NEW YORK—According to a recent report, Puerto Rican youth aged 16 to 24 are the most disadvantaged group in New York City.
Puerto Rican civil rights groups, youth organizations, community leaders, and New York council members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rosie Mendez gathered on the steps of City Hall on Sunday to demand action from gubernatorial candidates in response to the report on Latino youth in New York City released by the Community Service Society.
Among the present groups were the United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park (UPROSE), Caribbean Cultural Center, Good Old Lower East Side, and Mujeres del Barrio. The groups plan to start a new campaign called “Pa’lante Boricua,” or “Moving Forward,” to call on government officials and the Puerto Rican community to direct resources to programs and services to reduce disparities.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of UPROSE and organizer of the event, said that many Puerto Rican leaders today were assisted by mentors and resources available to them, and that those services are no longer available to today’s youth.
“The Puerto Rican community has contributed greatly to this city—we have opened the door for countless Latinos from all over the world. But the problem is, we are still holding the door,” Yeampierre said.
Council Member Mark-Viverito said that it is crucial that these organizations be about young people being in power and being part of the decision-making process.
“We have a responsibility as adults, as a society, [as] a community to really have young people be part of the process,” she said. “I’ve developed a youth council that meets in my office, engaging young people from my district to really talk about the challenges that they’ve had, to really have a forum in which they can speak, so [that] they can get their questions answered and they can be heard without a filter.”
Mark-Viverito added that she encouraged other elected officials to do the same with the youth in their districts and communities.
Council Member Mendez said that the report was really an eye-opener.
“For the last several years I’ve been fighting for public resources, and it’s been tough,” she said. “If I look at my district, I’m losing a lot of those organizations that were providing services to the youths. We are in tough economic times, but it is exactly during these times that we have to allocate the necessary resources. And we have to look now, especially because of this study, at the Puerto Rican community and find out why we are faring less, and make sure that those services are given to our community.”
Yeampierre noted that many social services organizations currently provide services without really teaching or supporting the youth.
“There are agencies like DYCD [Department of Youth ad Community Development] that throw money into social service agencies that really just put a band-aid on the problem, but really aren’t on a grassroots level developing the kind of leadership that needs to be developed,” she said.
Yeampierre explained that they should be teaching the youth how to represent themselves, speak for themselves and be skillful in making decisions and leadership.
“Our organization is intergenerational and young people serve on the board, on staff. They apply in the decision-making structure and don’t think that they have to wait to exercise leadership, that leadership is something that’s delayed. It’s a model that is over-invested, and those models that really develop real meaningful leadership are really marginalized,” she said.