Why I Do This Work
Alyssa-Marie Cajigas Rivera Ortiz
When I was a freshman in high school, I had to write a paper about a social justice issue that was most important to me. I was 13 at the time, and I chose to write about Trayvon Martin. Not only because I could see myself in Trayvon as an Afro-Boricua, but because I lost an uncle to police brutality the year before I was born and I grew up listening to my family talk about the impact of that loss. Even then, I deeply understood that I was not a person who would be protected by the police, or who would be given the benefit of the doubt. When the assignment was complete, I knew that writing about these issues was not enough for me and I decided then that I wanted to take the solutions proposed in that paper and try to implement them, get involved on the ground, and make them work. I have worked as a community organizer ever since.
I was one of the first young people who wrote and received a grant from the Perrin Family Foundation. The relationships I developed with Laura and Amarillis as a youth organizer and leader in the field led to an invitation to join the strategy council. Now, I hold a dual role as a member of the Strategy Council and a Board member. I am one of two young people on the community board members. In my governance leadership role I supported the development of their new strategic framework- an 18-month project dedicated to figuring out how to leverage resources to amplify young people’s voices and leadership as they make community change. I have a deep appreciation for the foundation for including young people in every conversation from the very beginning and in a very radical way that I have not seen before. Their courageous leadership allowed space for exploring, honesty, and learning. From Laura offering time to debrief with the young people after meetings to help explain some of the jargon, or for check-ins after tough conversations, we all felt supported and valued in a really special way that is reflected in the final framework.
It’s hard for any institution to look inward and to think critically and honestly about what’s working and what isn’t. I believe that we need to be critical lovers of our own institutions, and the Perrin Family Foundation is an excellent example of that. When we take a look at history and at the way movement work has happened, the reality is that young people have always been at the forefront. We need to stop saying that young people are the leaders of tomorrow because they are leading us today. Being in partnership with the leadership of PFF during this process made clear to me their depth of understanding of that fact, and empowered me, a youth organizer, to continue to fight in the face of all the challenges faced. Helping to develop this new strategic framework strengthened my resolve to continue to do what I’ve been doing for 10 years, and reaffirmed why I do it at all.
I do this work for my three-year-old baby brother– so that he gets to live a life that I have yet to experience around freedom and liberation and joy. I do this work for the young people I work with every day who I see truly dedicating their lives to pushing for progress. I do this work for my community. I am driven by the radical love I have for the people I choose to be in community with and by the hope that I will help create a better future for all of us.
Alyssa-Marie (she/her) is the Co-Executive Director to the Children of Marsha P. Johnson. She also serves as the Director of Organizing for the Citywide Youth Coalition Inc. and Producer for the New Haven Pride Center. Alyssa-Marie is a Strategy Council Member for the Perrin Family Foundation. She has also previously interned for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England where she worked to successfully launch the state’s first queer camp specifically for Black, Brown, and indigenous youth. For Alyssa-Marie, the camp is more than just a program, it’s providing a space she always wished to have offered to her. Alyssa has been a community organizer for the past decade. She has worked on issues like LGBTQ+ rights, juvenile justice reform, and the miseducation of our education system, among many other issues. In total, Alyssa-Marie is a true organizer and leader in the state of Connecticut who exudes the spirit of a new generation of youth that are politically conscious and personally committed to improving the community for the better.