Our Youth

Let Them Speak: Using the Talent God Gave Me in Order to Better My Community

(Photo: Pixabay)

By Luis Santiago

As someone who lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a neighborhood com- posed mostly of working class immi- grants, I see the struggles facing the immigrant and working class people of New York City on a daily basis.

Solidarity With the Vulnerable

I stand in solidarity with the most vulnerable in my neighborhood. However, it wasn’t until I started working and volunteering at UPROSE that I fully realized the situation my community was in.

UPROSE is a nonprofit, community organization whose aim is to give the people of Sunset Park a voice. One of the main issues my community faces is gentrification.

I learned about the interdependence of peace and social justice as I led learning circles for our community to educate them on gentrification.

Rent in the area has only continued to go up and, as a result, kicked many people out of their homes. One of the things we discussed at these events was the difference between public housing and affordable housing.

While there is no shortage of public housing in Sunset Park, rising rent prices make it unaffordable for the many low-income families that call Sunset Park home.

Perhaps the biggest factor playing into gentrification in Sunset Park is Industry City. Industry City is a shipping, warehousing and manufacturing complex in Sunset Park.

With all the new businesses coming into the area, like Bed, Bath & Beyond and fancy markets resembling the ones you see in Manhattan, the area has become a lot more expensive.

Peaceful March

Within my first week at UPROSE, we peacefully marched to Industry City to raise awareness of the benefits of a diverse community and to highlight the importance of maintaining the right relationship with all creation, including the residents of Sunset Park.

I also devote time to working with those who have already lost their homes. Homelessness in New York City has reached its highest point since The Great Depression, and the situation is only getting worse.

On certain days, especially more so around the holidays, some members of my church and I cook typical, home-style, Hispanic meals for the community.

Everyone is Welcome

Everyone is welcomed inside our doors to have a bite and stay warm. I enjoy cooking and take pride in the fact that I can use the talent God has given me to better my community.

When I was younger, I always wondered how I would use what God has given me to better those around me. Part of my community only speaks Spanish and I’m fortunate enough to know both Spanish and English.

Being bilingual has allowed me to, in a way, be a bridge between the media and the people in my community.

Before hosting events at UPROSE, I would always go around the community hanging up signs and posters (that I helped design) talking to locals about the event.

Had I not been bilingual, I wouldn’t have been able to communicate with more than half the people I made aware of UPROSE and its role in our community.

I thank God for the gifts He has given me. I pray that He continues to use me to better His world and spread His love.

Santiago is a senior and a National Hispanic Merit scholar at Xaverian H.S., Bay Ridge. He was chosen as one of the 2019 Maloof Family Young Peacebuilders and was honored by Pax Christi Metro New York for this essay. He’ll be attending Northeastern University, Boston, in the fall.