Written by Hanna Lee
During the last 50 years, the number of foreign-born immigrants from Latin America and the Caribbean has increased rapidly, from less than 1 million in 1960 to 21.2 million in 2010. In Bushwick, Brooklyn alone, 40% of households are made up of foreign-born immigrants, three quarters of whom are from Latin America. Make the Road New York (MRNY), a New York City based organization, promotes economic justice, equity and opportunity for over 7,000 low-income immigrants in communities throughout Bushwick, Brooklyn, Jackson Heights, Queens, and Port Richmond, Staten Island.
Prior to becoming the Development Director for MRNY, Julie Miles was directing an affordable housing coalition co-founded by the organization. She was incredibly impressed by MRNY because its members were at the forefront of the nonprofitâ€™s initiatives. â€śI think we are an especially effective organization because we combine direct services like legal assistance along with advocacy, electoral organizing and leadership development,â€ť states Miles. Many of MRNYâ€™s members come to the organization during a time of distress. Miles explains that many landlords in these low-income communities often disregard the rights of their tenants, and MRNY helps represent them in discrimination cases and negotiate repairs.
A one-time fee of $100 is required to become a lifetime member of MRNY, and it can be paid over a period of time. Once membership is acquired, members are eligible for all of the organizationâ€™s services. â€śThe organization doesnâ€™t speak on behalf of the members, rather the members very much speak for themselves and are at the forefront of MRNY,â€ť says Miles. â€śMembers run meetings, set up strategy for campaigns, testify at hearings and meet with legislators.â€ť She was moved by the passion and life of the organization, and the marriage between direct services and organization. â€śImmigrants new to our country sometimes face discrimination, and seeing them become involved and elected to the board of directors by their peers is incredibly empowering for them.â€ť
The direct results of the organization are evident in a myriad of ways. Specifically, Miles cites a failing Bushwick high school that was taken over by MRNY. The organization worked with parents, students and educators to eventually achieve an 80% graduation rate. Additionally, 97% of students who graduated and applied to college were accepted. A large majority of these students are also involved with the MRNY run youth program offering peer support, training and reinforcement within individual communities.
Miles highlights a significant hypocrisy in the way immigrants are currently treated in America. â€śI think embracing immigrants is at the core of what our country is all about, yet each wave of immigrants throughout history has faced really similar hurdles and challenges,â€ť she says. A lot of members who come to MRNY suffer from wage theft or underpayment by employers. According to Miles, the workers are often nervous to seek legal action, even though they know their rights have been violated for fear of retribution.
MRNYâ€™s latest initiative involves a partnership with the Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union to provide financial services to MRNY members. The new partnership connects members to financially oriented services so that they might have bank accounts and credit history through a small loan without additional hurdles.
The majority of MRNYâ€™s work is focused on adult literacy work, job training and workforce development. For Miles, the most exciting part of her work is seeing people who felt powerless become empowered through the organization. â€śThese people might be new to this country and feel helpless in certain situations, but seeing them become involved, join committees and become leaders is truly impressive,â€ť says Miles. â€śIt takes an incredible amount of commitment and courage to come to a new country and make a better life for yourself and your family, and Iâ€™m in awe of that.â€ť
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