Sydney Cespedes



Location: New York City, NY, United States

    Issues Areas:
  • Immigration

Campus: CUNY Hunter College - New York, NY

Fellowship Class Year: 2009

Blueprint: Social Justice NYC

Through her Blueprint, Sydney worked to bring community members together, especially young people, who were interested in improving their predominantly Latino community through meaningful social justice work by restarting the Sueos del Barrio program, gain additional support from the larger community and universities around New York City, and establish a Young Womens Leadership Seminar Series.

Featured Fellow Spotlight

What do you stand for?

I stand for equal access to quality education and cultural awareness. I strongly believe that education is a right for all and that students should have the opportunity to not only receive the requisite education but also have the chance to benefit from cultural studies as well. I believe that cultural knowledge about oneself and family is crucial to understanding your place in society and how you can best serve your community.


How did you come to work with Esperanza Del Barrio and what have you been working on with them?   

I first started working with Esperanza Del Barrio when another student at Hunter, and a 2008 YP4 fellow, Maria Arettines introduced me to the tutoring program where she was working. I started working there as a tutor and currently am the Program Coordinator. The program is run completely on a volunteer basis and my responsibilities include bringing in people to be volunteers tutors, coordinating their schedules, tailoring the tutoring curriculum to specific students needs and planning events and community projects with the students, such a planting trees in the neighborhood and a guided tour of East Harlem in conjunction with El Museo Del Barrio.


What is the mission of Esperanza Del Barrio?

Esperanza Del Barrio was originally founded to organize for workers’ rights in the Latino community in East Harlem but has grown to include more community work such as the tutoring program, and health advice and leadership development.


What you hoping to accomplish through your blueprint?

For my Blueprint I will be reviving the youth group of Esperanza Del Barrio youth group called Sueños del Barrio. I’m hoping to reach youth who normally wouldn’t have opportunities or access to after school activities, extra academic support and cultural education. I want to make sure that everyone who participates in the group fully understands their rights as citizens and their options for the future.


What has been your biggest struggle so far as a progressive leader and how are you dealing with them?

It’s always difficult to have students attend tutoring sessions regularly. Getting parents involved is a major component of making sure they come to every session so I am working on setting up meetings with parents to stress the benefits of the tutoring program.

With my Blueprint, one of the most unanticipated struggles has been recruiting for the Sueños del Barrio group and dealing with the NYC school system bureaucracy. I’ve met a lot of resistance from schools when I try to come in to talk to students or do any kind of recruitment. However, by being persistent and just showing up I did have the chance to connect with the assistant principal of the Manhattan International High School and talk to the students during lunchtime about Sueños del Barrio. The way I plan to deal with this is by doing what I did at Manhattan International, by going to schools in person, showing investment in the project and the group of students who will be a part of it and not giving up.

There are many times when I have doubts about the work I am doing, whether or not I have the experience to do this work, whether or not I can do this work but what motivates me to keep working is the belief that this is incredibly important and impactful work. Knowing this also compels to me commit to working harder than I may have originally anticipated and I’m also working on not being afraid to fail and just give this my best shot.


How do you see you work with YP4 developing over the next year and beyond?

Well, I’m hoping I can create a lasting community group for youth in East Harlem. I’d like the students to come up with a community project they develop as a group and can implement in the community. I hope to build the program so that’s it’s a sustainable and lasting program, that the students involved in the program are involved in creating the curriculum and the way the group is run, I just want to be a facilitator. The goal is for me to eventually be able to step away from the group and it be a self sustaining entity.


How can people get involved with your work?

Anyone who would be able to either provide or put me in touch with someone who can provide skills based trainings, specifically in technology and writing would be wonderful. Also, if any YP4 fellows that are based in New York and would be interested in being a mentor to a student or coming in to do a training, that would also be a great way to collaborate!