Name: Elisa Kaplan, The Resilience Advocacy Project, Deputy Executive Director for Programs, 5 years
What brought you into this line of work? It’s really something that I’ve been doing on my own since I was young: working with my peers in addressing social justice issues. And it’s just something I’ve continued doing as an adult. I went back to grad school for social work, and then continued doing similar work in NYC, then went upstate a few years, and then started working at RAP. When I came back to NYC, the organization’s founder, Brooke Richie-Babbage– was the only full-time staff person until I started. So it was really just building up the organization to be what it is now in the last five years.
What is the mission and goal of your organization in Brooklyn? A big program that we’ve started is the Young Fatherhood Initiative. The group looks at the issues that young men of color face– racism, trauma, violence, the trauma that comes with violence– that work is something that is super-urgent. Looking at issues of racism in our community and talking about its impact with the young people that we work with has been big lately… there’s been so much… racism has always been there, but more of a present current of hate is happening with this administration. Al lot of the people we’ve been working with have been lifting of narratives of struggle and resistance, so it’s different, but it’s not different.
A lot of what we do is to give language and context to the experiences that are already happening. I see both a sense of despair and struggle but also a sense of hope. I did a site visit last week with a community based organization a mother-child group home in Bushwick, and one of the visits I did at a group home in the Bronx for young women. We do neighborhood mapping and then followed up with a power analysis. Like this is what you see in your community, and this is why? Sometimes they’re like, “I feel so hopeless; nothing is ever going to be different.” But others ask, “What can we do, what can we as young people do to be the change?” So it felt exciting that young people are asking those questions and seeing that possibility as something that they can harnas.
What are some of the most successful projects you have mounted? One of our core programs is called Youth LEAP, in partnership with schools and community based organizations. We do community building, identify a social justice issue they feel passionate about; then we plan what needs to be done to push for change.
The young participants always report feeling more confident in their ability to being a voice of change. One example of that is a group that was working on sexual health: They put together these resource kits and then went around to different places that young people go, distributing information about what their rights are as minors. So we’ve seen success in the project phase.
Also, the Young Fatherhood Initiative– a lot of what they were lifting up was going against stereotypes. We helped them navigate family court, wrote a curriculum, brought in attorneys from LIFT to train them on legal rights; and in the last phase, they go out into the community to share information with other single parents regarding rights in family court, child support and custody. One of the guys who graduated from cohort 1 is now on our staff, Coley Washington. He’s writing curriculum now, and really sees himself as an advocate for young dads. He’s really passionate around talking to other young parents about co-parenting and how to navigate being the best parent you can when there’s a separation.
How can the public or community get involved? Well, our Policy Fellowship is citywide, and we’re actively seeking out membership for that from young people across New York City. We’re bringing the young people together for an outdoor healing retreat in early May. The applications soon will be widely available [on our website] for fall 2018: www.resiliencelaw.org, or you can email me at: [email protected] or call: 646-776-3169