#YouthVoice: Joaquin, Director of Public Profile at IntegrateNYC – Demanding the Desegregation of New York City Schools

February 12, 2019

Despite the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education, segregation is not a relic of the past in schools across the United States. In fact, New York City has one of the most segregated school systems in the nation. IntegrateNYC is working to change that. The youth-led nonprofit organization advocates for equity and true desegregation in schools across the city’s five boroughs, and leads the #StillNotEqual campaign.



For the past two years, Joaquin Soto, 16, has served as IntegrateNYC’s Director of Public Profile. Joaquin spoke with SparkAction about his work, what drives him as a young advocate, and the vision he and his fellow New York City public school students share for their education.

What most excites me about IntegrateNYC is that it … it allows a bigger platform for youth voice. I want others to know that IntegrateNYC is a youth-led organization that designs solutions for the real integration and representation of youth voice and equity in schools.”


Q: What do you want people to know about IntegrateNYC?

What most excites me about IntegrateNYC is that it is youth-led and it allows a bigger platform for youth voice. I want others to know that IntegrateNYC is a youth-led organization that designs solutions for the real integration and representation of youth voice and equity in schools.


Q: How did you first start working with IntegrateNYC?

I first connected with IntegrateNYC when I went to one of their meetings back in June 2018. I immediately got engaged and applied to be a Director in the program. That August, we started our year as a team. I established myself as the Director of Public Profile and got my hands on their social media accounts. From then, I dedicated myself to the expansion of our Instagram profile, and the activist work came right along with that.


Q: How has your personal experience attending public school in New York shaped your work with IntegrateNYC?

I’m currently enrolled in a New York City public high school in District 13, and I also went to a public middle school and elementary school. I have personally witnessed the segregation within the school system and that is what has inspired me to take action.


Q: How have your personal experiences influenced your approach as a young leader?

I came here from Chile when I was 9-years-old, and my identity as an immigrant has shaped my experience overall because I am able to see the differences in privilege. Whether it comes to demographics or social and cultural stereotypes, I have always seen the contrast that leaves minorities at a disadvantage in this country. This has influenced my approach by inspiring me to be my best self and work towards making my community a more equitable place.


Q: IntegrateNYC has developed “the Five Rs of Real Integration,” which it places at the center of its work. Please tell us about those.

The “Five Rs of Real Integration” are: Race and Enrollment, Resources, Relationships, Restorative Justice, and Representation. We use these to ultimately advocate for inclusive environments, equitable resources, healthy and supportive relationships, less policing and military staff, and inclusivity in staff members and adults in a school environment.

These five priorities originated from a plan for real integration in schools to desegregate and generate the most equitable environment all around in New York City public high schools. It mainly prioritizes the composure of schools in terms of diversity in students, but also the ways that students are offered resources, support, safety, and adults that they can relate to.

For me personally, the 5 Rs mean more than just the ideal policy and evaluative process for school integration. They mean a real and positive change to the dynamic experience that millions of other students like myself go through. Moving from Rancagua, Chile to New York City, I noticed all of the ethnic diversity that such a big city has to offer. But when I enrolled into the public school system, I became aware of the demographic and racial divides. The progressive approach that the 5 Rs offer helps to redefine the education system so kids and teenagers like myself, a minority student, are not placed in disadvantageous circumstances where they’re not able to succeed.


Q: What are your favorite moments, and what are you most proud of so far in your advocacy work?

I have done advocacy work through IntegrateNYC for the desegregation of the school system by promoting our message and expanding our audience, and by attending events to develop partnerships. Additionally, I have also done advocacy work through the NYCLU Teen Activist Project for general social justice, mainly assisting in the development of purposeful rallies, and contributing to their schematic progress—the project’s visionary of what’s next and how to approach issues in the community (i.e. LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights), and how to move forward for upcoming movements. Through another nonprofit, Aspira of New York, I have advocated for Hispanic rights through rallies while also participating in their youth empowerment initiative by providing informational guidance to free resources (i.e. SAT preparation courses).

My favorite part of being involved in advocacy work has been the teamwork and being surrounded by other young, brilliant people dedicated to similar causes. The successes I am most proud of so far are more personal, specifically my personal growth in networking techniques through social media and in physical presence. These techniques for me have developed over time, one of them having to do with confidently and naturally reaching out to people, taking the initiative to start conversations. Whether it’s putting together a brief, informative elevator pitch about IntegrateNYC to someone I’m speaking with, or simply exchanging personal experiences and contact information with someone, I have learned that confidence is very important to build relationships.

