Women's Activism NYC

Damaris Reyes

1969 - Today

Date Added:

Tenants and Community Organizer Damaris Reyes is the executive director of Good Old Lower East Side (GOLES), an influential neighborhood housing and preservation organization. I live in the neighborhood. I was born and raised here. I think everybody knows that. I live in public housing. I kind of got introduced to organizing about 13 years ago when there were some efforts to privatize public housing. There were two different bills in the House and Senate. There were some folks who were going around the neighborhood, trying to educate people, trying to counter-organize and, really up until that point, I think I was detached. When you come from, and maybe this is not true for everyone, but when you come from an urban, inner city, disenfranchised, a marginalized community you think that success is making lots of money and moving out and leaving this rat hole. That’s the way that you think about it. So it was really at that point that – faced with the prospect that I might not have a choice in what might happen – and just listening to people talk about the value of this neighborhood, it just really changed my whole outlook. I sort of felt like I got punched in the stomach if that makes any sense. Something just woke up. I think, also, ever since I was a kid I really had this really high sense of injustice. It’s just something that you have. That was it. After that, I started to get involved. I started to go to meetings, I started to learn more about the neighborhood and learn more about the challenges we were facing. Ultimately I went to work for the local Council member. That was another great educational experience because I got to know all of the players and the issues. Through all that, we sort of carried on the original initiative that I had sort of come into. They were talking about public housing – decided to organize a group of stakeholders to preserve the future of public housing and GOLES was a member of this group, as were other people. I was kind of organizing it. I had all these roles. Well, let’s turn this into a real project. Let’s try to get some resources and we can do some real organizing… I was having a baby and I left the job I was at and like 10 months later, I got a call, ‘do you want to be the organizer?’ And I said ‘huh?’… That’s when I came to work here and that was about 8 years ago. And when my predecessor left I had no idea that I would ever try to run this organization. It was not a goal. But folks kind of convinced me to try it out and I did… And I feel pretty grateful.

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