“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.

It is our duty to win.

We must love and support one another.

We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

          Assata Shakur

Written by Karl Valere

We tend to dismiss the young leaders of today, and often try to minimize their contributions to our society.

For mostly self-serving reasons, those who are in power would have everyone else believe that all young adults are entitled, “lazy, stupid, and unconcerned.”

Yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Perhaps the fear is that there will be a disruption of the power dynamic — worrying that if young adults are empowered to lead they will somehow be above reproach, or beyond continuous learning.

That is to say, they will no longer need us.

However, the truth of the matter is that young adults do in fact lead with courage, humility, dignity, and passion every single day.

Case in point: Elmont’s own, Arielle Pierre. Ms. Pierre is a prime example of a young adult who is ready to lead today — not tomorrow — while still remaining grounded thanks to family, friends, and pure inspiration which all serve as a guide and remind her of her purpose.

“There is power in trusting my gut and doing exactly what it is that I want,” the 20-year-old Clark University junior declared back in May at an on-campus event. “I have a duty to demand things from others and to ask for what I want directly and confidently.”

In such an increasingly fermented political climate, young adults like Arielle Pierre, are not only being shaped by the times but are actively pushing back against widespread injustices they encounter in society, all the while creating the kind of future in which they want to live.

Ms. Arielle Pierre will not take a backseat to or for anyone. In fact, she appears to sit undaunted in the driver’s seat of an urgent revolution.

Please enjoy our interview!

Interview questions by Karl Valere for The Elmont Excelsior Inc. Answers and photos by Arielle Pierre. 

Full name: Arielle Pierre

Age: 20

Year graduated from Elmont: 2015

Schools attended & areas of study: Clark University — Political Science Major / Ethics and Public Policy Concentration

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Arielle decided to spend her Spring Break 2017 in New Orleans working on homes that were devastated by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005 (Photo courtesy of Arielle Pierre).
  1. What’s your passion?

Creative expression.

  1. How and when did you know this passion was right for you?

In elementary school, my computer teacher, Mr. Coutant, told me I would one day be writing Hallmark Cards. Immediately, my neighbor, Christian Davis, and I began crafting up short films and posting them online.

This was the foundation of what would eventually become a passion for creative expression. I continued this in high school, producing short (no budget) films, poetry, and photography — every English teacher encouraged me to pursue writing.

These experiences in the film sector provided me the backbone of my first conceptualizations of social capital — friends. Friends who would eagerly show up to rehearsals and be excited to be involved in what was known as a “Geraldine Arielle Pierre Production.”

By this point, I knew I was meant to be a leader. My experiences in film production management interwoven with my academic curiosities inspired dreams of building my own nonprofit organization that would aid marginalized communities globally.

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  1. How does your family affect your passion and purpose?

A child of immigrants, my family is my main source of support. My mother, Dr. Yvrose Pierre, dedicates her life to service. She is a New York City High School Principal in Brooklyn, New York for students with special needs. She is recognized nationally as the woman who turns schools around. From her, I attribute my “get it done by any means necessary” attitude.

My father, Gerard Pierre, has worked in the retail industry as a General Manager for over 35 years. Watching my father work 6 days a week is what inspires my work ethic. From him, I’ve learned that you truly have to love what you do and you must do the best you can do day after day.

My sister, Nodhylia Islam, who works as an Assistant Manager for DePaul Community Services, a Treatment Apartment Program in Rochester, New York, reminds me that anything is possible. “Nodhy,” diagnosed as deaf at the age of 3, reminds me that our identities do not confine us, instead they empower us.

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Arielle poses in front of a mural of two of her inspirations (Malcolm X – left, and Harriet Tubman – right) in Brooklyn, New York (Photo courtesy of Arielle Pierre).
  1. There was a controversial article written in July which triggered racist comments on Facebook.  You engaged in dialogue with someone who had very problematic views.  Why did you feel this was an important conversation worth joining?  Did you learn anything from your dialogue/exchange with this person?

Whether we like it or not, social media is an integral part of the way our politics is created, perceived, and transformed today. Facebook may be the singular arena of political discourse for many people, particularly younger high school and middle school students who have yet to be exposed to alternative opportunities for civic engagement.

Many people in Elmont would be reading this article written on the impact of white teachers educating a predominantly black community. I felt obligated to address the topic of affirmative action as it is one of the most prominent policy issues up for debate in the United States today.

A response to the article argued that “no person should be hired or receive preferential attention over another because of skin color.” However, on the contrary, I believe that there is a lot of undoing that needs to occur in industries where black and brown people are historically and institutionally either the minority or non-existent.

