In the summer of 2010 I sat around a small table in a service organization with its broad windows looking out onto downtown New York. With the heat pulsing through the windows and the honk of car horns blaring into our ears, we should have been distracted and lazy, comatose and dogged; instead we were galvanized.
Hi, my name is Lauren Burke and I am one of the founders of Atlas NYC: A Cooperative Empowerment Center for Immigrant Youth and Their Allies. As an immigration attorney who has been working with immigrant youth since I was in high school, I believe that no population is simultaneously more necessary and vulnerable than immigrant youth in NYC. As the director of the Immigrant Youth Peer Educator Program, I lead eight inspiring immigrant youth on a journey of self-advocacy, empowerment and education that changed all of our lives. Every week we sat and not only discussed what it meant to be immigrants in New York, but how systems are failing our youth and the potential being diminished due to a lack of available services in place. The youth in my program hailed from Panama and the D.R., China and the Ivory Coast; they attend New York’s top colleges and play for New England’s best sports teams; they speak Spanish and French and African dialects galore, yet their potential is unrealized, their resources untapped, all because they are deemed immigrant and thus, less than human.
Through meetings with my many clients, sharing tears shed, lives lost and hopes born anew, it became clear that a place like Atlas, a place where immigrant youth can feel safe and secure, where they can receive the much needed support while building self-empowerment and advocacy skills, was not only important but necessary. Immigrant youth, especially, dare I say it, undocumented immigrant youth, are the targets of not only our political pundits but actual fists on our streets, they bare the brunt of inhumane immigration policies and exploitative workers. Time and again their lawyers, teachers, social workers, family’s and friends are unable to provide the resources they need. Atlas will change all of that. Borne from the minds of IYPEP youth, lead by innovators in social entrepreneurship, immigration reform, and cooperative ownership, Atlas is striving to build a model through which immigration youth cannot only survive but thrive in their brave new world.
Now is the time and Atlas is the place. Please, join us in our quest to make a more just world.