Our Mission

The Rockaway Youth Task Force is a member-led organization of youth of color within the Rockaway peninsula that builds power to secure, social, economic and racial justice for all. We develop politically conscious leaders who are invested in improving themselves and their communities through youth-led campaigns, leadership development, movement building, and cultural expression through arts and media.

Our History

The Rockaway Youth Task Force is a community based, youth advocacy organization that believes in the extraordinary power of youth. We were founded on the belief that young people can make real change in their communities through organized advocacy and we work to empower the youth voice in Far Rockaway, New York.

Our work focuses on educating our community, developing youth leaders through specialized training, organizing advocacy campaigns, and providing space for community members to build power. Our guiding philosophy is simple: young people can be effective advocates of change in the communities and neighborhoods they live in.

Our founder, Milan Taylor, saw the lack of youth representation in civic affairs and was driven to change the narrative in his hometown, Far Rockaway, NY. Over the past five years, Mr. Taylor’s vision has come to fruition. Since our founding, we’ve brought measurable change to the Rockaway Peninsula. We’ve rallied for an end to stop-and-frisk and for transportation equality in the Rockaways. Our Superstorm Sandy efforts were especially notable, and included the organization of over 200 volunteers to hand deliver goods and supplies to disabled and elderly residents stranded in high-rise buildings in our community.

One of the organization’s biggest successes is the RYTF Urban Farm and Community Garden, one of the largest youth-run community gardens in New York City. To date, the garden has grown nearly 100,000 pounds of food for the Rockaway Community. We seek to ensure that the youth voice is fairly represented in conversations about our communities and our rights. There is power in youth advocacy and RYTF is committed to working to provide the youth of Far Rockaway with a seat at the table.

Our Community

Neighborhoods in the Rockaway Peninsula vary widely in affluence and available services. Despite the existence of higher-income neighborhoods and popular tourist destinations, the Rockaways is a community with a disproportionate percentage of individuals living in poverty. Gentrification of the oceanfront property has put many residents at risk of displacement due to rising rents and corporate developments. Limited access to adequate public transit in areas with high poverty rates exacerbate social issues such as gang violence, barriers to insufficient healthy food options, and a dearth of hospital facilities and social services. Many residents are forced to undertake long commutes, sometimes lasting upwards of an hour and half, to find quality job opportunities, health centers, and retail and grocery stores in other areas of New York City.

Many areas of the Rockaway Peninsula are comprised of disproportionately high percentages of individuals living in poverty. For example, Far Rockaway, a key neighborhood served by RYTF, is comprised of 27% of individuals living in poverty, as compared to 15% across New York City.  Over a quarter of the population ages 25 and older have not completed high school as compared to 15% in New York City, and just 13% have a bachelor degree, as compared with 19% in New York City. In the Rockaways, 41% of the population is Black or African American and 22% is Hispanic or Latino.

The Rockaway Peninsula lacks sufficient supermarkets and grocery stores carrying fresh, nutritious foods for its residents. The map below indicates all the major supermarkets serving the Peninsula.  Areas like this are commonly known as “food deserts” and fast food options have become a major component of residents’ diets, causing a plethora of health concerns. According to the St. John’s Episcopal Hospital Community Health Needs Assessment and Community Service Plan for 2014-2017, the death rate from heart disease in the Rockaways is 78% higher than the overall rate in Queens, and 59% higher than New York City. More than 65% of Rockaway residents reported being overweight or obese in the NYS Department of Health/Mental Health 2011 Community Survey as compared to 55% in Queens and 58% in NYC. Rockaway residents die of diabetes at more than double the rate of Queens residents overall, and nearly two times the NYC and NYS rates.

Our Accomplishments

megaAmplifying Our Voices:

  • Successfully campaigned to change a New York State law to lower the age to serve on community boards from 18 to 16.
  • Successfully campaigned to bring Participatory Budgeting to Far Rockaway.

ic_school_black_24dp_1xStrengthening Our Schools:

  • Advocated for over $800,000 in capital expenses to Rockaway schools through Participatory Budgeting
  • Assisted community youth with organizing a peaceful demonstration to bring awareness to the needs of student of color in Rockaway schools

carrotImproving Our Health Outcomes:

  • Built and maintains one of the largest youth run urban farms in New York City
  • To date, has produced nearly 100,000 pounds of produce to the Rockaway Peninsula through a partnership with GrowNYC
  • Provides growing space for over 50 families on the Rockaway Peninsula

