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Doris Tapia presentation - High Road 2024

NYC High Roaders Get Working

The High Road NYC program has hit the ground running as students settle into their new surroundings, gain confidence and begin to advocate for and engage with the community.

“I'm working this summer at a cafe that hires people with intellectual developmental disabilities,” said Riley McGuire ‘27, “And part of our mission is to work with and improve their training programs so that employees can have more competence but also confidence in their abilities.”

“What my supervisors have noticed is that it's easy to teach knowledge and skills, but it's hard to teach confidence, and I'm wondering,” McGuire stood to ask Doris Tapia, “if you've seen employees face similar challenges or if you have certain methods that you think have worked well?”

Tapia is a lead trainer at the We Rise coalition, a peer education program in New York that integrates workers’ rights education with professional development. With over 20 years in domestic care work, Tapia has seen it all. She knows how important it is to manifest your own sword, so Tapia trains nannies to know their rights and advocate for fair treatment and compensation. 

Domestic workers may spend 14 hours a day, earning just $100 without health benefits, raising people’s children in an apartment whose owners seldom think of as someone’s workplace. Even if workers know their rights, it can be difficult for them, often immigrants and speaking rusty English, to feel confident enough to say “No” to increasing, unnegotiated demands: cooking, laundry, cleaning. 

“I was a single mom working full time. It was very challenging. Very, very hard,” said Tapia. “In 2017, I heard about [We Rise]. Somebody approached me in the park and told me about this program, you know, ‘You have rights, even people without papers, you know, you have to learn about this.’”

Thinking over McGuire’s question, Tapia replied, “I think gaining confidence is critical. Because what am I going to do, even knowing how to negotiate my rights and everything, if I don't have the power to speak up? The knowledge will save me, but if I'm not even able to talk [what good is it?] So, we practice. We practice, practice, practice.”

Doris Tapia and student presentation - High Road 2024


Tapia’s fervor for self-advocacy is infectious, pushing the students to speak up and take charge.

“There's a group of tenants in the district,” begins Adriana Vink ‘27, who is working at Senator Zellnor Myrie’s office, “And their building is being bought. There’s a real estate developer trying to buy them out of their rent-stabilized apartments and is harassing them in the process. So, we did a know-your-rights training with a lawyer. It was just really wonderful to be there for that, make that tangible difference, and see these people learn how to write like a cease and desist letter to this real estate company.”

“I didn't realize how impactful the work we've been doing is,” said Mark Freedenberg ‘26, another fellow stationed at Senator Myrie’s office. “We're, like, directly responsible for people in the district. They're calling us asking for help.”

“In the future weeks,” Freedenberg is excited to “get out into the community more.” He’s already discovered the empanada food cart outside Senator Myrie’s Crown Heights office and made several forrays deeper into the city to watch the NBA finals.  “We're supposed to go to block parties, parks, greens, and stuff like that.”

The city is starting to take on proportions of its own. McGuire has “never been to New York before, so it's been a little eye-opening riding the subway every day. This morning, I like, messed up and had to get on three different trains. That's been like a challenge. And I think it'll just get better as you get used to it.”

“I’m happy that I have a group of people I'm working with to talk about our experiences and feel comfortable with what we're doing,” said Swati Sheth ‘26. “Learning something new, whether just being in a workplace, or even if the work you're doing is not necessarily mind-blowing, just being in the environment teaches you enough.”

The fellows seem more self-assured, more curious. Besides a sudden downpour catching many of them out, summer and the High Road are well underway in New York City; the season’s first heatwave rolls into town, the train system starts to make sense, and slowly, deeper into June, things begin to feel sharper and bolder.