Latinos from our community running for local School Districts boards
I’m Taino Palermo. the youngest of three, with two older sisters. My parents never made it past high school and moved to Central New York in the 90’s to ensure we all received a great education and lived in a safe neighborhood. Between both of my parents, they held 5 jobs…my father had a day job and a night job and my mother had a day job and alternated between two night jobs. Their hard work ethic is why I am committed to the work I do today. I never knew doctors, lawyers, or any professionals of Latino origin growing up.
As my personal mission, I founded Outliers C & SO (Creating & Seizing Opportunities) to be an organization that opens doorways for high school dropouts in order to reintegrate them into academia and secure pathways to a successful and prosperous life. I co-founded the BoFA Gallery (Breath of Fresh Air) which is the city’s first and only solely teen art gallery. I co-founded the Latino Professional Network of Syracuse (LPNS) so that we could a.) identify ALL local Latino professionals and b.) connect them with Latinos in the community to provide support and resources so we can support our people on both ends of the social class spectrum for the upward mobility of all Latinos in, and around, the Syracuse area.
I see myself as the voice, the advocate, and front-line soldier for the young Latinos who can’t see a path to success, who can’t see a future for themselves, and who don’t believe in themselves. I’m proof that anything is possible and I’m here to not only demystify the process for young people to do and be anything they want but to also provide them with the resources, connections, and tools they’ll need to be successful. I’m not A support system…I’m THE support system. As I tell all the young people I work with…they have the best resource to make something out of themselves…ME. I’ve been where they are…learned from my successes and mistakes and their journey will be easier than if they just dove in with no heads up.
My family originally derives from New York City and moved to the Syracuse-area in the mid 1990’s in order to provide myself and two older sisters with a quality education. I graduated from LiverpoolHigh School and went back to New York City for undergraduate and graduate studies. It was in college where I met my wife who, in 2010, applied to medical school at SUNYUpstateMedicalUniversity and her acceptance is what brought me back to Central New York.
As an adult and a seasoned professional in nonprofit education and youth programming, I experienced Syracuse in a whole new capacity. I came “home” to my city being negatively overrepresented in most social statistics: leading the state and Northeast in poverty rates, zip code 13204 has the highest teen pregnancy rates in New YorkState, and enough has already been said about the graduation rates in Syracuse. However, enough has been said about the negative stigma surrounding the city school district – I am here, and announcing my intention to run, to express what the future holds…based on what I’m already doing now.
One of the first things I noticed when I moved back to Syracuse in 2010 was the constant negative representation teenagers had in the media (from violence, teen pregnancy rates, gang activity, etc.) yet in all the schools I worked in, there was amazing teenage artists in middle schools and high schools across the district. So I co-founded the Breath of Fresh Air (BoFA) ArtGallery – Syracuse’s first and only exclusively teenage art gallery. We started in the window display of the Media Unit (327 Montgomery Street, where FowlerHigh School artwork currently resides) and have since expanded to hosting gallery spaces at CNY Playhouse at Shoppingtown Mall, Sparky Town Restaurant, and Dolce Vita Bistro – all showcasing SyracuseCitySchool District teenage art work. We’ve even collaborated with the Connective Corridor to have ongoing rotations of BoFA art work being displayed inside the buses for the whole city to see and enjoy. Schools that have already held BoFA exhibits include HW Smith K-8 School, Frazer K-8 School, and all five city high schools.
At HW Smith K-8 School, I’ve worked closely with Principal Birnkrant and the Westcott community (since HW Smith resides at LevySchool during renovations) to engage the community into the school. In doing so, we created the “HW Smith Passport to Westcott,” a discount-card program, free for HW Smith staff, students and families, which they can present to any business on Westcott Street to receive a 10% discount on any item. Each participating business on Westcott Street has a “Passport Accepted Here” sign that lets the community know about the program and if they, too, want a card then they will have to walk into the school (creating a natural relationship with the school) and pay a one-time $5.00 fee that goes towards the HW Smith Rotary Club. The HW Smith school community now has a reason to integrate and support local businesses on Westcott Street and the Westcott community, an already highly mobilized and unified community, becomes personally connected to HW Smith. School staff love the program because they are eligible (and encouraged) to utilize their spending power to support local businesses – many of which they frequent often!
As the co-Founder of the Latino Professional Network of Syracuse and a member of 40 Below of Syracuse, I am connected to a huge cohort of young professionals. In order to demystify professional career paths for our SyracuseCitySchool District students, I created the “Future 40 Below-ers” Job Shadowing Program in which young professionals register to host a Syracuse city student in a career field of their choosing. We have currently matched over 20 students with local professionals to begin laying the foundation for future career aspirations either after high school or after completing a college degree. As per the Superintendent’s district transformation plan – we have already begun preparing our students for career and/or college after high school.
The work to support the youth of this city is beyond just being my job and career. I live and breathe this work and am actively engaged in the community on multiple levels. I have had profound impact in the work I do but as a board member of the school district, I will have a unique ability to leverage my impact on a whole new level. I can affect the policies that impact the young people I work with and the district staff I work alongside in a positive way that pushes this district towards the drastic change it needs to truly reform. I have tackled such tasks in New York City working in turnaround schools at every step of the “turning around” process. Syracuse’s issues aren’t unique to itself and therefore solutions won’t be hard to find. Where the task comes in translating theory into action and that is what I do best.