Nos Quedamos Youth Leader Embraces the Community Power of the South Bronx

Pictured here is Melanie Giler, a sophomore majoring in marketing at Baruch College and Nos Quedamos youth leader.

As part of our commitment to partnering with communities to support an equitable and environmentally just future, we are holding an ongoing series where we shine light on the sustainability work of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and intersectional justice-focused leaders of all ages.

Born and raised in the multicultural community of the South Bronx, Melanie Giler never imagined that she would be involved in the movement for environmental justice as much as she is today. The Bronx is one of five boroughs within New York City and despite being the birthplace of Hip-Hop music and Yankee Stadium, the borough has been the target of many negative stereotypes and hearing these stereotypes conflicted with her view of the neighborhood growing up. More specifically, her neighborhood was called dirty, and the people were labeled as loud, these stereotypes are harmful. Transferring to a high school in Manhattan helped Melanie experience a different point of view of the neighborhood, and it in turn grew her love for her community. She observed how different the neighborhoods were from her community to this new one, made her question and investigate more information on why that is the way it is when both areas are within the same city.

Today Melanie is a sophomore attending Baruch College and is majoring in Marketing. She is a South Bronx native who interacts with the people in her community. She works for Nos Quedamos (We Stay), a community development corporation, that is committed to bringing collective self-determination to the South Bronx community. Nos Quedamos’ mission is to “engage, empower, and transform marginalized communities to remain and thrive”. Melanie serves as a Youth Leader, educating local youth about housing and environmental issues in addition to financial literacy and career development.

Nos Quedamos’ history originates in the 1970s when the South Bronx suffered fires which displaced a lot of residents that lived in the area. During these fires, the city wanted to incorporate an urban renewal plan that would have further displaced residents to revitalize the Melrose community. Bronx city planning activist Yolanda Garcia founded Nos Quedamos, (also known as “We Stay” in English,) to fight back against negative elements of the revitalization plans, and with the community power Nos Quedamos built, they drew attention to what were the best interests of the community.

Pictured here is the Nos Quedamos team with volunteers at one of their community gardens.

Under Yolanda’s leadership, Nos Quedamos utilized open lots and created community gardens to replace some of burned-down properties. Nos Quedamos’ program expanded and slowly grew into aiding residents with social services, like helping residents achieve SNAP assistance and affordable housing. In recent years, Nos Quedamos hosted cultural events to help bring awareness and bring the community together. From the Melrose Celebration to International Youth Day, and even small-scale environmental justice events hosted by the youth team.

Speaking to the realization of the inequities the South Bronx had historically faced, Melanie said “Seeing trash regularly on the street, as well as displaced people, and needles on the ground opened my eyes to how my environment was maintained compared to the other boroughs in NYC. Seeing this made me want to do more. I wanted to be involved in pushing major system change.” With this motivation, she was able to embrace the community power Nos Quedamos grew, and this helped her engage with youth and families, from canvasses to community meetings.

Pictured here is Melanie with fellow youth leader Haley Miranda at a food drive they hosted for Nos Quedamos.

When asked about her advice for today’s youth and policies that could help her community, Melanie said “No matter what major you want to pursue, you can always engage within climate and environmental justice related issues. It doesn’t have to be your career path or choice, but there’s always a place for you. I am currently going to school for business and that may not directly apply to these topics, but always look for opportunities to volunteer and table with organizations you support and join them for advocacy days and mass mobilizations. We are the future and maintaining the earth should be within all our best interests for the generations to come. What I hope I can do is to leave a better planet for the youth and the working people”. She added “If I were to pass two policies tomorrow, I would ensure that everyone is able to have a well weatherized home of their own and to heavily invest in the public works department to help keep the streets clean.”

Pictured here is Melanie Giler with the Nos Quedamos youth team.

Building youth leadership and addressing the intersections of environmental justice and housing justice resonates with the work we lead at Save the Sound because building the resilience of communities supports a more resilient Long Island Sound region.

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