Changing Workers’ Lives through Education

(This article originally appeared on Queens College website

Changing Workers’ Lives through Education

Gregory Mantsios’s appointment in January 2018 as founding dean of the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies (SLU), following his 34 years of service to CUNY that began at Queens College, signifies the better part of a lifetime dedicated to using the tools of education to help working people get ahead.

The programs he established at CUNY, and before that at Empire State College/SUNY, have provided thousands of union members and adult learners—many of them non-traditional students from poor and working-class backgrounds—with the means to better their station in life by earning college degrees.

As Mantsios freely observes, but for an historic event, he might not have completed a college degree himself, given the challenging circumstances of his early life.

“I grew up in Jamaica, Queens,” he explains. “I was raised by a single mother. My father had died when I was an infant. It was a rather poor area: I lived on a block with single-room occupancy housing and a lot of alcoholism that later went over to drugs.”

“I was kind of a street kid,” he continues, “but I managed to do well enough in Jamaica High School that I got myself into Queens College’s evening program, which was at that time called the School of General Studies.”

Continue reading Changing Workers’ Lives through Education

2022 Commencement


Indeevari Kumarasinghe, B.A. Urban & Community Studies, is a Principal Administrative Associate II at New York City HRA, Office of Quality Assurance & Fiscal Integrity. During her 12 year career with the City of New York, she has also served as an Eligibility Specialist at Medical Insurance and Community Service Administration. She also worked as a Certified Application Counselor for the New York State of Health Market Place and as a Clerical Associates III at New York City HRA, SNAP Fair Hearing. Continue reading 2022 Commencement

Marlon Bailey Isn’t About to Slow Down

Marlon Bailey Isn’t About to Slow Down

Marlon Bailey doesn’t plan to retire. Ever.

“I’ve got too many things to do,” he said. “I just plan on evolving and seeing where the journey takes me.”

Marlon grew up in Jamaica and says he caught the political bug from his mom, Ruby. “She was what you call here a district leader, for the Jamaica Labor Party. She believed that the government must protect and make conditions better for its citizens, she was very outspoken about it. Our family was complicated, some supported the opposition People’s National Party, so there were some pretty lively conversations. But politics never interfered with our family relationships. Love and loyalty always came first.” Continue reading Marlon Bailey Isn’t About to Slow Down

2022 Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship for Diversity in Labor

The Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship for Diversity in Labor program is designed to foster diverse leadership in the labor movement and in the academic discipline of labor studies. Students from underrepresented populations interested in seeking an M.A. in Labor Studies, or a B.A. in Urban and Community studies with a concentration in labor, are encouraged to apply.  Recipients of the award receive up to $30,000 for graduate study, or up to $20,000 for undergraduate study.

Meet our 2022 Recipients

Yadhira Alvarez

Yadhira Alvarez embodies the characteristics and qualities essential for building a strong and dynamic labor movement – from the bottom up! She has experienced first-hand the interconnection between a powerful labor movement and strong communities. Yadhira has made a profound impact on her union, as an organizer and Chief of Staff of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United, SEIU.

Her union work has brought her to areas as diverse as homecare, industrial laundries, hospitals, warehouses, and the public sector. As a lead contract negotiator, she has fought to win significant increases in wages and benefits for members, as well as large sums for workers improperly fired after COVID-19 exposures.

At SLU, Yadhira, who will be entering the M.A. in Labor Studies program this coming fall, is interested in exploring new tools and strategies for organizing, to create a much stronger labor movement in New York!  She’s especially interested in discovering tools to combat divisions that employers create at work, based on class, race, ethnicity, or job classifications.

Camilla Chavarria Duarte

Camila Chavarria Duarte spent much of her time at New York University examining how society creates and uses concepts of the “other” to divide, control, and alienate people from themselves and one another, starting from our earliest years and continuing into our lives as working and social adults.

Camila attended NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study with a concentration in Critical Theory and Visual Culture. While at NYU, Camila was selected for the Americas Scholars Program, an honors program that brings together high-achieving students interested in matters related to the Americas.

At SLU, Camila, who will be pursuing her M.A. in Labor Studies, hopes to develop a “thorough understanding of how labor operates in the United States today, how it is shaped and how workers come to exist only as their labor, and not as full beings.”