Improving Our Public Transit:

  • Successfully campaigned to extend the Q52 bus line by one mile to provide Far Rockaway residents with increased service
  • Successfully campaigned for the Rockaway Ferry Shuttle to provide free access to residents in Far Rockaway

Building Our Movement:

  • Conducted food justice workshops and trainings around the United States and internationally
  • Participated in and organized Black Lives Matter demonstrations across New York City

Our Team

Milan Taylor

Executive Director

At 21 years old, Milan founded the Rockaway Youth Task Force in 2011. Appointed to Community Board 14 in 2010, Milan founded RYTF after recognizing a dire lack of youth participation in the political and civic process. With this realization, Milan created RYTF as an advocacy organization composed entirely of young people in Rockaway.

In 2012, Milan’s mettle was tested during Superstorm Sandy. Along with his small team, he mobilized an extensive relief effort consisting of a national array of volunteers. He coordinated the exhaustive delivery of supplies, food, and other necessary resources to the elderly and homebound who were stranded in high-rise apartments throughout Rockaway. CBS News and BET Honors recognized his efforts.

Tamera Jacobs

Director of Operations and Programs

Tamera is a Guyana native and grew up in Far Rockaway, NY. Tamera has extensive experience in food justice and served as an apprentice for the East Rockaway Growing Coalition and was promoted to the Director of Food Justice. Currently, she serves as RYTF’s Director of Operations and Programs and works to maintain the organization’s fiscal and operational health. Tamera is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree at the City College of New York.

Laura Jurewicz

Director of Organizing

Laura grew up in Binghamton, NY and now lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. She attended SUNY Purchase and graduated with a BA in Philosophy in May 2013. Prior to joining RYTF in January 2017, Laura worked as a Canvass Director in NYC, North Carolina, and Colorado, where she ran various street fundraisers, voter registrations, and GOTV campaigns. Laura is now the Director of Organizing at RYTF and works to develop youth leaders and spearheads campaign initiatives.

Malachi Davidson

Lead Organizer

Malachi was born and raised in Far Rockaway, NY. He joined the Rockaway Youth Task Force as a member in October 2015 and has worked with the organization in various capacities since then. In March 2017, Malachi was promoted to Lead Organizer. He is currently a senior at Scholars’ Academy and will graduate in June 2017.

Andrea Colon

Community Engagement Organizer

Andrea is a junior at Rockaway Park High School for Environmental Sustainability. She enjoys being an activist and has learned a lot from being part of the Rockaway Youth Task Force. She values being able to advocate for herself and on behalf of others. When she’s not in the office or working on campaigns, you can find her playing the guitar. Andrea currently serves as one of RYTF’s Community Engagement Organizer.

Cerissa Huggins

Operations Manager

Cerissa is RYTF’s Operations Manager and is a student at Townsend Harris High School. As an Organizer and Leader in RYTF, she’s had the opportunity to learn more about how her community runs and the issues that accompany living in Far Rockaway. She wants to use her experience to solve some of her community’s biggest problems. When she’s not working, you can find Cerissa studying, reading, playing video games, taking photographs, or writing.

Alysha Johnson

Communications Manager

Alysha grew up in Wixom, Michigan and has worked for RYTF since 2015. She currently serves as RYTF’s Communications Manager. Alysha is passionate about education and empowering youth to take control of their futures. Before joining RYTF, she worked for a charter school network in Brooklyn and was an education consultant in Boston, MA. Alysha graduated from Harvard University in 2014 with a degree in Sociology and African American Studies.

Barry Mckenzie

Rockaway Advocate Coordinator

Barry was born in Trinidad and grew up in New Jersey and New York. Barry has been a dedicated member of RYTF since its inception and has taken on many roles during his time with the organization. During Superstorm Sandy, Barry was forced from his home for nearly a year and that experience solidified his commitment to the Rockaway community. Currently, Barry serves as the Rockaway Advocate Coordinator.

Board of Directors and Leaders

In addition to our staff members, RYTF is supported by a Board of Directors and Leaders. The board serves to guide the organization’s long term vision. Our board of directors consist of nine members who bring a diverse set of skills to our organization. Leaders are Organizers who have been elected to serve on RYTF’s leadership team. Leaders have four different roles in the organization: Co-Chair of Organizing (two positions), Chair of Member Engagement. Chair of Grassroots Fundraising, and the Chair of Communications.

Meet our Board of Directors and Leaders

Our Partners

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