December 2020 News

Congratulations Winners!
CYD Student Essay Contest

Happy Holidays from CYD

CYD asked students what they thought about COVID-19, the shutdown, job loss, the protests after George Floyd’s death, and remote learning. Here is what the top three essayists told us.

Dayanna Quito

First-prize winner:
Dayanna Ceron Quito
Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School

The Positive Side

Could you imagine being in quarantine for six months with your eight family members in one apartment? Well it happened to me. My name is Dayanna and I live with all my family, three younger siblings, my mom, my stepfather, and my grandparents. When New York shut down in March, me and my family were unemployed, which meant that there was an abundance of free time to spend with them. At the beginning we started spending our time baking some recipes from the internet, making funny videos, dancing, or painting crazy ideas. I clearly remember when me and my youngest sister, Camila, were trying to bake a brownie. We were really scared because the oven released a burning smell almost the same as the wood on fire but the brownie was actually very delicious. My grandmother, Susana, loved to cook Ecuadorian food like ceviche, a typical dish in my country that contains shrimps, onions, and tomatoes. We accompany it with crispy plantains and it tastes like glory.

I learned a couple new things about all my family members. For example, I never realized that my younger brother, Axel, likes to cook with us, or that my two sisters enjoy talking while I’m sleeping. Also I learned that even though we are family sometimes we couldn’t stand each other. Besides, remote learning made everything a little difficult, and more so when I have to share my room with two sisters and we all three have a meeting at the same time. It’s just so noisy! Everybody was looking for a quiet place to do their classes and it was almost impossible in my house but we figured out some ways to fit together, like wearing headphones to not make more noise or knocking on the doors before going into any room even when there are just three of them. Along the way many things happened outside like the death of George Floyd, which made me and my family feel powerless because even though we wanted to protest for justice we couldn’t go outside. There were some moments where the mood in my house got so tense and everybody was just sick of each other, but at the end of the day we were always at the table talking, laughing, and listening to my grandparents’ stories while drinking hot chocolate.

Finally, I realized that isolation gave the opportunity to analyze my goals. I decided about my dream career in college which is cinematography because I have loved cinema since watching Harry Potter when I was 12 years old, which is my favorite movie. I’m grateful that I went through all this with my family’s support because there were some people that did it by themselves. The virus changed everyone’s life at 360 degrees but it also made us stronger to confront the future, so let’s look at the positive side of the terrible things that can happen every day in this crazy world.

Second-prize winner:
Javaria Rehman
Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School

Finding Peace in Chaos

My life changed drastically, and never would I have imagined that such isolated days were coming. On March 16, 2020, schools and colleges in NYC closed down, and at first I was glad that I didn’t have to go to school anymore. The stress from going to school suddenly disappeared and the heavy weight was quickly lifted off my shoulders. But those around me didn’t feel the same way. The anxiety in my house was at peak and all anyone would talk about was how the future seemed so uncertain.

The first two weeks I would oversleep and soon I realized that it was making me feel sluggish. I knew that I needed to make a routine and not be occupied with the coronavirus news. By April I would wake up at 9:00 am and I started to do five-minute yoga before I would begin my homework. This quarantine period has changed me to be more mindful of small things and really appreciate everything so much more. I learned that I enjoy online school a lot more than going to school. Also, I realized that I love yoga and it has opened up my mind even though I am inside all day. I now had time for drawing, but before I never had any time for it. I regret that I didn’t work out a different career path rather than just applying to college.

The way people of color are viewed with such hatred and violence made me question my core values of how I am too quick to judge. More now than ever I became more conscious of my actions, and I really question our society’s norms. I know you cannot change people’s strong beliefs about Blacks that have been enforced from centuries ago, but you can rise above the way you are treated. You don’t have to be confined by people that are racists and prevent you from living a peaceful life. Instead, you should use this as a fuel to push you forward towards your goals and know that you have a place in the world where you are truly accepted for who you are. I believe that people need to be properly educated about how who you are shouldn’t be judged by your skin color or your outer appearance. But you should be open to know people from their character and humor.

This ongoing experience of quarantine made me more mindful of what’s truly important in life. I have decided to take a gap year to work on myself before I go to college. I realized that we humans are capable of surviving such harsh conditions and you shouldn’t always think about the future, you should live in this very moment. You might think that you can’t survive this but years from now you would look back and you would have made it. Even though you might not think you can do this, you can and you will.

Third-prize winner:
Sneha Roy
The High School for Health Professions and Human Services

The Voyage to Restore Hope

With the launch of COVID-19 in mid-March, everyone appeared to describe it as unprecedented and unforeseen. Though undisputable, it indeed is something beyond comprehension. My encounter with COVID had negatively introduced despondence. As uneasy as I was with my health and education, time compelled me to believe that there was no better time to spend moments with loved ones.

