A Letter From Juanita O. Lewis, our Next Executive Director of Community Voices Heard
Dear CVH Community,
I am excited and honored to be the next Executive Director of Community Voices Heard. I want to thank the Boards, members and staff for putting their faith in me to lead the organization. I am ready to work with you all on building a stronger and more powerful CVH.
We lived through the need to constantly mobilize against Donald Trump, fight for Black Lives through uprisings, and take care of our community during COVID. Through it all, I have learned one lesson: It will be through stories, deep relationships, planning, and collective action that we achieve the transformation we need.
My almost thirteen years with CVH showed me the devastation of not being heard, and the potential of raising our collective voices. In Yonkers, I learned how people were treated at the Department of Social Services, neglected by landlords or not acknowledged by those in power. In all of these experiences, they were being told: you don’t deserve quality housing, access to safety net programs or to have your concerns heard by those that make decisions. That is why I am proud of building a team to fight for and win an Affordable Housing Ordinance; though it wasn’t perfect, it started to move the needle of how we spoke about those needing housing.
The same was true in other cities within Westchester County. We created a “People’s Agenda” because elected officials needed to know the barriers to employment for the formerly incarcerated, the challenges of not having access to homes that met their needs, and the lack of more affordable options for childcare and afterschool programs.
Those same fights were in New York City. I remember going door to door in a NYCHA development and doing outreach at the Department of Social Services. I heard the same concern of people’s voices not being heard, but there wasn’t a campaign bringing that all together. As ED, I will support our organizing department to build locally leading towards a statewide campaign.
Through it all, I have been an organizer. I wanted more people to learn the science and art of taking collective action using their stories as fuel, so I created our training program called Ella Baker School for Organizing. Members would spend a day and at times a weekend learning the universals of organizing. In December 2020, I had the honor of being the lead staff to prep with members for a Follow Black Women Town Hall with Senator Schumer. It was at this meeting that he committed to holding Congressional hearings on health and housing disparities for Black women and securing a meeting with HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, who committed to visiting New York in the fall.
Now, as Executive Director, I am ready to meet with members again at statewide meetings, assemblies and trainings to connect the dots and design a powerful campaign. I am also looking forward to conversations with key allies this summer to help inform my plan for how CVH can be best positioned to lead and win on issues.
We are at an important time in New York State where the need for equitable policies, systems of co-governance and accountability is at an all-time high. I believe that these organizing universals are important and necessary, but need to be updated to reflect the political climate we are in. We are at an important time in New York State where the need for equitable policies, systems of co-governance and accountability is at an all-time high. I believe that these organizing universals are important and necessary, but need to be updated to reflect the political climate we are in. We need to modernize our tools to be more effective and reach more people, which will make us think differently and experiment with various mediums, tools and platforms. To accomplish this, I will work with members and staff to elevate the voices of low-income New Yorkers by building deeper in our chapters through one-to-one meetings, leadership development opportunities and training that build towards strategic and narrative-shifting campaigns
I look forward to leading Community Voices Heard into this next chapter.
Continue Fighting, Juanita O. Lewis