Black Girl Magic (RYTF Edition)
In the public eye, it can be easy to mistake the Rockaway Youth Task Force as a male-run organization, but behind the scenes there much is a different narrative. Three young, black women, Silaka Cox, Jazmine Outlaw and Katherine Middleton, handle the day-to-day operations of RYTF. Silaka serves as the organization’s Chief Operations Officer, Jazmine as the Member Coordinator and Katherine as the Director of Communications. Together, this trio operate beside CEO, Milan Taylor, to keep the RYTF ship afloat.
As COO, Silaka makes sure that the organization is bringing in funding through grants, government contracts, and individual donations and makes sure that the member programs are running efficiently. She joined the organization as a volunteer back in 2011, and since then has climbed the ladder to her current position. Silaka has lived in the community for 16 years, having attended and graduated from P.S. 106 and The Scholars’ Academy. Community service was something that was required as part of her studies, but Silaka felt the need to do even more for her community.
“I wanted to extend my passion for giving back and helping other young people see their passion for the community was really important,” she said. It was this innate need to give back that influenced her decision to take the position as COO.
Her current position gives her the power to create jobs for local youth, which aids in the increase of economic development in the Rockaways.
“Something we talk about in this organization a lot is brain drain,” she said. Brain drain refers to the phenomena of young people leaving the places they grew up in and investing their talents in other communities, instead of the one they’ve grown up in. “I thought it was important to give back by continuing to work with the organization when I had that opportunity because that’s one of the ways we can help economic development and help Rockaway be a great community.”
Although she didn’t grow up in Rockaway, Jazmine Outlaw expressed a similar need to improve Rockaway. Having moved to Rockaway from North Carolina just days before Superstorm Sandy, she’s seen Rockaway at rock bottom and had a hand in building the community back to where it is now. However, she realizes that there is still much more work to be done.
“When I think about Rockaway, I think about how much more it could be and how much more could be happening out here,” she said.” Sometimes it feels a little bit depressing but it also gives me hope that I’m part of an organization that’s working to change what’s going on around here.”
As the Member Coordinator, Jazmine works directly with the members of RYTF to ensure that they’re well developed through their programs. She also teaches the leadership course, which is where potential members learn about Rockaway, the organization and how to make a real change in your community. Through the course, these future members also make sure that RYTF has a strong presence within the community. Just like Silaka, Jazmine also started as a volunteer with the organization and gradually stepped into her present position.
Contrary to popular belief, the youth of Rockaway actually do want to make a change and Jazmine ensures that they do just that. Adults in her small town of Kinston, North Carolina often restricted young people from voicing their opinions, but Rockaway has given her more freedom to speak her mind – although it’s still no walk in the park.
“I think people out here think that young people aren’t capable of doing anything or just don’t want to when in fact, its not the case. It’s the fact that they’ve never really been asked if they wanted to,” she said. “Like “How do you want to help in your community?” We never ask young people what they want do, or what they want in their community.”
The newest staff member, Katherine, is meant to assist the organization with more public duties. As the Director of Communications, she communicates for RYTF by posting social media updates, writing blog posts and press releases, answering emails and phone calls and anything else that might come up in between. Katherine has lived in Rockaway her entire life besides a year in Greensboro, North Carolina and her years at college in Buffalo, New York. (awkwardly worded) Since she was born and raised in Rockaway, working to bring change to the community seemed like a natural next step.
“We need help and I feel like if I can bring a change to a community I’ve grown up in, I would love to see it be like what I feel like it could become,” she said. “Having the opportunity to help my community while also progressing in my own professional career has been a blessing.”
Being women in the world of community organizing has affected each of the women differently. It has been a struggle for women to get into positions of power ever since they were allowed to enter the workforce. According to americanprogress.org, although women hold 52% of all professional-level jobs, only 14.6 percent are executive officers, 8.1 percent top earners and 4.6 percent Fortune 500 CEOs. Still, women of color see an even lower percentage of leadership roles at 11.9 percent although they make up about one-third of the work force.
“You got a lot of animosity if you’re a woman who’s in charge of something, especially black women. We’re always seen as these rough and tough and aggressive beings when really we’re just trying to compete in a world that was made for men,” said Jazmine. “Some people are new to the whole “women in charge” thing or aren’t used to it. There’s this feeling that they’re trying to keep you in a bubble.”
“I feel like we’re living in a time where other people and institutions want to see women in positions of leadership and I feel like even in the world of advocacy and civic engagement that’s really important: to ensure that young women growing up have that female role model to look up to, and role models that are doing communications and doing finance and doing advocacy. So often in history you’ll look back and its men that have traditionally held these roles,” said Silaka. “I have younger sisters and brothers who look up to me and it’s great for them to be able to see that a woman can do this.”