In April 2020, with the guidance of School of Social Welfare (SSW) Professor Carolyn Peabody, Alexandra Saint Laurent MSW ’20 started the COVID-19 Justice Project — which later became known as New York Social Action (NYSA) — as a student-run internship opportunity for social work master’s students during the COVID-19 quarantine period. The group began its work advocating for continued telehealth coverage for physical and mental health services across the state. After the death of George Floyd and the eruption of civil unrest across the country, the COVID-19 Justice Project shifted its mission to fighting for equitable policy change for marginalized populations in the State of New York and New York Social Action (NYSA) was born.
NYSA is a collective of social workers practicing across the continuum, from clinical, direct service provision to macro, legislative engagement. Together, they participate in legislative advocacy to pursue equitable policy change for marginalized populations across New York State. They aim to address the systemic imbalance of power and resources by alleviating the inequities within the criminal justice system and LGBTQ* advocacy, equitable access to healthcare and engaging all communities in civic engagement. NYSA utilizes a variety of tactics to engage its expansive networks to help bring to the forefront some of the more egregious social injustices that have plagued New York communities for years.
Saint Laurent has been the lead on the groundbreaking work of police reform, along with a dedicated criminal justice action committee that includes current Stony Brook University School of Social Welfare students Emily Dragone, MJ Smart, Timothy Kasminoff, Melanie Isles, Laura Dooling, Steven Cesarski, Even Marcos-Gonzalez, and Robert Perez-Mendez. With their dedicated and energetic outreach efforts Islandwide, NYSA began to build momentum and involvement in local governmental policy advocacy, following Governor Cuomo’s executive order 203, mandating all police departments reform their policy, training and protocols to better serve their vulnerable populations.
Integral to NYSA’s mission was to develop a proposal to transform crisis response within both Nassau and Suffolk counties, ensuring the safety of the most vulnerable community members. The NYSA members’ passion for advocacy and policy work led to the collaboration among various grassroots organizations, collaborating and presenting to various individual legislators, task forces and communities. This includes the Nassau County Police and Community Trust (PACT), Village of Hempstead Police Reform Taskforce, Nassau County Minority Caucus, Suffolk County Police Reform Task Force all presenting their research and recommendations for including social workers and mental health practitioners as first responders.
SSW students in field placements with a passion for advocacy and policy work have been instrumental in the creation of the People’s Plan — a vision of what could be. The People’s Plan outlines 12 major areas for police reform, including handling of mental health crises, civilian and internal complaints, traffic stops and search warrants. This plan was a collaboration among hundreds of Long Island residents and organizations such as Long Island United to Transform Policing (LIUTPCS), Long Island Advocates to Transform Police Accountability and United for Justice in Policing. In collaboration with LIUTPCS’ Mental Health working group, NYSA was instrumental in the creation of the first section of the People’s Plan: Transforming Crisis Response. The People’s Plan consists of various recommendations for structural change in public safety/policing and as of late February, has been submitted to all Long Island legislators as well as Nassau and Suffolk County officials.
Long Island, along with every county across New York, is required to submit its final proposals by April 1, 2021, and the People’s Plan’s goal is to have its recommendations as part of the reform seen on Long Island.
— Jennifer Davidson, School of Social Welfare