On November 14th, former Deputy Borough President and long-time WHSAD supporter, Diana Reyna, visited WHSAD. I, along with George Pinto, had the opportunity of interviewing Diana and getting some insight towards her values and goals for the future.
The beginning of the discussion started with recollecting Diana’s support of WHSAD’S Architectural Preservation Program all the way back in 2009.
“I saw the potential of career readiness and truly embracing all the components that a student at a young age can be excited about learning… And have what is a school that can model an education that invigorates a classroom, that has the potential to make learning fun and be able to change the course of that young person. The social upward mobility […] they’re gonna go from being poor to being self-sustained. Earning an income that can reach six figures because they’re learning a technical career, a technical certification that will, you know, go with them wherever they decide to live. They can take that career and transform their lives, and the lives of their families, and the lives of their neighbors. Because the learning at WHSAD makes you see the world different.”
The conversation continued with how she felt programs such as this for the youth should be emphasized more, the biggest way of doing so by listening to the requests and needs of the same youth that we seek to help:
“We have to ask the youth, ‘What would you want to see if you had the opportunity to change something here? What would it be?’ And you’d be surprised. It could be the color of the paint, the food, the chairs being uncomfortable. And when you get past all that, then they can start focusing on- ‘Well, I wish my teacher wouldn’t talk all day. I wish I could see videos because I learned better by watching something than I do, just listening, sitting there’. We’re human beings. We’re not made to stay still, that’s true, right? And so speaking with youth can really give you an inside look at what is closest to them, as far as importance in the classroom as opposed to as an adult trying to figure that out for them.”
We then shifted to discussing Diana’s future goals and projects. One goal that Diana mentioned is to finish the BQGreen, as it delivers an infrastructure project that takes into account the community and strives to correct a wrong from the past. Another one of these projects is her own business, a boutique service supporting private clients that need help dealing with government to develop housing. She connects her work with her business to housing principles she learned about and pushed for when she was Deputy Borough President.
“And it’s a similar to how you guys work in the classroom, collaborative work, strategic planning, and design. So I will work with a client that’s developing housing and I will need to speak to the government, the owner of the company, the engineer, the architect, a construction company, and everything else in between. And we’re able to bring this project to life, all the while also gaining support from the public. And so, that’s not easy to manage. […] When I was at Borough Hall, I pushed for passive house design, the sustainable and resilient way of building that was introduced in the United States in the 70s. When I was Deputy Borough President, I found out, we were leading in Brooklyn with passive house design. I said, ‘When I was a council member and I was voting for projects in my district, no one ever presented passive house design. Why is that? ‘The cost’. Is it really the cost or is it because it’s a poor neighborhood? So when you start unpacking the word cost, a lot of it is related to: ‘Is this project going to serve the community’? And I pushed for this type of design because not only does it serve this community, and the city’s paying, what would be subsidies for affordable housing, but in the long run, the project becomes even more affordable when you add the elements of passive housing […] It’s picking up steam, right? But if you don’t know that that’s an option, how do you fight for something you don’t know exists?”
While we were speaking about passive house design and it being less of an option for neighborhoods that were considered “poor”, we moved onto other issues that faced such neighborhoods in the 34th district. These issues include unemployment and limited education for natives to the area before the transition from the dominant textile factory industry to retail establishments and restaurants. Transition opportunities such as job training in the district become important as individuals who were previously skilled in textile creation and had a steady income with it, became jobless as the new dominating jobs in the neighborhood require familiarity and skill sets in a completely different craft. Many workers prioritized working instead of pursuing higher forms of educations that weren’t necessary to have those jobs. Another issue was a rise in prices facing natives of the neighborhood, as more people with higher incomes moved in that’re willing to pay more for food or housing, the cost of the bare necessities become so much of a problem that shopping in your own neighborhood is impossible.
The last question posed to Diana was: “What are some ways you feel civilians and people who lack the connections or ties to government can advocate for change?”
“Do you know your council member? That is the first step to your question. It doesn’t matter what it is and you’ll be so I think you will knock that person off their feet. If you just call and say, I just wanted to meet you because I was told that I needed to know who my council member was and you’ll be surprised how they’ll appreciate it. They’ll appreciate it because most people that engage are going because they’ve met their last line of hope. It’s like the precinct, right? Do you need to get to know your precinct when you get arrested or when you are working with them to make the neighborhood safer, right? I always encourage it. I was a council member. We need to have dialogue […]”
While Diana is not planning on running for any government position again, she still continues pushing for change and reform to benefit communities as a citizen. The opportunity to have this dialogue with her was insightful- from the standpoint of a high-schooler with little to no knowledge on the government. Before this interview, hearing about someone in a position of power in the government, there was almost a disconnect from them because of the major differences in occupation and status. However, being able to talk to Diana, someone who formerly held positions in government, this imaginary divide shrunk and the realization that officials are just as approachable and human as anyone else grew. Maintaining healthy and constant dialogue with local government is essential to addressing and fixing any problems that your neighborhood faces. A conversation with your council member should not be an unnerving experience as they’re always just a phone call away.