The Rockaway Youth Task Force (RYTF) is a grassroots member-led organization principally comprised of young women of color within the Rockaway Peninsula. Rockaway Youth Task Force builds power to secure social, economic, and racial justice for residents of the Rockaway Peninsula and beyond. Rockaway Youth Task Force develops politically conscious youth leaders who are invested in improving themselves and their communities through member-led campaigns, leadership development, movement building, and cultural expression.
The Rockaway Youth Task Force (RYTF) was conceptualized by Milan Taylor in 2011 at age 21, recognizing a lack of youth civic engagement while serving on Community Board 14. Although conceptualized by Milan, RYTF since inception has been run by young women of color. In 2011-2012, RYTF was informally activated around voter registration, mentorship, community clean-ups, and community service. RYTF mobilized hundreds of national volunteers to respond to Superstorm Sandy.
Following the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, RYTF received heightened media coverage and exposure, which caused an expansion of our work. In 2013, RYTF formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization and changed our model and focus. We developed into holistic empowerment, community development, and grassroots organizing and advocacy organization. We began initiating protests, rallies, and marches, rebuilding homes in the Rockaways, and advancing leaders in our community through education on rights, local politics, and other crucial civic knowledge.
Today, RYTF works on improving low voter turnout & educational equity for the Rockaways, reforming our broken criminal justice by ending discriminatory policing that targets youth of color, and food justice for the Rockaways.
Neighborhoods in the Rockaway Peninsula vary widely in affluence and available services. The 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 sufficient healthy food options, and a lack of hospital facilities and social services. Many residents are forced to endure long commutes, sometimes lasting upwards of an hour and a half, to find quality job opportunities, health services, retail, and grocery stores in other areas of New York City. Rockaway residents have the longest commute out of any NYC neighborhood, averaging 55 minutes.
Despite the existence of higher-income neighborhoods and popular tourist destinations in the Rockaways, there is a disproportionate percentage of individuals living in poverty. For example, in Far Rockaway and Edgemere, two key neighborhoods served by RYTF, the poverty rates are 25% and 34%, respectively, compared to an average of 18% 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’s 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. Areas like this are commonly known as “food deserts.” Fast food options have become a significant 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 NY State rates.