Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent growing recognition of systemic racial inequities, many human service agencies and local businesses are laboring to respond to the pressing realities of a post-COVID-19 city. The Department of Social Work at the College of Staten Island, The City University of New York, has also been working tirelessly to develop tools and responses that can enhance our students’ and community collaborators’ competence in addressing disparities at the intersections of poverty, race, and disability. Although efforts to address discrimination have been implemented throughout the five boroughs, Staten Island continues to struggle with its own persistent challenges in assuring the full belonging and equity for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), immigrants, people living in economic insecurity, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities.
Imagine how we might transform the systems, beliefs, and practices that make Staten Island inaccessible and inequitable? How could we expand a shared understanding of access and supports so that it includes a professional ethic of accessibility, justice, and collaboration?
With these questions in mind and an acute awareness that meaningful change cannot be made alone, Dr. Mayra Humphreys and Dr. Paul Archibald, faculty within the Department of Social Work, partnered with local leaders to launch The Staten Island (SI) Equity and Belonging Project. With a focus on the disparities at the intersections of poverty, race, and disability, The SI Equity & Belonging Project is sponsoring a series of efforts that will work to identify and eliminate the barriers to an inclusive, connected, and equitable Staten Island.
These efforts began in July 2020 with the creation of a planning team of diverse leaders in Staten Island:
- Paul Archibald, LCSW-C, ADS, C-CATODSW, Assistant Professor, Department of Social Work, College of Staten Island
- Mayra Humphreys, LMSW, PhD, Associate Professor and BSSW Program Director, Department of Social Work, College of Staten Island
- Lorianne, Delahunt, MA, CMHC Academic Specialist, College of Staten Island
- Nicole DelPrete, LMSW, Division Director of Support Services Deputy, Person Centered Care Services
- Alexa Donnelly, LCSW, Deputy Executive Director, Person Centered Care Services;
- Linda Levin, BSSW Student Intern, Department of Social Work, College of Staten Island
- Frances Meléndez, MA, PhD, Director, Master’s of Arts in Mental Health Counseling, College of Staten Island
- Sharmila Rao Thakkar, MPA, MPH, Executive Director, Staten Island Not For Profit Association
- Nisha Tumber, MSW Student Intern, Department of Social Work, College of Staten Island
Together, the planning team contacted community residents, human service leaders, students, family allies, agency staff, and professionals and academics, and combined its collective networks to invite leaders to create an ecosystem (thriving interdependent community) to advance equity and belonging on Staten Island.
Beginning in August 2020, the planning team members undertook an initial step to prioritize gaining a better understanding of the views and perceptions of Staten Island residents and/or employees. To this end, PCCLF participants and human service organizations are inviting community members to participate in completing The SI Equity & Belonging Survey. The anonymous, online survey assesses SI participant’s attitudes, perceptions, and awareness about aspects of equity and community belonging. The results of the survey will be circulated and made widely available for organizations and community groups to review and integrate with their planning, training and development of policies, resources, and services that can better support equity and belonging for historically stigmatized populations living on Staten Island.
SI residents who currently live or work in the Borough of Staten Island and are 18 years old or older can access the link to The SI Equity & Belonging Survey.
In collaboration with the Geraldo Rivera Fund for Social Work and Disability Studies, and a grant from the Council on Social Work Education, the Department of Social Work also began convening The Public Conversations for Change Leadership Fellows (PCCLF) initiative, a space for civic dialogue, and the creation of transformative social change on Staten Island. The PCCLF is a fellowship designed to bring together fellows, partners, and collaborators to further contribute to building a thriving ecosystem of equity and belonging on Staten Island. As part of The Equity & Belonging Project, the PCCLF provides virtual (online) training, seminars, and a network of support that looks to enhance the commitment and skills for leading participatory change through civic dialogue, digital media, participatory research, peer-to-peer learning, capacity, and movement building.
Regarding the significance of the PCCLF, Arlette Cepeda, Deputy Director of La Colmena, said, “The fellowship has demonstrated that there are people on Staten Island, in positions of power, who are truly committed to equity and belonging and are leveraging that power to bring about positive change by creating beautiful solutions where they can.”
Alexa Donnelly, LCSW, Deputy Executive Director, Person Centered Care Services and PCCLF Planning Team Member, added, “For me, this group has created a space I wasn’t aware I needed. This space for me has validated my views of the world, is actively helping me self-reflect and self-actualize changes, and grow both professionally and personally. It has also empowered me to address inequities because I feel I have a strong support network to learn on rather than feeling I’m seeing or addressing things in silence or at risk without support!”
Looking to the future, The Staten Island Equity & Belonging Project will hold an SI Community Assembly on April 27, which will be open to the SI community. The assembly will invite participants to listen to beautiful solutions on how equity and belonging can be supported and sustained on Staten Island. Projects on transportation, accessibility, language, and community wellness will be presented by the PCCLF. All participants will have the opportunity to take part in a voting survey that will help narrow down what can be done–together.
To register for one of the two SI Community Assemblies on April 27, please use the links below:
By Mayra Humphreys and Terry Mares