CDF-NY recently concluded our 2021 Week of Action, and we could not be prouder! This was our first Week of Action, a multi-day event in which our CDF-NY staff, interns and Beat The Odds (BTO) Scholars met directly (and virtually, as an added challenge!) with state representatives to advocate for our policy priorities. This was a fantastic opportunity for our BTO youth to gain experience taking leadership roles in the process of engaging directly with their government. This year, our advocacy focused on two policy areas: child poverty and youth justice.
On 2/18 and 2/19, our youth had the opportunity to meet with state leaders and their staff. Thanks to the hard work of Hassanah and Maria, our BTO Scholars were prepared to be strong ambassadors for CDF-NY and fierce advocates for the policies that mattered to them. However, these meetings were not always easy. It can be challenging for young people to stand up and advocate for change, and doing so on Zoom during a pandemic takes even more determination. We are incredibly proud of the BTO scholars who participated in these meetings and are grateful to their families and communities for supporting them!
In our child poverty meetings, BTO Scholars spoke directly to representatives about the Child Poverty Reduction Act, sponsored by Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Harry Bronson. The Act would commit the State to cut child poverty in half by 2030, require the budget director to assess the budget’s impact on child poverty and create an advisory council that includes people directly impacted by poverty. Our youth spoke candidly about how poverty has impacted their lives and why they believe this bill is important. They shared personal experiences and jarring statistics that illustrate our child poverty crisis – such as the fact that 1 in 5 New York children lives in poverty, with Black and Latinx children over twice as likely as white children to live in poverty in our State. The responses we received were overwhelmingly positive, with almost all elected officials pledging support for the legislation. A highlight for me was our meeting with Assemblymember Barron, who shared his personal story and told our Scholars about the importance of power in making change, urging them to one day run for office.
In our youth justice meetings, BTO scholars advocated for legislation sponsored by Senator Jamaal Bailey and Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, which would raise the lower age for delinquency jurisdiction from 7 to 12. This bill must be passed because children as young as 7 years old can be arrested and prosecuted as juvenile delinquents in Family Court in New York State. Black and Latinx children are more likely to be arrested than their white peers, and a child’s early contact with the juvenile justice system raises their chances by over 50 percent of someday reentering the criminal justice system. Of the elected officials we met with who are not already cosponsors of this important legislation, all pledged their support. We are very grateful to the Senators and Assemblymembers who agreed to support this bill and we are immensely proud of our BTO scholars for the professionalism, passion and commitment to advocacy they brought to these meetings.