May: Essential Services
We are still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and so many people are doing amazing work on the front lines every day. We wanted to continue to honor those individuals: YPs working in health care, food banks, delivery services, emergency child care, government procurement, and/or other essential services that keep this city going. Congratulations to our May Spotlights of the Month, Nikki Kateman and Tiffany V. Williams!
I started with Local 338 as an intern when I was 18 after winning the union’s scholarship (my dad is a 20-year union member working in a supermarket). My planned career path at the time was much different, but I quickly realized that fighting for social and economic justice mattered a lot to me—both personally and in the grand scheme of the world. Over the last 13 years I have held a few different roles, but I’m very fortunate that I found a home at an organization whose mission and values I very much believe in and that also has allowed me to grow both personally and professionally.
In a normal year, I’d talk about the legislative advocacy I do on behalf of Local 338 members, including my work in support of legalizing medical cannabis in New York State (and hopefully soon, adult use cannabis). We’re not in a normal year though, so I think my proudest moment was working with the President of Local 338 to advocate for the inclusion of grocery store and pharmacy workers in the free childcare programs that have been established for first responders and essential workers. We were getting countless calls from anxious working parents and as more and more municipalities made the announcements including this group of workers in the programs, it was such a sense of relief and pride to give those families an alternative.
One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten was to be myself. It sometimes feels like there are expectations of who you’re supposed to be if you go to work in politics or government or even labor, but you’ll find more respect by simply being your authentic self. I would also add that in a role like mine, it’s incredibly important to be flexible. No two days, and frankly no two hours, are ever alike and there will be countless days where you head into work expecting to accomplish one thing and before noon you find yourself pivoting to a completely different task or fire that needs to be put out. Learning to be adaptable to where the day takes you, no matter how frustrating it might be, is so crucial to this work.
I grew up in Queens, which is where I still live. I never thought much about being a New Yorker until I realized how deep my roots are here. All of my ancestors moved to New York City and essentially never left so, I’d say being a New Yorker is pretty integral to my identity.
Working for a labor union that is comprised almost entirely of essential workers, I spend all day addressing things like locating PPEs, planning communications to our members so they know what resources are available to them and talking to elected officials about what these workers need. In the last few weeks it’s felt as though everyone is in a vacuum of just trying to get through the day that not enough time is being spent on what happens next for our essential workers, especially when we do live in an era of the unknown. I stay up at night thinking about the long-term physical and mental health implications of this crisis and what we should be doing to make sure we properly take care of the people who are not only caring for us, but also our communities.
The neighborhood cheers every night are amazing but take them with you. When you go grocery shopping and to the pharmacy or order delivery or even when you see your local postal worker, say thank you directly to that worker. There are thousands of New Yorkers who were thrust into a role overnight that they never signed up for, who don’t stop and think of themselves as heroes. But they are, and they need all of the gratitude they can get, not just now but into the future. The fight for wage increases and improved health care and benefits never stops, so please don’t forget about the sacrifices essential workers made in a year or two. They’ll need your support then, too.
Tiffany V. Williams
As a juvenile justice advocate I saw first-hand that young people, especially black girls, were pushed out of schools or failed by foster care. I joined the Administration of Children’s Sevices to affect change from the inside out. At ACS I led the division’s CSEC monitoring reform. Changes in legislation shifted our services to youth who are survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation. True policy reform required more than a new screening tool. it called for a radical mindset shift as to how we served survivors. My time at ACS taught me that successful policy implementation is defined by system-wide training and experiential learning that is culturally responsive, relentless, and authentic partnership with the community. Now, at Girls for Gender Equity, I lead the operations of an organization committed to supporting girls of color. I am proud of the work we are doing to end gender-based violence and ensure a more equitable city. I got to where I am today because of mentorship, preparation, advocacy, opportunity, faith, and grace.
I’m proud of the young people I have had the privilege to build community with. They have defied unbelievable odds. I’ve learned so much from them about resiliency, determination, and true success. I am also proud to learn these same lessons from my twin daughters, who were born before their third trimester and home before their due date. They defied all statistics and odds and I am proud of their zest and strength.
The field of operations is a combination of risk management, human resources, and financial planning, among other things. You should enjoy thinking about multiple scenarios and outcomes and planning ahead. If you spend your time building fair systems, policies, and processes, you will be prepared for the range of things that may arise. COVID-19 is unprecedented, but GGE was able to transition to virtual services swiftly because of proper contingency planning. Build your network by sharing resources, support your partners and allies, and lean into collaborative advocacy. Collaborative advocacy is what brought the expansion of the CARES Act. Directors at various nonprofits shared resources that increased our odds of receiving the paycheck protection loan. Lastly, in human services, you can not always guarantee the outcome, but you can guarantee the quality of the intervention. The highest quality interventions require you to be in tune with the experiences of others.
I lived in New Jersey for two years, and that’s when I realized I was a New Yorker. I was very homesick.
COVID-19 is revealing what we know to be true—communities remain resilient, even in the face of adversity. At GGE, the young people we serve are facing immense uncertainty. They are managing remote schoolwork while being caretakers. Their parents, many of whom are essential workers on the frontlines, continue to report to work and keep our city running. Without the SYEP Program, our young people are out of summer jobs that could help make ends meet. It’s a harsh reality that home is not always the safest place for youth. Domestic and sexual violence is on the rise worldwide due to quarantine orders. Our city is the coronavirus epicenter, with black and brown folks disproportionately impacted. GGE is committed to the safety and wellbeing of the youth of color we serve, who are in the thick of the stress. Youth are facing the loss of loved ones and grappling with missing key milestones that define their transition to adulthood like prom and graduation ceremonies. The biggest challenge is ensuring our youth are not overlooked or denied essential services. With the city making the tough decisions on what is deemed essential, we continue to advocate. We are making it clear that taking care of our youth is taking care of our future.
All New Yorkers can support our efforts with increased public awareness and public conversation on how this pandemic affects our youth. Supporters can donate to our programs which have increased their capacity to offer mental health services, wellness checks, stress management, and healthy relationship education. We are available to young people in need 24/7 should a crisis arise. You can be part of the GGE Movement by connecting with us on social media @GGENYC and staying in tune with our policy agenda. With all we have to consider for the November election, let’s make sure that Black girls are not left behind. Learn more about our National Agenda for Black Girls, shaping conversation as to what black girls need from our next President.