The Gifford Newsletter

Summer 2020  |  Building Civic Engagement

Banner photo credit: Daylight Blue Media

Yusuf Abdul-Qadir is the Director of the NYCLU's CNY Chapter and is working to address the civil liberties and civil rights issues surrounding the I-81 project.

Photo credit: NYCLU

The I-81 Project is a Civil Rights Issue

One issue that the NYCLU has been heavily involved with is the debate surrounding the rebuilding and redesign of Syracuse’s I-81 overpass. CNY Chapter Director Yusuf Abdul-Qadir is quick to point out that this is not just another infrastructure project: the problems we are facing and the various paths forward are part of a larger story about which voices are heard and whose health is prioritized. Just as we grapple today with the legacy of a project from 50 years ago, our decisions in this moment will have profound implications for generations to come.

Sheena Solomon is the Executive Director of The Gifford Foundation.

Broadening Perspectives:
A Culture of Change

Everywhere I go I hear people talking about how the COVID-19 pandemic is changing our culture. From live music to sports, remote offices to greeting people with a handshake – people are wondering if things will ever return to “normal”. Almost always, the change being discussed is negative. I do not doubt that many of those things will come to pass, but today I want to call attention to a positive movement that this public health crisis has exposed and developed into a new energy for change: civic engagement.

Ophelia's Place provides support and educational resources for those dealing with eating disorders.

Going Public: The Story Behind Ophelia’s Place

Ophelia’s Place has been a resource for people living with eating disorders for over fifteen years. Formed in Syracuse, they have grown from a small family project to a multifaceted organization that has developed innovative ways to self-fund and leverage digital tools to expand their impact. Examining their history and development reveals important lessons not only about food and diet culture in America, but about how thoughtful community engagement by impassioned individuals can flourish into a large scale movement.

Adopting a Senior 2020

This year’s graduates have not only lost out on the traditional graduation celebrations, but are entering a changing and uncertain world at a time of great crisis. In recognition of this, a Facebook group was created by Syracuse City School District parent Jessica Rogala designed to connect graduating seniors with people willing to “adopt” them. The initiative gained quite a bit of attention and so far more than 4,000 users have joined. Gifford Program Administrator Sheria Walker proposed that The Gifford Foundation participate by selecting a number of seniors to sponsor as they move on to the next phase of their lives.

The Center: Building Collaboration Among Syracuse Activists

The Syracuse Center for Peace and Social Justice is an unusual type of nonprofit. Rather than lobbying for policy change or delivering services directly to the public, they focus on providing a home for other organizations in Syracuse. As the name suggests, The Center only offers space to groups whose mission is grounded in the promotion of peace and social justice. The idea is that by bringing together different groups that share a core vision and philosophy, they can encourage them share resources, collaborate on projects, and boost their impact.

Onondaga Votes! is an initiative aimed at increasing voter turnout and civic engagement in Onondaga County.

Raising Up Voices and Votes

Though Presidential elections always draw a higher participation rate than other years, some districts only saw half of registered voters casting a ballot. In 2017 – the year of the Syracuse mayoral election – the numbers plummeted even further with only 35% of registered voters participating. This disturbing lack of civic participation inspired The League to partner with The Dunbar Association, TNT, and the NAACP to form the Onondaga Votes! initiative in 2018. Their goal was simple: to increase voter turnout across the City of Syracuse.

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