Rashaun Donovan

Rashaun Donovan is a Credible Messenger on a mission to help realize changes in his community, South Jamaica, Queens. He has completed the CUNY SLU Community Leadership Certificate program, where he learned about community organizing, coalition building, and how to build a 501c3 non-profit organization. Now, with this opportunity to continue toward his B.A. in Urban and Community Studies, Rashaun looks forward to digging deeper into the issues he cares about. He especially wants to see more programs that help the formerly incarcerated return successfully to their communities.

Futher, Rashaun looks forward to doing research on the impact of gun violence on perpetrators and victims. He feels strongly that an education at SLU, combined with his real-world experience in the field, will help him realize a goal: creating and building a Cure Violence Site that would promote public safety and community health in the neighborhood where he grew up.

Hannah Faris

Hannah Faris comes from a rural Wisconsin union family and was deeply influenced by witnessing the state’s attacks on public-sector unions. She is dedicated to using the skills she has developed in the area of media arts and journalism to further investigate and confront the formidable challenges faced by labor and immigrant communities.

Hannah excelled as an undergraduate at Columbia College, Chicago. After graduation, Hannah became deeply involved in community organizing with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She assisted low-income and predominantly Arab and South Asian immigrant communities on issues such as employment, housing, and mutual aid resources during COVID-19.

At CUNY SLU, as she pursues of her M.A. in Labor Studies, Hannah is excited to expand her knowledge and writing on labor, and is particularly interested in examining the ways that workers are building power and community in non-traditional workplaces and industries, such as agriculture and the gig economy, as well as in right to work states.

Infinite George

Infinite has worked 21 years in construction, 14 as a member of Laborers Local 79, the largest LIUNA local in North America. Prior to joining Local 79, he worked non-union jobs, unsure of what to do about workplace problems he encountered.  “I was a scab laborer being exploited and working in unsafe conditions. Once I got into the union, I learned, I took the organizing and construction education classes offered, and I vowed to help others in that position. I’m a regular at rallies, meetings, and I work to convince fellow members of the importance of participation in the union – and how the lack of participation directly affects their livelihood.”

Infinite plans to continue his work as a union Shop Steward, especially helping workers who are easily taken advantage of and are willing to perform cheap labor in order to survive or stay out of jail. He is confident that the B.A. degree he is pursuing at CUNY SLU, with classes in labor, organizing, and collective bargaining, will strengthen his “tools” as he continues his mission of helping workers, and building the union he is so proud of.

Herby Phanord

After obtaining an Associate’s Degree in Fine Arts, Herby decided to put his academic pursuits on hold to dedicate his time and energy to raising a family. More than a decade later, he has reached a point in his life where all of the focus and attention that he put into parenting is finally starting to pay off. He found himself thinking more passionately about returning to school and finally earning his Bachelor’s degree.

Herby Phanord is, as he describes, “a city government employee, a laborer, and the son of immigrants,” who didn’t think he had what it took to be awarded a Joseph S. Murphy Scholarship for Diversity in Labor. He is now part of our 9th cohort of Diversity Scholarship awardees, and will use this award to complete his BA in Urban and Community Studies at CUNY SLU.

Lisa Pinkard-Adams

Lisa Pinkard-Adams has never been shy about volunteering to solve problems she sees. When she noticed that a well-known local politician didn’t have any signs up in her community, she just called him up and jumped in to help!  He appreciated her talents, and soon offered her a job as his Central Islip campaign manager.  Lisa has found great satisfaction through the political process of connecting with members of her community, especially people who have been historically underrepresented and didn’t believe they had the power to effect change.

Lisa’s varied background has prepared her to be the effective leader she is today, representing union members for the Professional Employees Federation (PEF). At Fordham University, she majored in Legal Studies, and earned a Masters in Social Work, concentrating in Policy, Leadership and Not-for-Profit Management.

Lisa, who will in fall 2022 begin SLU’s M.A. in Labor Studies program, firmly believes that building “people” is the biggest part of building “community,” and she is forever committed to educating all those she encounters on the importance of education, civic engagement and the possibilities of collaborative change.

