The upcoming fall 2014 SOMOS El Futuro Conference presents an opportunity for all New Yorkers who are concerned about equal rights and social justice to renew their commitment to these essential ideals and to embark on new efforts to bring them closer to reality.

The goals SOMOS espouses—political empowerment, civic engagement, advocacy on issues of fairness—are critically important to Latinos all over our state. SOMOS is a great vehicle for airing the concerns of New York’s Hispanic communities, informing elected officials and the business community about people’s aspirations, priorities and frustrations, and then translating those needs into action.

As Attorney General, I have been an active participant in SOMOS, co-hosting a welcome reception at the annual Albany spring conference, presenting workshops and organizing discussions on critical issues. I believe those programs have had a positive effect on public policy by fostering dialogue and educating participants about ways to address the needs of the community.

However, I believe there are even greater opportunities for engaging Latino New Yorkers—and the elected officials who represent them.

As attorney general, I have crisscrossed the state, holding town hall meetings and workshops in cities, towns and suburbs. There is no better way to learn about people’s concerns, experiences and struggles firsthand than to visit their neighborhoods and speak with them one on one.

That is why SOMOS’ chairman, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz, and I are forming a new partnership to reach out into communities across New York State and bring the great work of SOMOS directly to the people.

We will be expanding and broadening our longstanding collaboration, with the able participation of the Hispanic Legislative Task Force, which has produced the many important informational and educational panel discussions that we have presented at previous SOMOS conferences.

Those programs brought together policy experts, law enforcement officials, community outreach professionals and legislators to discuss areas of great concern to the Hispanic community, including illegal guns, gangs and drugs; the National Mortgage Settlement and what it means for New Yorkers, particularly Latino homeowners, who lost two-thirds of their median household wealth when the housing market collapsed in 2008; the critically important issue of language access and protecting the rights of people with limited English proficiency at the ballot box, in law enforcement, in healthcare and in education; and labor rights, reflecting my office’s focus on low-wage workers, immigrant workers and tipped employees—making sure all workers get an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. 

But as important and enlightening as these presentations were, their effectiveness was limited because many members of the public do not have the time or the financial resources to travel to conferences.

So, we will be taking the conference out into the community. 

Our expanded partnership will bring the resources, expertise and services of SOMOS to cities and towns throughout the state. We will connect legislative leaders with their constituents around New York and serve as a conduit for assistance and empowerment. We will give Latino New Yorkers, in their own neighborhoods, the opportunity to make their voices heard and to access SOMOS’ resources.

After the November conference is finished, we plan to meet to develop a calendar of events. And then, we will create programs to engage directly with people in the Latino community on the most important issues of the day.

By working together, with a new, broader vision, we can expand SOMOS’ important mission, moving together into the future.

 

Eric T. Schneiderman is the attorney general of New York State.