Analilia Mejía’s childhood inspired her work in defense of communities of color| The USA Print

Analilia Mejía had two things going for her when she decided to change the world: a strong line of women who came before her and her first-hand experience of growing up poor. But this is not a sad story. This is the story of a resilient half-Colombian, half-Dominican girl from Elizabeth, NJ who persevered through the obstacles that came her way. Today she is co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD): a woman who has discovered the simultaneous power of one and the impact of a community.

“We are in the business of planting seeds that we may never live to see, but we still believe in those seeds,” Mejía tells POPSUGAR.

“We are worthy. We are powerful. And if we act together, we can change the world.”

CPD is a network of more than half a million activists in 48 organizations in 38 states and Puerto Rico that builds the power of communities to ensure that the country represents an inclusive and equitable society. Mejia works alongside CPD’s other co-executive director, DaMareo Cooper, and together they are among the many community organizers on the front lines of change for people of color, immigrants, working families, women, and communities. LGBTQ. in CPD websitethe organization describes this as an “especially important time when our communities are under threat and the institutions that sustain us are under attack.”

That is true on many levels, and it was made clear with the January 10 death of Tire Nichols, a 29-year-old black man from Memphis, TN. Nichols died three days after being assaulted and beaten by five black Memphis police officers. Immediately after his death, Mejía, on behalf of CPD, issued a powerful statement: “To be clear: these murders of members of our community are not examples of ‘broken’ systems. Our criminal legal system is operating the way it is was designed to: oppress, kill, and otherwise harm the most marginalized in America: black, disabled and neurodivergent people, and the poor.”

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This truth, so clear in high-profile police killings in recent years, can leave communities feeling powerless and people not knowing what they can do to help. But that is why Mejía and CPD exist; Organizations like yours help provide people with information, resources, and support to engage civically, which has proven time and time again throughout history to be a story of oppression.

“We go into communities and talk to people about their role in shaping all the policies, norms and laws that dictate their lives,” Mejía explains.

Knowing the steps you can take to effect change is powerful. For example, we can all help shape police budgets, says Mejía. That means getting involved in annual budget work at the city, county and state levels.

Mejía, who is the mother of two young black men, admits that the problems and solutions have already been identified. The devastating part is that even in the face of clear solutions, innocent black lives continue to be taken.

“We already knew that giving cops this freedom in a system, in a nation, where it’s entrenched to devalue Black life, and where it’s entrenched to presume criminality, particularly [for] Black men, that when you give [officers] the freedom to act in a system that is toxic, they will behave with that level of toxicity. And it costs us our lives over and over again,” he says.

It is an uphill battle that is not new for Mejía. Before joining CPD, she was the National Political Director for Bernie Sanders for President. She and she have long been in the business of community organizing and inspiring people to know and understand her role in the process. For Mejía, it all comes down to two magic numbers.

“There are social scientists who point out that social movements cannot win without capturing the hearts and minds of at least 3 percent of the population. There is an impact threshold that can change the course of a community, a nation, a state”, explains Mejía. “That’s a magic number, the other magic number is at the polls.”

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The power to vote is the top priority for Mejía, who encourages people to use their right to cast a ballot and understand the numbers needed at the polls to win. By understanding who has been in power, what their margin of victory was, and how to overcome it, people who vote from marginalized communities can really change the trajectory of this country.

“We want the 3, 4, 5 percent of our brothers in this country to understand that the problems that they face and that they believe are personal and therefore they feel ashamed and that somehow they can’t cut it, that if we can somehow connect giving it to other people and moving from personal shame and guilt to collective action, we can get those numbers,” says Mejía. “And one of the collective actions that we call people to do is civic participation. You can participate in the elections. Can’t vote? Your neighbors can.”

Mejía knows that shame firsthand. Growing up in New Jersey, she remembers being in elementary school when a security guard handed her an envelope in front of all of her friends. She contained money for her parents, who delivered newspapers.

“I remember feeling so ashamed that my parents sold newspapers. I remember feeling ashamed of being poor,” she says. “I think about all the energy wasted on that shame and that guilt and that guilt.”

What changed for Mejía was receiving help, guidance and support from mentors and teachers; that allowed him to move from that place of shame to a place of knowledge and strength. When he understood how the economic system works, and specifically how wage inequality affects women and Black and Latino people, he was freed from shame and empowered to share his knowledge and plant his own seeds. It’s something she learned to do from her mother, she says.

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“My mother, who left her country of origin, is Colombian, and she came to this country with this deep commitment to build a future for her grandchildren,” says Mejía. “She always said, ‘I’m sacrificing now so my grandchildren and great-grandchildren don’t have to.’ So, I borrow from that, that I can plant a seed now that I won’t see, but it will blossom. That’s definitely from my mom.”

Mejía also relies on her grandmother and granny as inspiration for her own life. And she also draws inspiration from powerful women in history like Frances Perkins, the first woman and fourth US Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945.

“We wouldn’t have child labor laws without this woman,” says Mejía. “The idea that someone who was so deeply committed to bringing about change for the marginalized, she is the epitome of ‘I see you.'”

Mejía also draws inspiration from people like Stephanie Valencia, whom she describes as an “unsung hero.” Valencia is co-founder of EquisLabs, an organization that works to create a better understanding of the Latinx electorate and engage Latinx voters. She is also a fan of powerful Latinas in Washington, DC, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

“And of course, AOC, because, oh my lord!” Mejia says of Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “I have to remember that she’s in her early thirties. I’m like, ‘What have I done with my life?'”

Mejía jokes, but he has also achieved a lot. And she’s not planning to slow down anytime soon.

“I try to remember the 12-year-old girl in me who watched my parents struggle and survive when their gas or power went out or they didn’t have enough food in the pantry and to see my mother and father literally cry for the bills”. she says. “We are worthy. We are powerful. And if we act together, we can change the world.”

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