Young leaders get a seat at the table

Nos Quedamos staff meet with youth leaders before their trip to the SOMOS el Futuro conference in Puerto Rico.

Nos Quedamos staff meet with youth leaders before their trip to the SOMOS el Futuro conference in Puerto Rico.

Youth accompany Nos Quedamos delegation to prestigious conference in Puerto Rico

Melrose-based community-development group Nos Quedamos for the first time brought local young people to participate among its delegation to the SOMOS el Futuro conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

SOMOS el Futuro, a non-profit organization created by state Assembly members comprising the Puerto Rican & Hispanic Task Force, holds well-publicized conferences in Albany and Puerto Rico every year where legislators, business leaders and local activists are invited to address the concerns of their Hispanic constituents.

Nos Quedamos’s CEO, Jessica Clemente, said she was excited that four young Bronxites will finally have a seat at the table with the policy makers.

“I saw this is an added opportunity to engage our youth,” she said. “Conversations are often held at levels of leadership that don’t engage young people in a meaningful way. It’s important for them to be engaged in a way where they feel they are a part of the solution.”

Clemente said Nos Quedamos’ model of spearheading local development that centers around the needs of low-income residents can be replicated.

Leaders of the local contingent were scheduled to serve with New York State Assembly members Latoya Joyner and Maritza Davila on a panel addressing the needs of Puerto Ricans, as well as taking a tour of a public housing complex in San Juan.

“We’re in a position to provide support,” said Clemente. “There’s a lot to be said about what happens when you put people in the room who have similar struggles. The similarities are where we can find solutions.”

The local leaders said they expect there will be common social challenges to discuss with their Puerto Rican counterparts.

“There are things going on there that I can relate to, that I’ve seen in New York all my life,” said Jasmine Rucco, 24. “I’m not just Puerto Rican but human. We all go through the same problems.”

The trip presented the first opportunity for many of the youth leaders to see their ancestral homeland.

“To go to Puerto Rico and see my homeland for the first time, to meet family I’ve never met, it’s huge,” said Brandon Lora, 22, a few days before the trip. “I want to get more in touch with my culture, with my roots, with my past.”

Clemente said she anticipated the discussion to extend well beyond the four-day conference. She expected that the young Bronxites and their Puerto Rican counterparts would find much common ground exploring social issues. The sponsors of the Nos Quedamos delegation, including Bronx Havana Café, Sterling Bank and real estate developers, the Beechwood Organization agreed that important bonds can be established between the local visitors and their hosts.

“Our community is not just here in the Bronx or in New York,” said Christopher Gonzalez of the Beechwood Organization, a local real estate developer. “The community extends back to the island. We’ve banded together as the Latino community to support our existence here. That also means supporting the extended family down in Puerto Rico.”