As it was previously announced, I attended the 2022 SOMOS Puerto Rico Conference, on November 9 – 13, in San Juan Puerto Rico. SOMOS is a leading force in bringing together Latino communities to make positive and transformative impacts resulting in an improvement in the socioeconomic and civic status of all Latinos across New York State and beyond. I can honestly say that it exceeded my expectations. It’s the most diverse conference I’ve attended in a long time. It featured presentations by the Chinese American Planning Council, and an event at the Chabad Jewish Center of Puerto Rico, among others.
There was a day of policy panels, and in response to tropical storm Fiona, Somos Inc. and the Assembly Puerto Rican/Hispanic Task Force added more community service to the conference schedule and cut some of the more festive events. November 11 had seven hours devoted to a day of service and informational tours where participants spread out across the island for projects like cleaning and painting a school in San Juan or transplanting and composting at a farm in Toa Baja. On Nov. 12, attendees were asked to give some time to sorting packages with food and household items for Puerto Ricans facing food insecurity after tropical storm Fiona.
According to City & State Firstread, Somos weekend attracted nearly 2,000 politicos to Puerto Rico to build deeper connections, injecting over $2 million into the local economy in just the four days of the conference. Talk about bringing together diverse communities, it was a networking haven!
It has been said that you are only as good as your network allows! My reason for attending my first SOMOS conference, was that during the pandemic shutdown, I decided to take a one year sabbatical, to publish my first book, in order to pivot, adapt and survive the crisis to come out stronger on the other side.
During that time, we elected new state and city legislators, governor, and New York city Mayor. Therefore, I needed to nurture existing relationships and build new ones. As we work to build the Garifuna power at the state and city level, there is a need to engage them in advocating for the nonprofit sector and our empowerment agenda.
Among the attendees were U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Governor Kathy Hochul, Attorney General Letitia James. Among those I was able to personally engage were, Speaker of the New York State Assembly Carl Heastie, chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party Senator Jamaal Bailey, Speaker of the New York City Council Adrienne Adams, Assembly Member Karines Reyes, Assembly Member Yudelka Tapia, Assembly Member Kenny Burgos, Assemblymember/Senator, Natalia Fernandez, Assembly Member Chantal Jackson, Deputy NYC Council Speaker Diana Ayala, NYC Council Member Kevin C. Riley, NYC Council Member Oswald Feliz, NYC Council Member Amanda Farías, Bronx Borough NYC Council Member Althea Stevens, President Vanessa L. Gibson, Darcel D. Clark, District Attorney for Bronx County Former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr., Former Assemblymember Marcos Crespo , Andre D. White – Executive Director & CEO of Phipps Neighborhoods, Rosemary Ordonez-Jenkins – Deputy Executive Director of Community & Economic Empowerment of Phipps Neighborhoods, Dwayne Brown – Deputy Executive Director of Phipps Neighborhoods, Wayne Ho, President & Chief Executive Officer of Chinese-American Planning Council, as well as faith leaders, labor unions, and nonprofit organizations.
A networking event is not a social gathering, it is about developing relationships and to build real, genuine connections with other individuals. Over the past six months, I have written the entire Bronx legislative delegation, seeking their support to proclaim March 11th – April 12th, 2023, as Garifuna-American Heritage Month in New York State and New York City, as well as the Bronx. While I have received positive responses from some elected officials, some have not granted us the courtesy of a response, as you can tell from the list above, I was able to connect with most of them at SOMOS.
Furthermore, I reconnected with fellow CORO’s Immigrant Civic Leadership Program (ICLP) alumni Ligia Gualipa, Co-Executive Director, Workers Justice Project, and Bobby Digi, Founder and Executive Director of Island Voice Inc., and Founder of Canvas Institute of Arts, Culture & Civic Engagement, I also reconnected with Wayne Ho, who was a presenter and faciliatator during the CORO ICLP cohort. I also reconnected with former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrión Jr., who issued the very first proclamation of Garifuna Heritage Month, in 2009, as well as Ruben Diaz, Jr., who continued it during his administration, and whom I also met at SOMOS.I was also able to engage with Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson and her staff, who will host the 15th Annual Garifuna American Heritage Month on Thursday, March 9th, 2023, 6:00 PM – 9:00 PM, at the Bronx County Building, Rotunda, 851 Grand concourse, The Bronx, NY 10451.
Being visible and getting noticed is a benefit of networking that’s essential in career building and building the power of a community. Regularly attending professional and social events like SOMOS will help make your face known. However, the point of networking is to develop and nurture professional relationships, but you must follow up with your newly formed contacts. That is why I am attending a fundraiser for NYC Council Member Kevin C. Riley this week, as well as the Puerto Rican Heritage Celebration at the New York City Council Chambers, sponsored by Council Members Amanda Farías, Diana Ayala, and Althea Stevens among others, whom I was able to connect with at SOMOS, and are among those whose support I sought, to proclaim March 11th – April 12th, 2023, as Garifuna-American Heritage Month in New York City.
Based on my experience last week, I can attest that SOMOS is indeed, a leading force in bringing together not just Latino and diverse communities to make positive and transformative impacts resulting in an improvement in the socioeconomic and civic status of all Latinos across New York State and beyond! I take the opportunity to invite you to the 15th Annual Garifuna American Heritage Month on Thursday, March 9th, 2023.