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YP Spotlights of the Month

August: 2020 Census

We are honoring YPs working to make sure that New York has a fair and accurate count in the 2020 Census. Congratulations to our August Spotlights of the Month, Jillian Free and Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez!

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Jillian Free

Citywide Census Coordinator
YMCA of Greater New York
How did you get to where you are today?

I think first to my blended family who gave me a strong foundation of support and many lessons in how to step up for yourself and others. I’m also proud to have learned from a rich culture of student-led activism and first-hand advocacy work at the University of California, Berkeley. Then, through the Coro New York Fellowship in Public Affairs, I was taught how to examine systems and build power, structurally and interpersonally. In these past eleven months leading the YMCA of Greater New York’s 2020 Census campaign I’ve worked to form meaningful partnerships and outreach initiatives to get New Yorkers counted and ultimately the resources they deserve. What have been most foundational to my growth, though, have been the dear friends and family members who taught me the power of faith in oneself and the community we build.

What are you most proud of?

The work we’ve accomplished and are still fighting for with the 2020 Census makes me very proud. I think of our team, our Y leadership and local branches, the network of census organizers – New Yorkers who put so much of themselves into getting a fair and accurate count. At the Y, we’ve integrated census into programs from afterschool to New American Welcome Centers, held more than a dozen census community forums, had over 2,000 phone conversations, and texted nearly 55,000 people. When COVID-19 struck, the Y and the census community adapted quickly under devastating circumstances because we know how high the stakes are in the 2020 Census. For that, I’m especially proud.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

Commit to the groundwork, embrace a growth-mindset, and show yourself kindness. Outreach and organizing is about showing up, in practice and in spirit. Go to the team functions, stay at the community meetings, and seek to build authentic connections. A network of meaningful relationships is critical to any collaboration and finding your “people” makes it a whole lot more fun. I also recommend approaching your work from a place of inquiry: “Who do I want to learn from?” “What builds trust here?” “Where are my blind spots and how do I address them?” And, as always, strengthen the connections with your internal compass and external support systems. When bumps in your road inevitably arise, you can ground yourself in purpose and community.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

I know better than to claim that title, just yet. What I will say is that I’ve been near to tears over the subway; yes, for the tough days, but especially for the beautiful ones.

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Carina Kaufman-Gutierrez

Deputy Director
Street Vendor Project, Urban Justice Center
How did you get to where you are today?

I have a little bit of everything in my background, I’ve worked in artists residencies across NY State, in data analysis at NYC Small Business Services, in community-based economic justice work within immigrant communities in Queens, as a line cook for a decade, and now as the Deputy Director of the Street Vendor Project (SVP) at the Urban Justice Center. As a Colombian-Polish-American, I grew up in a multicultural, multiracial household with extended family members across the globe, and so was raised to always consider and value a multitude of perspectives. I hold Masters in International Affairs and Urban Social Policy from Columbia University, and a Bachelors Degree in Art History from Wesleyan University.

What are you most proud of?

I’m most proud of the community of street vendors that we are working to build, a strong, powerful force that unites across the five boroughs to demand respect. The members SVP are a force who run our streets, keep us safe, and keep cultural traditions alive. In our work, we are fighting to change the veiled racism that is perpetuated through ‘policy’ and ‘urban planning,’ looking to replace and erase our communities and our people from NYC. We peel back the layers of language to reveal the base classism and racism, at the same time shining the spotlight on our community to showcase their stories, struggles, and joy. I’m proud of our work to always make the opportunity to celebrate and create community, because that is what sustains and grows our movement.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your field?

Have a strong support system around you of friends and family. There will be times when campaign work and advocacy pick up and you work long days, so be sure to find balance, and rest and go on adventures during times when there is a pause. Remember that if you don’t speak, if your colleagues don’t speak, then the issues you are advocating for won’t get heard, so you must raise your voice and bring attention to issues that affect you and your loved ones the most. Advocacy work is about creating a more just world that is different from the one that currently exists, and so there’s no set path forward – be creative and be loud.

When did you realize that you are a New Yorker?

When I walk down the street and know all the street vendors on my block.

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