Sistas & Brothas

(Photo: Jonathan Candelarias)

by Jonathan Candelaria

Bronx Journal Staff Writer

To the average New Yorker, the headquarters of Sistas and Brothas United is a non-descript house, typical of the Bronx: cracked concrete, kids playing outside and grown folks hanging out at the bodega. However, for young people in this borough, it’s more of a safe haven, a fountain of knowledge, and a place of change.

Sistas and Brothas United (SBU) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to generate young leaders in this community.

“We want more people from our community who are willing to take the political system in their hands and feel that they can be powerful,” says Mustafa Sullivan, a staff member of SBU.

One of the SBU participants, 16-year-old Dahiana Lauser, says SBU is important because it challenges her and her peers to critically view what is going on around them.

“It helps us to analyze what’s going on and see how we can change it, ” says Lauser. “They look at you as an individual and they push you to where you don’t think you can even go.”

(Photo: Jonathan Candelarias)

SBU is a student-led organization. Young people are allowed to make decisions about which campaigns they want to work on.

“We work on education reform campaigns mostly in the Bronx, but also local and national (campaigns),” she says. “We work in green work force development and leadership development.”

Sistas and Brothers United, which was founded 1999-2000, runs on an estimated $430,000 budget annually, with most funding coming from private foundations and public grants. It has three full time staffers who deal with approximately 60 youth daily, with private foundation and public money.

(Photo: Jonathan Candelarias)

The small operation uses its resources to take campaigns to the streets. The group regularly petitions people to support issues such as the Kingsbridge Armory debate.

That debate focused on the development of the Kingsbridge armory. Developers wanted to bring retail stores to the armory, however SBU opposed it because they felt these jobs wouldn’t provide living wages — which in the Bronx constitutes $30 an hour for two adults to support two children.

SBU also runs workshops on topics such as gentrification, combating homophobia, and the roots of the financial crisis. These workshops serve as a platform to highlight specific issues that the youth of the Bronx face daily.

In addition, the workshops help young people to get jobs. “(We are) working with workforce development, training the youth on how to write their resumes and also assisting them in finding jobs,” says Ralfael Pena, a SBU volunteer. “Ever since SBU was founded, there were students and youth leaders who just didn’t have a place to go, they didn’t have a job. That’s why SBU stepped in.”

Jonathan Candelarias

Sullivan says the Bronx particularly needs these services.

“I think the Bronx is like a lot of places across the country — there are people who are low income. There are a lot of people from immigrant communities who are just neglected by elected officials, who feel like they don’t really have to own up to them.”

Lauser says that is one of the main goals of SBU — to hold public officials responsible.

“We aren’t politicians, we don’t have to lie to people and tell them we’re going to do this and that,” says Lauser. “We’re doing it because we believe it. If you have the will, you can do it.”

This “will” was evident on a recent visit to SBU. Sitting at a roundtable, the group discussed some issues they wanted to change about the Bronx. Everyone of them had a fire in their eyes, a belief that a better day is in sight as long as they fight.

2 Responses to Sistas & Brothas

  1. Richard Salas Jr November 27, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    A little correction if I am not too late:
    Sistas and Brothas United was not found in the 1980’s. It was founded in 1999-2000.. I am a board rep of Sistas an Brothas United of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition board of directors and also a long time youth leader.

    • Christine Mckenna November 28, 2016 at 1:01 am

      Fixed. Thanks! Christine McKenna


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