Losing in my fights led me to relinquish parts of myself – more of my mind and primary intelligence. I craved to seek help for some mental support, but I was struck by a breeze of words telling me that I had not struggled enough to ask for any support. On a day before my birthday in May, my uncle passed away from COVID in my homeland, Bangladesh. He was as magnanimous and delicate as no other being I have seen. His passing beamed down darkness to my world again, and I was too young to understand how to cope with it. On the day of my 15th birthday, I recalled that day as an epoch of one of the turning points that cemented my vision for the time I have left to feel grateful to see the loved ones.

The same month, our country faced one of the worst inroads that have persisted since slavery. George Floyd’s death raised the question of this country’s soul. In the name of justice, young people like me amplified their volumes to echo the same words that our parents, uncles and aunts, and grandparents had echoed, for that one change that we continue to seek. I contributed my ways to support the BLM movement: protesting, keeping up with posts and stories on Instagram – bestowing the words of the famous Martin Luther King Jr., John Lewis, and other exceptional black leaders. Eminently, the voices of young people who refuse to dwell with race wars. With one commitment, we, as members of this nation who have come to emerge within the shadow of the BLM movement, cannot refuse to acknowledge the injustice that obliterated human rights after the tragedy of George Floyd.

By all counts, this fight was not straightforward to tackle. Journaling every moment with my parents, Zoom calls with my intimate friends, and with teachers whom I treat as best friends, became my coping mechanism for countless mental aches. Sharing a fight song through a lot of emotions refreshes the embodiment of the mind for some time or brings relief of acute stress for upcoming conditions. Alongside my manifested voyage, my parents stayed at my side. As much as I acknowledged the divine meanings of hope from my experiences, they fathomed the same more positively. Meetings with my teachers were effective to discuss these hardships and to feel rejuvenated and hopeful because no one knew more than them about the enormity of hardships. From CYD members, I learned that even in the most vulnerable situation, I can shine the flashlights on what I believe is important.

A Day in the Life of Briana Carp

Briana Carp has been CYD’s Director of Legal Information since 2010. Located onsite at Manhattan Comprehensive Night & Day High School, CYD’s Legal Information Clinic provides legal information and referrals to CYD students, focusing on immigration issues.

Briana Carp

Supporting Immigrant students. Manhattan Comprehensive, where I am based, has about 500 immigrant students who are mostly over-age, 18 to 21. They come here from Central America, Haiti, West Africa, China, and the Caribbean. They might be living in NY with extended family, or with friends. A lot of them are here without adult support. Often they are reluctant to seek help, especially if they are undocumented, so I do a lot of outreach.

The Legal Information Clinic helps provide immigrant students with free, reliable information and referrals to pro bono attorneys to help them with legal issues, get their green cards or citizenship. Last year 335 students used CYD legal services. I’m an intermediary between the students and their lawyers. I help the students gather documentation, I track the cases, and I follow up if the case gets stuck. I’m there for the student if they start to feel defeated. I tell them to have faith and it will work out.

COVID has changed the rhythm of the work. Courts have slowed down during the pandemic; my cases are not moving as quickly, and I have new cases too, so my caseload is bigger. Besides the legal support, I have been trying to connect students with food and housing resources and helping them apply for unemployment benefits because of so much job loss. I’ve been supporting them on their iPads and getting online; it’s so important that they have access to be able to do their schoolwork. The Legal Information Clinic is remote now. I miss the in-person work, it was so nice for the students to just come in to my office.

Partnership is essential. I manage CYD’s partnerships with the legal providers, including our longstanding partners the Legal Aid Society and The Door. We connect the students to paralegals and lawyers who handle qualifying cases on a pro bono basis. We hold a monthly clinic onsite for immigrants with the Legal Aid Society, and we have held workshops: “know your employment rights” workshops, because immigrant workers are often exploited, and “know your rights at a protest” workshops, because many of our students joined protests this summer after the death of George Floyd. Mobilization for Justice is one of our newest partners.

Things became harder under the current administration. The changes in rules and administrative processes made it more difficult and confusing for both our students and lawyers. Our role throughout has been to provide frequent, consistent information updates about government policies to both students and their families in a range of languages.

One of our students was a plaintiff in a 2018 class action lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Society because many young people were facing erroneous denials. She and her younger sister had suffered abuse which made them eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS); the sister’s case was approved while hers was denied. Legal Aid won their lawsuit, and our student’s case was finally approved in October 2019. It had taken 5 years for her to get her green card. Normally it takes around 6 to 12 months.

At stake for immigrant students is a successful life after high school, whether it includes college, training, or a non-exploitative job. Many colleges will accept students even if they don’t have a green card. But most of our students are low-income, and they struggle with the cost of college. If students are undocumented, they don’t qualify for federal financial aid. Since 2019 students can apply for financial aid in New York (called TAP) but they don’t get as much money as with federal assistance (FAFSA).

Best part about the work. I like working with the SIJS students, seeing the young people get their green cards and knowing that our intervention has made a difference. I speak French, so I use it with our French-speaking students from West Africa and Haiti, and other CYD staff speak other languages with our students. It’s important that immigrant students don’t feel so alone and that they know reliable help is at hand.

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Without the support of each and every one of our individual donors, the stories you read about and the programs that make an impact in the lives of our young people would not be possible. Thank you!