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Dear Next Mayor: Will You Be The Equity-Driven Leader New York City Youth Need?

Dear Next Mayor: Will You Be The Equity-Driven Leader New York City Youth Need?

Student leaders (photo: Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography office)

Many people are saying that after this pandemic, New York City will never be the same. 

We hope that is true.

Before the pandemic, New York City was one of the most economically prosperous cities in the country but still one of the most inequitable. Almost 1 million households - one-third of New York City’s population - lacked internet service, a digital divide that has disproportionately impacted underserved communities of color. New Yorkers no longer want to live in a rich city that does not provide poor students with the devices and internet they need to thrive academically. We need a mayor that makes sure students still have equitable access to updated compatible devices and free broadband service even after this pandemic ends. It should not have taken a pandemic for New York City leadership to recognize this issue as urgent. We need a proactive, not reactive leader. Are you that leader?

To be the leader of the city that never sleeps, you need to be committed to implementing housing policies that ensure students and their families have a safe space to sleep at night. New York City is renowned for its notorious real estate empire, yet one in ten New York City public school students experiences housing insecurity. This number increases drastically in regards to students attending the City University of New York (CUNY). Up to 50% of CUNY students experience housing and food insecurity. How can students be expected to focus on their studies when they are busy worrying about how they are going to afford food or where they are going to sleep at night? 

The rise of unemployment and racial injustice are also contributing to the mental health crisis students are facing in New York. Students are struggling to find jobs with livable wages that offer them a viable pathway to their career interests, while racial inequity in this city’s education and justice systems threatens the safety and future of our youth.

Our city’s police department continues to disproportionately target Black and brown communities and engages in police brutality without repercussion. What youth in these communities need is a safe space to learn, but the Department of Education invests in body scanners instead of inclusive curriculum and police rather than counselors in schools. As schools continue to be racially segregated by zoning, unequal distribution of academic resources, and discriminatory admissions processes such as the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT), we need a leader who is committed to passing policies that eradicate these systemic barriers. Is that person you?

This pandemic has changed New York City in irreversible ways. It has further exposed the inequities within our institutions and it is going to take a progressive, forward-thinking mayor to find sustainable solutions to these issues. That’s why the next mayor of New York City must be committed to these seven priorities: 

  1. Close the digital divide.
  2. End food and housing insecurity for students and families.
  3. Provide adequate mental health resources for students for free or at affordable rates.
  4. Create more youth employment opportunities.
  5. Make our schools more inclusive and integrated.
  6. Decrease police presence in schools.
  7. Guarantee youth leadership in decision-making discussions that impacts young people.

Prior to the onset of COVID-19, the #DegreesNYC community recognized the need for youth voices in the decisions that impact their academic future. As a group of youth leaders focused on transforming the New York City education system into one that values the intersectional experiences of students, our aim is to achieve racial equity and economic mobility. The #DegreesNYC Youth Council has been working on amplifying the intersecting experiences students have with education inequity within and outside of their schools; inequities that have been exacerbated due to remote learning.  

New York City will never be the same after this pandemic, but maybe that’s a good thing. Our city was working against the well-being of students before COVID-19. We need to re-imagine a city whose leadership is committed to making New York a better city for our youth. Are you the future mayor our city needs?

The #DegreesNYC Youth Council is committed to making schools and campuses more student-ready by advocating for institutional and political reform. On Twitter @DegreesNYC.

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