Every year, the Kappa Chapter of La Unidad Latina, Lambda Upsilon Lambda, Fraternity, Incorporated - a multi-cultural greek fraternity for Latino men at Yale- hosts Noche Dorada. Noche Dorada is an annual gala that celebrates Latinx culture and achievements. This year, the gala was titled Noche Dorada: Nuestra Querida Tierra and focused on the effects of environmental racism on Latinx and other marginalized communities. Noche also highlighted the ongoing work of Latinx folks to combat this issue. Our chapter’s goal was to spread awareness about a topic that is essential to the survival and livelihood of our community. We hoped to explore the relationship between Latinidad and La Tierra through our indigenous roots.
We began planning Noche Dorada in April of this year. All 14 Hermanos, the term for “Brothers” in Spanish, were split into teams with different projects that ensured that the night would be a success. Some were in charge of fundraising and budgeting, several focused on marketing, and others worked on logistics. My team was in charge of securing a keynote speaker. For me, this was a challenge because it meant I had to reflect on my professional history and hope that there was someone in my network qualified and willing to join us. Otherwise, we would have to figure out a way to convince someone important that our event, and fraternity, was worth their time.
Luckily, I immediately realized, I did know someone to serve as keynote speaker. Her name is Elizabeth Yeampierre. She is an internationally recognized Puerto Rican attorney and environmental and climate justice leader of African and Indigenous ancestry born and raised in New York City. She is a former Dean of Yale and the Executive Director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latinx community-based organization. I was fortunate enough to have worked as a Youth Organizer for UPROSE during the summer of 2014. Ironically, this only occurred because I, on a whim, applied to the Summer Youth Employment Program(SYEP) in New York City. This program provides NYC youth between the ages of 14 and 24 with paid summer employment for up to six weeks in the summer. It requires that students answer questions online (no essays) and enter a lottery that randomly chooses students who are promised a summer job. Without SYEP, I would not have been employed during the summer of 2014 nor would I have met Elizabeth Yeampierre.
After many emails and a lot of planning, Elizabeth agreed to join us for Noche Dorada. We provided her with a guest suite, travel to and from New York City, great food, and a lot of dancing at Noche! During her speech, she empowered everyone in the room, highlighting the importance of climate justice and the need for young talent in the movement. I ended that night with a newfound energy to learn from leaders and actively seek ways to serve my community.
I reflect on this experience not only because Noche is the largest gathering of Latinx folks at Yale, but also because it reminded me of how far I have come. Never had I imagined, as a 16 year old at UPROSE, that my boss would go on to chair the Climate Justice Alliance, speak at the opening climate rally for Pope Francis at the National Mall, and represent the Climate Justice Movement at places like Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Paris, and Amsterdam. I also never anticipated reuniting with Elizabeth as a student at Yale University. Back in the summer of 2014, I barely had my first internship, knew nothing about colleges and the college process, and did not understand how much of a big deal it was to work for Elizabeth. Now, as a first semester junior, I have had several internships, work for the Yale Office of Undergraduate Admissions, and can safely proclaim that an individual like Elizabeth (we have each other’s numbers!) is my friend. I thank SYEP, Yale, and my fraternity for the opportunity to realize this.