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July 17, 2019

All That Is Possible | Sarah Alvarez BFA Illustration ’20

by selalvarez

Sometimes it feels like what is considered possible is just what is easy.

These first few weeks here at IntegrateNYC have been consistently challenging – not in that I’ve been having a hard time, but in that my understanding of what is realistic, sensible and possible has been called into question over and over again.

Week one is like walking into a theater halfway through the performance.

My supervisor, Zaps, gives me a warm welcome and an intern workbook in the form of a Google Doc. Between phone calls with pro-bono lawyers and INYC team members, she’s telling me all about . She invites me to take a public speaking lesson with her (she’d be giving a speech at a gala soon), and we learn how to throw our voice and I’m wonderfully overwhelmed for the entire hour.

The next day, we go to a Youth Summit held at Beacon High School, which is a screened public school in Chelsea. There are no cops and no ID’s. I watch Zaps argue with an art teacher from Long Island City about students who “don’t want to be helped.” Leanne, our rising High School Executive Director, takes the lead on our next panel and details the complicated inequities in NYC public schools as she steers conversation between educators and policymakers. Another INYC student leader gives the keynote address and later tells me all about her experience planning this summit while studying for her SAT’s. I meet the rest of the INYC student leaders the next evening as they meet to set goals for the next academic year: large demonstrations, proposing a test-less final evaluation, launching a podcast, and so much more.

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Week two, we have a major win.

The 5 R’s of Real Integration, a framework for implementing and assessing integration that has been developed by the student leaders of INYC over the past 5 years, are utilized in policy making by the NYC District of Education. More specifically, the 62 suggestions made by the School Diversity Advisory Group, on which many of our student leaders and adult allies sit, are passed as policy changes – we call this the #First62. We celebrate with smiles at our desk as we scramble to plan a fundraising gala for that next Monday. The goal is to make enough money to keep us kicking and punching as we rally and negotiate for the Next 62.

That gala comes together at the last minute, as such things do. The next day, I’m sitting behind Mayor De Blasio, Maya Wiley and Chancellor Carranza as they announce a change to the Memorandum of Understanding and the implementation of Sanford Harmony social-emotional learning.

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Then Zaps leaves to go on the honeymoon she postponed for 5 years.

There has been a significant change in the pace and kind of work I’m doing, given that the academic year is officially over and my direct supervisor is gone. I have been writing a grant, planning a workshop about Artivism, creating a fundraising video, redesigning the INYC website, and cooking up my own project that I’ll be proposing to Zaps once she returns. As much as I’m excited to speak on those and share my work with you all, I’d like to direct your focus back to INYC as an organization.

I think it’s really important to note that this is all achieved via online communication and from this tiny space:

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When I look at my supervisor sitting at her desk in the corner of a co-working space, I can’t help but feel like we use the word “realistic” in reference to labor and movements without thinking critically.

You may be looking at a small operation, but this small operation pays their student leaders for their time. This small operation is sitting down and meeting with DoE board members weekly while also planning huge demonstrations. This small operation is focused on race and income and operates as such, but is actively working with other community leaders to make sure they do not ignore ability and gender identity.

When did we become convinced that the growth and power of an organization is based in acquisition of space and capital, and not in the creativity they use to maintain ethical labor practices and efficacy? When did good work become unrealistic?

What I am trying to say, really, is that it doesn’t seem like INYC even needs a desk. INYC is not just an organization, but a movement guided by an indomitable set of values and clarity. The movement is the people, and the people want to fight – so they do. No desk necessary.

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Coming next: All of the projects I’ve been working on. Lots of visuals.

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