New American Leaders

Sayu Bhojwani from New York, NY
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The Project

The project challenges the status quo in American leadership by working to ensure that the new majority — the composite of all minorities — is truly a part of American democracy. For many people, getting immigrants to the voting booth is good enough. Not for us. We also want to see immigrants on the ballot. And that threatens existing leadership. But it also challenges our own notion of power — as immigrants, we are often seen as victims, or problems to be solved. What makes NALP bold is its willingness to challenge that idea, and to ignite in immigrant community leaders the passion to represent their own communities, to be the problem solvers. NALP offers trainings countrywide. We partner with local immigrant serving organizations who recruit African, Arab, Asian, Caribbean and Latino American leaders amongst their members, and encourage them to apply to NALP's training. These dynamic leaders then go on to run for local and state office, seek appointed office on boards and commissions that affect their communities, and work on campaigns run by candidates who will represent their needs. As a result of NALP's training, immigrants in places like Arizona can step out as leaders, rather than hide in fear of that state’s anti-immigrant policies.

The Progress

In its short life span, NALP has developed its own curriculum, trained in seven states and become a national voice on immigrant civic participation. In the 15 months since the project has been delivering its training, it has trained 182 participants from the country's diverse immigrant communities. Fifty percent of the alumni are women, 10 percent are/were candidates in 2012 and another 10 percent plan to run in 2013 for municipal offices. Leaders trained by NALP this year ran as school board candidates in Chicago, Dripping Springs (TX), and Phoenix, and as candidates for state representative in AZ and IL. This is remarkable achievement, in a short time frame. In October 2012, NALP released a report on immigrant candidates in Congress and that report is getting coverage on MSNBC (The new face of American leadership) and in The New York Times. In 2013, NALP will (a) focus on five states (AZ, CA, IL, NY, and WA), (b) deepen its alumni engagement program, and (c) focus on increasing the representation of immigrants in state and municipal legislative bodies by 10 to 50 percent. In order for this to be done well, NALP encourages training participants and future candidates to engage other immigrants as voters, volunteers and donors. This ensures that the project's impact transcends individual immigrants and is more broadly effective for thousands in the immigrant community, as well as other Americans with whom immigrants live and work.

The Team

By the age of five, I had lived in five cities in three countries on two continents. From those earliest years, I learned to adjust to and make the best of new environments. As I grew older, I increasingly felt like an outsider and grappled with the challenges and opportunities that that feeling provided. By the time I moved to the U.S. at the age of 17, I was living a duality rooted in Indian culture & Caribbean life. In the 20+ years since, American social mores & experiences have contributed additional roots, creating a stronger, if more complex foundation. From these experiences, I became singularly focused on ensuring that immigrants and minorities are able to access the same social services and civic participation opportunities as other Americans. In 1996, I started South Asian Youth Action to develop leadership skills among 7,700+ youth in New York City. In the months following the 9/11 attacks, as NYC’s Commissioner of Immigrant Affairs, I fought against discrimination against immigrants and encouraged Mayor Bloomberg to establish Immigrant Heritage Week. That recommendation has turned into a significant annual celebration of immigrant contributions to NYC. At NALP, I work with other immigrants — including a former community organizer and a former film producer — to realize the dream of a truly representative and responsive democracy. My part-time staff of three demonstrate their passion by frequently putting in full-time hours without additional compensation. They too, are fearless changemakers.

The Fearless Changemaker

Two years ago, the idea of training immigrant community leaders to run for office was nothing more than words on paper and a vision in our minds. Despite a struggling economy, limited public funding for leadership development and an anti-immigrant climate, one fearless changemaker has turned this important idea into an organization called The New American Leaders Project (NALP). Since our inception, we have developed our own civic leadership curriculum and implemented it in seven states and with over 175 dynamic community leaders. For those new Americans, our workshops have seeded the idea that running for office, working for campaigns and seeking appointed office are valuable ways to create the change we want to see in our communities. We have received national media attention for our work, and ignited for many the dream of representing their communities — Arab, African, Asian, Caribbean, Latino — in local, state, and national office. And we have done this all with a handful of part-time staff, who are committed to making America's leadership more representative of its diverse citizens. The New Americans Leadership Project — democracy through action.

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