Joined in August 2017
Although I am still a young adult, I have built up an extensive background in social justice advocacy. To give some context as to why I do this work, I want to share some of my life with you, my readers. I was born to an impoverished family in Yonkers, NY, on April 10, 1995. My mom and dad were, and continue to be, undocumented, from Mexico and Portugal respectively, and both never finishing their education back in their home countries. For many of my crucial years as a child, I was subjected to behold a world that was unwelcoming and violent. Between the domestic violence my father brought home, and the bullying at school for being Mexican, it was a difficult life to grow up in. However, it is because of these experiences and memories that I make the decision to actively pursue a world in which all children are able to grow up without fears of violence every day. My belief is that demography is not destiny, and as long as you have the drive and passion to pursue a better future you should have the opportunities available to do so.
And so, with the help of friends and family, I began my career in advocacy during my time in college. My time spent as the 2014-2015 President of the Student Government Association of Union County College in New Jersey served as a gateway into actively pursuing means of addressing the needs the student and exterior community. Soon after having begun this role, I became a member of Make the Road NJ in an effort to begin working in the realm of immigrant and worker rights. I found myself traveling frequently to testify before elected officials on behalf of the undocumented community in efforts to create policies to give families ID's and temporary licenses, so that they can also safely interact with the community and law enforcement, and, at the same time, stimulate local economies. At the end of the 2015 academic year, I was awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, a nationally competitive scholarship which was given to only 90 out of over 3,000 applicants. With this scholarship, and the support of my college, I transferred over to John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where I currently study.
I entered in the fall of 2015, yet it feels as if I have been here for several years. Immediately, I ran around seeking out new opportunities to develop into a "fierce advocate for justice," as John Jay would put it. I applied and was accepted to the Vera Fellowship, Prison-to-College Pipeline Program, Young People 4 Fellowship, CUNY Becas Scholarship, Student Academic Success Programs (SASP) Peer Success Coach Program, and I was accepted to work in the Student Council as a Senior Representative, as well as in Dr. Strange's lab on campus to research memory as a lab assistant. Each of these experiences hold special value in my heart as they have shaped me into a well-rounded advocate for social justice.
Currently, I work as a fellow at the Vera Institute of Justice in their Center on Sentencing and Corrections, particularly in the College in Prison Project. Here I am able to learn more about the field of education in the United States through the lens of what is available to the incarcerated population in an era of mass incarceration. Ironically, the Prison-to-College Pipeline Program at John Jay is one of the site initiative of the Second Chance Pell Grant which I work with in Vera. I am fortunate enough to have this opportunity to see policy planning in its three stages: ideation, initiation, and implementation. I'm thankful for being able to have learning exchanges with the John Jay students on the inside as it has help remove many of the false perceptions of the incarcerated population that of become popular within our society: that they are somehow inherently less intelligent and overwhelmingly violent. What I have seen, thus far, is a group of bright men who are working to better their opportunities upon release. To shift topics away from solely working with prison education, I have also been able to work through the Young People 4 (YP4) Fellowship and the CUNY Becas Scholarship.
YP4 is actually very uplifting in their method, leaving full control of your area of advocacy up to you. Back on February 13, 2016, I was able to launch a pilot program for my non-profit movement, Educate the Future. The goal is to provide free tutoring and mentoring services to all low-income families regardless of their social background. As you can imagine, it was a very popular pilot. After having applied to YP4, I was told that I can actually receive a seed grant, as well as a network of advocates, that will aid in successfully sustaining this large scale project. My hope is to continue working on growing our movement beyond the borders of NJ, but that will come in time. In a similar fashion, CUNY Becas also provided full choice in the field of work, as long as it involved some form of benefit for the Mexican community. Thankfully I was able to be hired by the Mayor of Hillside, NJ, in a position to help create policies and public support campaigns. I receive full discretion as to what initiatives to tackle for the community, and so the first task I have chosen is the creation of a Municipal ID (tracing back to my roots in immigrant rights advocacy). My hope is to begin laying out a foundation that will allow all families to live in the town without any fears, while also actively participating in the social and economic development of the community. Going back to on campus work, I have been fortunate enough to work in the Strange Lab to research how the malleability of memory can cause distortions in recall and how we perceive events and people.
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