wind of the Spirit

“Black Latinos are only depicted in sports, but we are more than just athletes. We are activists, authors, actors/actresses, teachers, inventors. More light needs to be shed on Black Latinos and what we have contributed to Latin America and the world.”

Helen Zamora-Bustos,

Community Organizer, Wind of the Spirit

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Member Spotlight on Serges Demefack with AFSC-IRP

“It matters less where you are born and more what we carry with us, how we see our role as Black people to shape our own future and our own path. To be self-determined.”

Serges Demefack, End Detention and Deportation Project Coordinator, American Friends Service Committee - Immigrants Rights Project 

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