“The Dominican Parade was a thoughtful experience. It really showed what being a Dominican was all about and the pride we have in our culture and lifestyle. Seeing how many Dominicans were unregistered shows how we could make a change in politics.”
-Jeff Banks, #YoungVoices
It was a busy time at DUSA headquarters this past week as we prepared to say goodbye to our young voices. Our young voices were part of New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Our 60 participants worked four weeks canvassing Manhattan and the Bronx, collecting 1,000+ voter registrations along the way. They also went on field trips to museums and college tours while also attending educational workshops.
On August 10th, DUSA held a dinner recognizing the accomplishments of our young voices. They were given certificates during a festive ceremony at the Alianza Dominicana Cultural Center. Senator Marisol Alcantara, Congressman Adriano Espaillat, and Assemblywoman Carmen de la Rosa were some of the prominent figures who also recognized and congratulated our young voices. They urged our teens to continue to participate in civic engagement and applauded our teens for their dedication this summer. This event highlighted how the Dominican population and culture continue to influence politics in New York City. Many of our teens related to seeing people who look like them in positions of power, and we’re hopeful our teens will continue to be involved in neighborhood issues.
A few days later, on August 13th, DUSA and our young voices celebrated Dominican culture at New York City’s Dominican Day Parade. First, we attended the pre-parade breakfast at La Marina in Washington Heights. The breakfast was filled with Dominican pride, graced by the presence of Hall of Famer baseball pitcher Juan Marichal, who served as the Padrino of the parade. Our teens were excited to meet Dominican Actress Dasha Polanco from the hit television show Orange Is the New Black.
After the breakfast, our dedicated young voices canvassed the parade for voter registrations. We take pride in the fact that Dominicans are the largest Latino group in New York City. DUSA marched alongside fellow Dominican, Deputy Brooklyn Borough President Diana Reyna. She congratulated the accomplishments of our young voices and articulated useful advice for them as well. She reminded our young voices that the reason there is Dominican representation in politics is the dedication of community members like them, who go out their way to register new Latino voters.
As an organization, we are confident that our summer program developed and mentored future leaders who will carry the torch in civic engagement. There is still work to do because teens between the ages of 14 and 21 are the fastest growing population segment among Dominican-Americans. We hope to connect to this group of potential new voters. We are looking forward to next year’s cohort of young voices.
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On July 19th, Dominicanos USA’s Young Voices went on a trip to the Dominican Studies Institute. As an organization, this trip was important for us to introduce our teens to academia because the earlier they are exposed to these institutions, the better their chances are to obtain upward mobility. Most of our teens are of Dominican descent, thus the trip to DSI was vital to the development and empowerment of the teens. We hope our teens felt empowered to make a difference and attend college in the near future. It’s important for our teens to know their New York history as Dominicans but also to make the connection to the island of Dominican Republic. Bridging this gap can encourage people to build coalitions between the different generations of Dominicans and Dominican-Americans. Field trips and experiences like this represent DUSA’s efforts to find and develop the next generation of leaders in and out of the Dominican-American community. With 868,173 Dominicans settled in New York, we believe the future of Dominicans is in this city. Special thanks to archivist Sarah Aponte and director Anthony Stevens-Acevedo and the whole Dominican Studies Institute at City College.
The youth represents the future of our country in many ways. Teens from all walks of life are growing in population in general thus, our outreach is not limited to just Dominicans but also all Latinos who eligible. Some of the teens went through an interview screening and we selected the few we think can be mentees to some of our staff. Specifically, the teens will gain experience working closely with one of our staff members learning about data entry, graphic design, and phone banking. In general, the canvassers get a chance to speak to the community and gain experience on the issues affecting their community. Over the course of six weeks, we predict our young voices to register over 1,000 new voters. As we move into the upcoming elections, our initiative helps the political power we have as Dominicans and Latinos in general.
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By: Dinahlee Pena
This summer I have had the opportunity to be part of the SYEP program at Dominicanos USA. On August 1st we visited the Manhattan Borough president’s office. Deputy Borough President Aldrin Bonilla welcomed us and gave us a tour of the office. One of the very first things that stood out to me was the diversity of the team at the Manhattan Borough President’s office. The atmosphere gave us all a sense of both hope and inspiration for the future. Mr. Bonilla educated us on the importance of community, civic engagement and political involvement, all of which are part of DUSA’s mission.
Not only were we able to engage with an influential Dominican-American like Mr. Bonilla, but we also learned about ways to play a more active role in the community. For example, anyone can apply to become a community board member at just 16 years of age. In other words, even if an individual is not allowed to vote due to their young age, they are still able to influence community decisions by becoming a community board member. Furthermore, Mr. Bonilla stressed the importance of giving back to the community. This helped me realize that as the future voices of our community, we must remember to strive for success but never forget the needs of the community that saw us grow.
** This is a guest post by one of our Young Voices participants. Dinahlee Pena is a student at Hunter College studying English and Geography.**
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Since 2015, DUSA has served as a partner in New York City’s Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), providing employment and a service-learning program for hundreds of youth. This summer of 2017, DUSA has already seen amazing results. This year’s cohort is divided into Manhattan and Bronx groups, canvassing the communities of both boroughs. Hundreds of thousands of Dominican-Americans are still eligible for voter registration, and we hope to find them. Halfway through the program, the youth canvassers have already registered over 1,000 voters. We are also conducting educational workshops teaching our teens the importance of being college ready and assisting them in resume development. Our commitment to civic engagement is not limited to voter registration and citizenship assistance but also empowering our community.
The majority of the participants live in the Washington Heights and Harlem area in Manhattan and the South Bronx, and although they are mostly of Dominican descent, many are also of other Latino and African descent. Most are the first in their family to be born in the United States, who are either in high school or their early college years, so the importance of civic engagement is crucial to their progression. This cohort represents the rapidly growing population of teens in the United States we hope to empower. As we move into the upcoming elections, our initiative helps increase the political power we have as Dominicans and Latinos in general. Our goal is for this experiences to cultivate an incredible crop of young leaders who will forever remember their experience with DUSA and hopefully go on to become pillars of their community and examples of the entire nation.
If you would like to support our work with the Young Voices click here