I can’t stress enough the importance and relevance of learning how to network comfortably with others. It can help you make the next big connection to an investor, activist, or teammate. Working on it can help you establish a good personal reputation, or even simply help you learn about something you might not know about from someone else.


Q: What are some specific challenges you’ve faced during your time working on IntegrateNYC and how have you overcome them?

There have been overloads of work overlapping with my school work and lack of motivation originating from an unhealthy and nostalgic state of mind. Additional responsibilities as a teenager in high school will always occupy time that can be spent studying for an upcoming test or doing homework. However, to overcome this challenge, I try my best to be flexible and work on time management, knowing that every week will be different in terms of what school brings and IntegrateNYC is doing.

At times, I find myself losing motivation because of stress or nostalgia for times where I had more freedom in my schedule. I recently traveled back to Chile, and I have been reconnecting with old friends for about half a year. I had a great time during winter break, and this specific trip brought unforgettable experiences. Afterwards, coming back to New York City, I missed my homeland along with my brother and family. To deal with these challenges, I exercise my mind and try to healthily isolate myself with meditation sessions, taking some time out of my day to relax and practice mindfulness, and most importantly be thankful for the present moment.


Q: When did you understand you were a leader? What does that mean to you?

When I entered high school, in every class, I started witnessing how my actions and management in group projects and teamwork was always versatile and attentive and helped propel us forward. I started to see I had a balance of characteristics that helped make me a success when it came to motivating others and managing collaborative work.

Being a leader to me means to have the ability to motivate others around me and work efficiently to achieve a task in a professional and well-executed manner.


Q: What life events have helped you to be a bolder advocate or strengthened your leadership?

One of my close friends shared a very personal story: his parents had immigrated to the United States with his sister before he was born because of death threats they faced from a group of terrorists in his country of origin. With no papers or documentation, they came to the United States essentially empty-handed and have worked very hard to establish themselves. To this day, his parents are undocumented and have paid for lawyers along with other services needed to stay in this country. However, with our current climate, his family is at a high risk of being deported.

This story touched me and fueled me to strengthen myself as a leader and advocate and be involved in any possible organization to fight against discrimination and for bettering my community.


Q: Why is it important that IntegrateNYC is youth-led? How can other movement-builders authentically build youth leadership?

It is extremely important that the work in IntegrateNYC is youth-led because students are the most affected by the inequity and division. The students are the ones experiencing the contrast in resource availability, lack of staff representation, being harassed through unjust punitive measures, and witnessing the segregation of races in schools.

IntegrateNYC focuses on the need for solutions in an inequitable system, while displaying the strength in youth ideas to fuel those solutions. It also projects a wider influential platform for the next generation of activists.

To other movement-builders who want to authentically build youth leadership, I would recommend one very important thing: find passion in a motive, because passion is the first step for everything to come naturally and beautifully together.


Q: Where do you see yourself as a leader in the next 5-10 years?

I see myself working alongside my brother, who is a filmmaker in a production company. My goal is to manage a company that produces impactful and meaningful films on real world issues with the purpose of sparking the mind of the next coming activists and advocates that will change the world.

“I want other young advocates who are around my age to know that perseverance is key, and that whenever there is a feeling telling you that you are not powerful enough or your voice is not heard enough, the best thing to do is ignore that feeling because it is completely wrong. There will always be people listening and new awaiting opportunities.”


Q: What do you want other young advocates for justice to know?

I want other young advocates who are around my age to know that perseverance is key, and that whenever there is a feeling telling you that you are not powerful enough or your voice is not heard enough the best thing to do is ignore that feeling because it is completely wrong. There will always be people listening and new awaiting opportunities.


Q: Do you think there is something unique about being a young advocate or activist and doing the work you do in these times, in particular?

I think the unique aspect of being a youth advocate during these times is that sometimes my generation is looked down upon because of stereotypes, while also looked up to for future progressive change. Bringing a positive and revolutionary mindset to the table regardless of external expectations and stereotypes is always the best option.


Q: What’s in store in 2019 for IntegrateNYC and how can others join in?

This year, with a stronger and more organized team and more specific goals, we’ll be bringing a new campaign to the forefront: Retire Segregation, connected to the 64th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Ed.

I am most excited for others to know about such campaigns as ‘Retire Segregation.’ They can join this by RSVP’ing to our coming Youth Council on Friday, February 15th at