January: New Beginnings
This January, we are highlighting Young Professionals who are working to provide new beginnings for New Yorkers. Congratulations to our January Spotlight of the Month, Luc El-Art Severe!
Luc El-Art Severe, J.D.
Much of what I’ve done has always been about community development and economic development. Basically, strengthening my community for my neighbors and the young people in the community. I would always ask myself “how can I help make our community resilient?” I had a great and humbling opportunity in 2018 to respond to the two category five hurricanes that hit the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2017. I served as Senior Advisor and Stakeholder Engagement Lead. The team was responsible for drafting a resiliency and recovery plan addressing all aspects of the territory’s need, from water to environment to transportation and technology to businesses, commerce, tourism, et cetera. I was able to bring the community into the plan’s development process and advocate for strengthening the small businesses and economy of the U.S. Virgin Islands. I was able to go to each community, hear their concerns andwhat challenges they had, because, similar to COVID in the Black community, the hurricane illuminated the inequities that existed before they hit. They unmasked that the territory wasn’t as resilient as it could have been against natural disasters. I heard a lot of the frustration of the people in those listening sessions, buta lot of strategies were developed in those same sessions. We were able to develop feasible and implementable ideas and strategies addressing businesses, economy, tourism, the education system, and access to healthcare resources. I realized that I had a hand in literally rebuilding a whole country. The impact and the feeling was quite overwhelming. When I came back stateside, I wanted to continue that work because I realized how I can continue to impact my community’s economic development from a business perspective, an entrepreneurial perspective, and a workforce development perspective. This experience, and many other experiences by God’s grace, have shaped where I am today.
I’m most proud of my sisters because they have followed the same track of serving our communities. They too are very adamant about helping their community and being a voice for those who are unseen. This is because they’ve seen my mother exemplify this and pass it down to each generation. I always strive to be a great example to them. For example, my sisters and I created an organization, Severe’s Opportunities and Access to Resources (S.O.A.R.) where we provide college readiness, access to scholarships, and workforce development fairs for our community. In October 2020, we held our 3rd annual fair virtually, co-sponsored by NYS Senator Leroy Comrie, and attendance exceeded 500 people. This culture to serve that runs in my family and in the core of sisters’ beings brings me pride every day.
I would advise someone to get involved in your community. Understand the benefits and challenges of your community. Start by attending community board meetings because they are very, very impactful on a good amount of the decisions that happen within our communities. I am a former Community Board 12 member in Southeast Queens, where I learned a lot from my senior colleagues, advocates, and elected officials. The community boards determine a whole host of items ranging from what establishment can open their business in our community, to transportation and bus lanes, to sanitation and signs. These decisions are driven by our community boards, specifically the economic development committee and zoning committee. Engaging with your community board is a great way to learn the community development strategies that are being planned for 10-20 years down the line.
I was born and raised in Queens, but I’ve had the opportunity to live in different cities and territories. Every single time my heart would draw me back to New York. It’s my heart saying “I Love New York because I’m a New Yorker!”