In these cases, there needs to be an extended effort to insert minority populations into those fields. In terms of educational institutions in the United States, affirmative action is a policy that seeks to undo the damage of the legal prevention, isolation, and disruption of the education of minority populations.

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Arielle (3rd from the left) together with Organizers of Anti-Racist Listening Project (from left to right: Lulu Hawkes, Naomi Weintraub, Arielle Pierre, Ariana Meraj Mohammad, Jacob Folsom-Fraster, and Chel Viteri/Photo courtesy of Arielle Pierre).
  1. At this point in your life, what are you most proud of?

During my first Summer break at college, I spent Mondays and Tuesdays writing articles for Markets Media, an institutional trading and investing online publication on Wall Street — my first time going to work in a pants suit. Wednesday through Friday I worked for the New York City Department of Education, working with students with disabilities in low-income communities.

My Sophomore year at Clark University I balanced being a student-athlete and scholar while later co-founding my own organization, Floetic Fridays. Here, students from the Clark community and the greater Worcester area share art, spoken word, film, dance, and music in a safe space for students of color. With this initiative, my co-curators and I emphasize the power of human connection and the importance of getting to know the people we organize with.

The following Summer, I interned with Church World Service, a refugee resettlement non-profit organization. This experience opened my eyes to the plight of refugees all around the world and in our very own country. There is so much work involved in actually bringing a refugee into the country and I was fortunate enough to get a behind the scenes look as to what that process looks like.

By junior year, I had begun organizing an Anti-Racist Activist Development Workshop alongside Ruth Fuller and Emily Uechi in conjunction with Harvard’s Assistant Director of Diversity and Inclusion Programs, Tracie Jones, and the Equity and Inclusion Fellows at the Harvard Graduate School of Education to be held at Clark University. Through this initiative, we are hoping to create sustainable dialogues between and within communities through skills-building.

  1. If you could introduce one project to the Elmont community, what would it be?

If I could introduce one project to the Elmont community it would be an Entrepreneurial Development workshop. So many members of our community have powerful ideas yet lack the knowledge of tools that can create the platforms needed to materialize them. We, as driven members of this community, are shifting away from working for other people and larger corporations.

We are trailblazing entrepreneurs who dabble, experiment and take risks. If you’re following Elmont news on social media you can see that this generation of Elmont residents is doing just that (nod to Goldie Harrison, Christine Rivera, Bria Fisher, Ivie Alohan, Tatiana Ilia, and Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna).

I would like the opportunity to show our younger students exactly what can manifest from believing in ourselves and working diligently, intentionally, and with the community at the center of our professional practices.

  1. Describe a challenge you had to overcome to get to where you are now.

With the support from my brothers, Gerard, Yves, and Reginald, I allowed activism and art to become the center of my sophomore year. I left the athletic program as it did not provide a space for me to make the change I knew I had to make. This created room in my life to do what I was destined to do — help people.

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Arielle giving opening remarks at a Floetic Fridays showcase (Photo courtesy of Arielle Pierre).

I began researching black radical scholars and change makers (I recommend Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and Beverly Daniel Tatum). I read about the power in social movements and the collective presence of black and brown bodies. I hypothesized that it is imperative to act collectively in our efforts to end oppression both domestically and in the world around us.

I’ve been involved in several on-campus social justice efforts which have sought institutional change. In May of the year 2017, I believe my life changed. I was a small contributor to an anti-racist activist empowerment workshop for a handful of Clark change-seekers. About 25 bold scholars entered Dana Commons Fireside Lounge one evening in May.

We discussed Power and Black Lives. We laughed and shared stories. We discussed tools, formats, movements, inclusivity, and organizing. I delivered a 5-minute speech on The Power in Human Connection, which served as the turning point of my career. It was then I knew what I was destined to do.

  1. Are you content with your high school experience, or would you change anything? What advice would you give to your teenage self?

My high school experiences have largely triggered my desire to be an involved member of society. The Elmont community is unique in that its residents include people from all walks of life. My classmates were Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Pakistani, Italian, LatinX, Muslim, Christian, LGBTQ, with special needs, wealthy and not so much.

The Elmont experience with its location conveniently on the border of New York City and Long Island provided me an enriched and unique perspective that many other communities on Long Island simply cannot provide. This normalization and embrace of difference is what made my high school experience special and put me ahead of the curve before I entered what many would call “the real world.”

If I could give one piece of advice to my teenage self it would be to not rush to grow up and rather be very present in the moment.

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Bonus: What would you like to be known for?

I would like to be known for shooting for the stars and bringing my community with me.

Much love and gratitude to Arielle Pierre for blessing us with this interview! Please take a moment to read her piece, “There Is Power in Human Connection,” in its entirety below:

Arielle Pierre_ Power in Human Connection

#WeAreElmont
#ElmontExcellence

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