Teenager makes her mark on Community Board 1

The Jackson Houses resident was one of the first New Yorkers to be appointed as part of Mayor de Blasio’s promise to recruit young people for the city’s community boards.

Jewels Marshall. Photo: Emily Chiriboga
Jewels Marshall. Photo: Emily Chiriboga

Jewels Marshall became board’s youngest member at 15

Growing up, Jewels Marshall was always front-and-center for any community service event. She would be the person serving meals during family days at her housing development; helping out at the senior center; handing out water at her brothers’ football games.

So it was no surprise that at the age of 15, Marshall became the youngest member of Community Board 1, one of the first to be appointed as part of Mayor de Blasio’s promise to recruit young people for the city’s community boards. Now 17, the St. Catherine’s School senior is juggling after-school activities, community board meetings and a social life.

“I like being the person that can go back and say, ‘The people of our area would like…,’” said Marshall, who was excited at the prospect of her voice being heard. “We really make decisions on what happens in the community so that’s why I wanted to join.” Then she realized her perspective could make a difference to the next generation. “Because I would be the youngest person on the board, I was like, ‘wow, I’ll be a voice for the kids in our area.’”

Marshall first heard of the idea from the tenant association president of her building at Jackson Houses in Melrose, and her mentor, Danny Barber, who is also a member of the community board. When Barber found out that the city was allowing students over 16 to join boards, he thought, “Who else but Jewels?” Barber knew she was right for the job after watching her grow up and get more and more involved in the community.

“Jewels is a true pillar of what a leader is,” Barber said. “To do this without pay says a lot. She does it out of the kindness of her heart just to see the smile on people’s faces.”

After researching what the board does and what the volunteer job would entail, Marshall was hooked.

The process to become a member of the community board — which is made up of 50 volunteer members – included filling out a “solid stack” of paperwork, interviews with current members and a seminar on board etiquette and procedures. Marshall says she doesn’t feel like the youngest person on the board. “They treat me like I’m an equal,” she said. “I don’t feel like one person is better or one person does more, even though we have our own presence. When it comes to opinion, everybody listens.”

When she first started, Marshall admits she was a little nervous, but with each meeting, it became easier and more comfortable.

Along with her role as a community board member, Marshall is also juggling her school work, soccer captain duties, a column for her family’s newspaper — which requires a lot of organization. “Me and my phone calendar are best friends,” she said. She also credits her mother, Cynthia Marshall. “My mom’s a key helper. While I’m in school, she gets all the calls that I’m supposed to get.”

Reflecting on the past two years, Marshall said her work on the community board has given her the confidence to stand up for her own thoughts and opinions, even if she has to challenge authority. She was even able to tell one developer who was proposing a big project, “You’re not thinking of our lives, how people are going to feel.” When the vote was taken, all the members voted no on the project.

“I was so proud of Jewels when she got up there, because I could tell she wasn’t sure how she was going to do it,” said Cynthia Marshall. “And then it looked like a light bulb just went off in her head. That was the first time I saw it.”

As for the future, Marshall’s goal is to get into the University of Albany and major in biology, go to medical school and become an obstetrician. Her mom, though excited for her daughter’s future, is sad that she’s leaving. “She’s my best friend,” Jewels admitted. And both know her new-found confidence will serve her well.

“I was always outgoing and able to talk, but I would hold back a little because I didn’t want to step on any toes,” she said. “But now, I’ve been able to learn to say ‘I respect what you’re saying but I don’t think what you’re doing is the right thing.’”

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