Community Organizer; Consultant
ABOUT: “East Harlem has always been like the stepchild of Harlem... you can see it in the progress that Harlem has made versus the progress that East Harlem has made,” says Yma Rodriguez, longtime resident, organizer, and consultant in the neighborhood. “What we think is needed is a strategic master plan for the community.” Rodriguez was at the head of a recent effort to create just such a plan, drawing up a thorough and wide-ranging statement of needs for the community. Her familiarity with El Barrio’s strengths and weaknesses and her experience as a National Urban Fellow gives her a unique vantage point on the community’s issues, but Rodriguez recognizes that effecting long-term change cannot be achieved by any one person acting alone. What El Barrio needs is “not people, per se, but leadership.” To that end, Rodriguez is working tirelessly to build a team of leaders that can carry El Barrio and its cultural legacy forward while leaving it intact.
COMMUNITY VISIONS: “We have a tremendous amount of artists and arts organizations who have a lot to offer but are disorganized,” says Rodriguez. “The community needs an arts & culture service organization.” As someone who has been involved in plans to renovate and develop the currently-empty La Marqueta, Rodriguez notes that outside developers moving into East Harlem “need to respect that there’s a cultural dynamic here that needs to stay in place.” But preserving the community’s cultural integrity is not just about preventing outsiders from disrupting it; the responsibility also falls on the community itself to stand up for what’s needed. Rodriguez hopes that more and more community members will step up to “grab the bull by the horns” and become local leaders and advocates.