The Mirabal Sisters Cultural and Community Center, Inc. is a non profit organization committed to empower the community by promoting collective action to demanding social justice and better opportunities for immigrants, low income residents and people of color in West Harlem, a community of traditionally neglected minority population. The center works in the areas of family and domestic violence, housing and environmental justice, education, art, youth issues, and other activities that provide opportunities for community leadership.
The Center was founded in the early 90’s by a group of activists of Dominican origin and was incorporated as a non profit organization in April 2001. The Center is inspired by and named after the Mirabal sisters, political activists and highly visible symbols of resistance against the Trujillo Dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. On the 25th of November 1960, the sisters were assassinated. The brutal assassination of the Mirabal sisters was one of the events that helped propel the anti-Trujillo movement, and within a year, the Trujillo dictatorship came to an end. As world recognition for their role in seeking justice, on November 25, 1998 the United Nations honored their memory by declaring November 25th as international day to stop violence against women.
Headquartered in Hamilton Heights the Center works with a diverse but predominantly low-income community, with a large percentage of families that are first generation immigrants and that are living below the poverty level. Current projects encompass Housing and Environmental Justice; the Family without Violence; and Youth Project that seek to address the needs of young people and their families at critical stages in their lives, and low-income families fighting for economic and social justice in one of New York City’s most concentrated areas of poverty.
West Harlem is a multicultural community and the Center works with the Latinos of Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville and Morningside Heights. According to the Citizens’ Committee for Children of New York, Inc. (CCC), the population in Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville and Morningside Heights is comprised of Latinos, 45%, African Americans, 31%, Whites, 17%, and Asians, 6%. There are a great number of immigrant households of which the majority is newly arrived who come from the Dominican Republic, but also from countries in South America, Eastern Europe, and Asia. However, it is not just new immigrants that are moving in - students, artists, and other New Yorkers looking for less expensive rents and larger apartments have also moved north. The influx of new residents has also brought challenges. For one, affordable housing in West Harlem, Hamilton Heights, Manhattanville and Morningside Heights is becoming more difficult to find. Last year there has been a reduction of rent controlled buildings while there has been an increase in population. Morningside Heights is one of the last concentrated areas with rent stabilized housing units (64%) while 20% is rent regulated. In addition, 28% of tenants are spending 50% or more of their income on rent.
There are other needs in these communities: a high unemployment rate and less than 1/3 of students meet the state and city English and math standards. The Center realizes that we cannot address all the needs of the community and we have identified priority areas to address including: negligent landlords, displacement of tenants, violence against children and a lack of youth development opportunities for young people.
These are some of our main focus points:
Housing and Environmental Justice: We work on affordable housing, tenant’s rights, lead poisoning, and open space. We do community organizing to equip the people with the tools that enable them to fight to improve their living condition.
Educational Justice Project: The School District # 6 is considered one of the lowest in academic performance. Statistics show that every year the positive results of the tests are getting lower. We encourage parents to become involved in the education of their children, as an important tool for children to have successes. We require education authorities and politicians to invest more resources to improve the quality of education. It is the only guarantee for children to stay in school and to enter and graduate from college..
Facilitates the creation of a space where the youth can develop skills that will allow them to make collective contribution to their community, as well as providing them with opportunities for their own personal development.
Cultural Project: Promote and support the artistic and cultural values of our community. It facilitates an open space for the artists to express themselves. This Project also provides the community with opportunities to develop their knowledge and skills in the Arts. We hold a monthly cultural circle named “Síntesis Cultural” where the writers, painters, singers, musicians and folklorists have their performances. In addition, the cultural circle includes drama, movies and audio visual documentaries.