Representation Matters: A Look At Community Board 14

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Representation matters. Plain and simple. In the past year alone, we’ve seen big brand name companies come under fire for problematic commercials and messages. Anyone remember Kendall Jenner’s ill-fated Pepsi commercial? After seeing the ad, many people of color could not help but muse that if there was a person of color on their creative team, they would have been able to anticipate the negative backlash of the tone-deaf commercial. The same could be said for the Aquaria Pasadena Pool Float, a pool float that looks exactly like a giant maxi pad. While there’s nothing shameful or embarrassing about feminine hygiene, our collective society questioned if the design would have been approved if even at least one woman was consulted on the project.

These media missteps follow a predictable cycle. The public brings awareness to the company’s blunder. The company issues an apology. The world continues to turn. But what happens when these same oversights and lack of representation happen in places that impact issues like housing, public safety, and employment? We’re forced to ask ourselves this question when looking at our community boards, the most local and on-the-ground form of government in New York City.

There are 59 community boards across the five boroughs, each with 50 unsalaried members tasked with being the eyes and ears of the community. Community boards, though mostly advisory bodies, are valued members of city government and are used to inform legislation in the city. Questioning the representation on community boards is nothing new. In recent years, communities and elected officials have proposed legislation to ensure proper representation on community boards. One popular proposal put forth by Councilmember Daniel Dromm (D-25) seeks to place term limits on community board members. Term limits, in theory, would mean that each board would be regularly inundated with new people and perspectives, as opposed to now when community board members can serve for decades, creating stagnation in leadership even as the demographics of communities change. Another proposal by Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-15) wants the aggregate demographic data of community board members to be made public. This includes data points such as race, age, gender, income bracket, and more. Making this data public would allow communities to see how well the demographic makeup of their community board compares to their actual community.

In Community Board 14, of the 48 listed members, there are no young women of color on the board. Given that community boards do not currently publish their demographics, we are unable to report how Community Board 14 compares to our community in areas of gender, sexual orientation, and income. However, we want to bring awareness to the discrepancies that we do know of. For example, although the Rockaways are home to 7 NYCHA complexes, only 1 community board member is representative of this large public housing population.

When multiple populations are represented in decision-making bodies, it ensures that the needs and desires of these populations are being heard and advocated for. This is not to say that a 60-year-old person cannot support young people. We’re more so saying that a 60-year-old person may not be as tuned in to the needs of young people as, well, an actual young person. Bringing more diverse voices to the table makes for a more balanced and fair governing body and that is what we all should strive for. New Yorkers come in all different shades, ages, sexual orientations, and persuasions. We matter, and our voices deserve to be heard and considered, not despite our differences, but because of them.