PEF takes active role at Somos 2017
Story and photos by SHERRY HALBROOK
PEF political activists and other members came to Albany March 24 for the annual spring Somos (formerly called Somos El Futuro) conference weekend held by Somos Inc. in collaboration with the NYS Assembly/Senate Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force.
PEF Vice President and Political Action Chair Adreina Adams led the union members in the event, serving as a panelist in two workshops and as hostess for a PEF legislative reception Saturday, March 25. All of the events were held at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center.
Adams led a group of distinguished panelists at a PEF-sponsored workshop titled “The School to Prison Pipeline.” She was joined by the workshop’s joint moderators, state Assembly members Jose Rivera and Latrice Walker, as well as panelists: Jennifer Livingston, cofounder of The Black Center; Angela Fernandez, Esq., executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights; Luba Cortes, an LGBTQ and immigration advocate for Make the Road, NY; and Bronx County Criminal Court Judge Julio Rodriguez.
These speakers presented their perspectives on the factors that lead far too many students to become arrested, convicted and incarcerated. They discussed the role zero tolerance policies and the increased police presence in public schools that have played in this unfortunate outcome for young people who should be preparing for productive and responsible lives as adults, but find their educations and lives sidetracked into the courts and prisons.
Judge Rodriguez said he always looks at the courtroom audience when he is faced with setting bail or sentencing a young person convicted of a serious crime. He is looking to see if family members or friends are present to help this young person function safely and successfully in the community, but too often he sees no one there for the defendant.
Walker said the problem is very serious with 3.5 million students being suspended from school in just one school year. A suspension can be triggered by something as innocent as bringing a cell phone to school, making a hand gesture that looks like a pointed gun or bringing Tylenol or Midol to school. Since police have replaced many school security officers on school campuses, the number of arrests have dramatically increased, with 92,000 students arrested in 2012 and a disproportionate percentage of them were students of color.
“They are even suspending 5-year-olds,” Walker said.
Members of the audience had many questions and comments to contribute.
Adams also participated in a workshop titled “Diversity in the State Government Workforce” that was moderated by state Assemblyman Luis Sepulveda and Sen. Jamaal Bailey. In addition to Adams, the panelists included: Denise Berkley, statewide secretary of the Civil Service Employees Association Local 1000; Mark Colon, president and deputy commissioner for the state Office of Housing Preservations at the state Department of Homes and Community Renewal; Wendy Garcia, chief diversity officer for the Office of the NY City Comptroller; Nancy Hernandez, NYS deputy comptroller for diversity management; Dr. Carlos Medina, Vice chancellor and chief diversity officer at the SUNY Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; NYC Civil Court Judge Bianka Perez; and Rose Rodirguez, NYS chief diversity officer.