Marius Marinescu Finds a Vision—and His Voice—at SLU

Marius Marinescu Finds a Vision—and His Voice—at SLU

Marius Marinescu is living the American dream. “Whatever that is,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Marius was born in Brasov, Romania, in the historic region of Transylvania. There, he said, “I grew up in a totalitarian regime where I was inducted into the Youth Communist party at a young age, without my consent. The Communist party was trying to brainwash us, telling us we were living in a perfect society where everyone was equal. In actuality, we were powerless.”

He went on, “I grew up with minimal TV in Romania, and all it showed was Communist propaganda. So I became an avid reader. I liked history best, especially the fantastic books printed before the second World War. We had to hide them so the government wouldn’t confiscate them. They were beautiful, prized, secret cultural gems, the only way we could secure factual knowledge of the past.” Continue reading Marius Marinescu Finds a Vision—and His Voice—at SLU

The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone seeks a Business Development Officer

The mission of the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation (UMEZ) is to sustain the economic revitalization of all communities in Upper Manhattan through job creation, corporate alliances, strategic investments and small business investments. UMEZ facilitates economic development in the neighborhoods of Central, East and West Harlem, Washington Heights; and Inwood.

UMEZ is a recognized Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s CDFI Fund, with over $80 million in assets. UMEZ is proud to be a part of a national network promoting economic growth by financing businesses, creating jobs, and rebuilding neighborhoods.

Job Title: Business Development Officer

Reports to: Senior Vice President for Commercial Lending


Under the direction of the Senior Vice President for Commercial Lending, the BDO is responsible for sourcing new clients, as well as, interfacing with existing clients. The BDO provides outreach and awareness to the community regarding small business lending products offered by UMEZ, conducts interviews with prospective borrowers, and participates with the local community and business organizations to promote UMEZ’s products and services.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities (Include the following and other duties may be assigned):

  • Under the guidance of the Senior Vice President for Commercial Lending participate in various business development activities by building purposeful relationships to procure new loan applicants for UMEZ loan products with local businesses in the target market.
  • Provide one-on-one counseling, referral opportunities, and customer support to small businesses in order to assist their efforts to secure funding.
  • Develop new referral and partner relationships and maintain existing ones.
  • Cultivate new lead referrals to enhance conversion rates from loan inquiry to completed application.
  • Engage in public speaking and participate in networking events.
  • Assist local entrepreneurs and strategizing with them to overcome business development issues; advises clients on the loan application process and basic criteria used to determine creditworthiness.
  • Gather client application information and visit clients’ and loan applicants’ business locations to verify information, check on progress and offer technical assistance, referrals, and follow-up as necessary.
  • Recommend appropriate UMEZ loan products to fit the needs of small business owners.

May be asked to attend non-work hours events or meetings as it relates to engaging and representing UMEZ’s mission to cultivate community partnerships and promote lending activities.

Background and Experience

  • Undergraduate degree in business or a related field
  • Basic knowledge of finance and acumen for reviewing and analyzing financial statements.
  • Advanced writing and oral presentation skills
  • 1-2 years in lending experience with small businesses or work experience in community development.
  • Excellent business development, outreach, detail-oriented, and have strong follow-up skills.
  • Must be able to engage in a tactful manner with potential borrowers, existing borrowers, and community partners.
  • Strong presentation, communication, customer service and relationship-building skills.
  • Effective communicator with cultural competency to connect with a diverse audience.
  • Community residence and/or familiarity with Upper Manhattan community preferred.

Personal Characteristics

  • An energetic and resourceful person with a strong interest in community engagement
  • A self-starter; a team player; a strategic thinker; a creative problem solver.

Language Skills: Bi-Lingual, English and Spanish, a plus but not necessary

Education: Undergraduate degree in business or a related field

Supervisory Responsibilities: This job has no supervisory responsibilities.

Employment Type: This is a full-time position

Salary Range: The salary for this position is commensurate with experience.


The benefit package includes medical, dental and vision insurance as well as a 401K plan.

Interested candidates should e-mail or mail a resume and cover letter to:

Danessy Pico

Human Resources Manager

55 West 125th Street, 11th Floor

New York, New York 10027

Attn: Community Lending Officer

No Phone Calls or Faxes Please

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