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Luticha Doucette, a RocCity “Doer” With a Passion for Promoting Inclusivity for Rochesterians

Category : Uncategorized

We’re well into 2018 as February begins, and we’re excited to bring you the very first RocCity Coalition “Doer” profile of the year, featuring Luticha Doucette, Research Analyst with the City of Rochester’s Office of Innovation!

As Interviewed by fellow RCC Member and Volunteer,  Melissa Chanthalangsy

Luticha Doucette

Luticha Doucette, longtime RocCity Coalition member and volunteer, serves the City of Rochester’s Office of Innovation as a Research Analyst

I am here solely because I want to see the best for the citizens of Rochester. So it’s nice to know my projects align with what I care about outside of work.

Why Rochester? Why did you choose to live here, work here, and contribute here?

I’ve tried living in other cities but boomeranged back. I went to college in Philly straight out of high school, but that did not work out too well due to a lack of accessibility, discrimination, and affordability at the college. I returned home after one quarter, and thought, “Rochester sucks.”  I had many reasons to think this way: I was living at home and I didn’t have access to transportation. After a few years, I moved to my own place in West Henrietta but it still was not ideal due to lack of accessible transportation. Like many suburban areas, the bus only stopped twice a day and paratransit was not reliable. When I finally enrolled at RIT I was trying to figure out who I was as an individual – gaining my independence, gaining access to the community. My life changed in two major ways. First, I was able to afford a car in 2010 and then in 2011 I won the Ms Wheelchair New York pageant. My platform was access to education and STEM for the disabled. Through my network that was helping obtain speaking engagements, I was introduced  to the RocCity Coalition, which was still new at the time. The coalition connected me to the young professional philanthropy world, where I made friends who were like-minded. We were all in the same boat: beginning our careers and wanting to give back in meaningful ways. In Rochester, there is a unique opportunity to do that. You don’t have to have a lot of money to have a philanthropic spirit or be a philanthropist in Rochester. You just have to be willing to roll up your sleeves and do something. There are so many organizations that need help. The coalition helped me to think of Rochester differently and a vehicle of my own meant I could take advantage of volunteering opportunities.  As a disabled person, the key to wanting to stay in Rochester was having access to mobility.

You mentioned that having the philanthropic spirit in Rochester presented you with a unique opportunity as long as you had the work ethic and motivation. What organizations are you passionate about?

I’m on the board for two different organizations. One is Rochester Accessible Adventures, which was created to fill a gap in the nonprofit space. In many ways, we view disabled individuals via a segregation model. This means that before RAA, if a disabled person wanted to do a recreational sport, they had to go to a program at a certain location. You couldn’t really bring friends and family to join you and programs only happened for a short period of time. As we all know, life doesn’t happen that way, and if it was a beautiful Saturday, I couldn’t join friends or family for a spontaneous bike ride. On the flip side, if they signed up for say, Hot Shots, I couldn’t join due to lack of modified, inclusive, opportunities.  Disabled people, like anyone else, want choice and the ability to do things with friends. Furthermore, recreational activities for nondisabled people, don’t know how to modify their activities to include the disabled. This lack of access and inclusivity can contribute to social isolation and depression. So Anita O’Brien decided to create Rochester Accessible Adventures with the goal that we would train people in the recreational sports arena to have adaptive sports included in their programming. For example, at the Erie Canal Boat company in Fairport, there’s an accessible dock, a Hoyer lift, and trained staff.  Because of the partnership, I can go online and pick out what bike I want to use right from the site. You can even rent accessible kayaks! Now, anytime I feel like it, I can go by myself, or I can go with a bunch of friends on a bike ride. For the first time a few years ago, I took one of my siblings, who was ten at the time and I was 30. That was the first time in his entire life (and mine!) he could go on that type of outing with me. Can you imagine going your entire life not doing something simple like a bike ride, just because no one thought about how to give you access? Having this kind of access opened up a lot of opportunities for families, opportunities that many able-bodied people take for granted: the ability to go out and do something and not be treated as a spectacle.

The other board that I’m on is NCBI, which stands for National Coalition of Building Institute. NCBI trains people on different aspects of social justice, teaching people how to deal with and think about racial and social justice topics. We do this by engaging people in a productive dialogue on these hard to speak about topics.  It was just formed into a nonprofit and we have just founded a full board. NCBI Rochester chapter has been around for 30 years, but this is the first time that we decided to make ourselves a full nonprofit because there’s a great need in our nation right now about how to have these conversations and figure out what the next steps will be.

Switching gears a bit, could you talk about your career path and how you’ve navigated it?

I was a straight-A student throughout high school but didn’t know what I wanted to do in college.  Drexel University was the most persistent with their marketing so I chose that school. Once there, I became a nutrition major, and things were horrible from the jump. At the time, circa 2001, accessibility issues were not at the forefront. I couldn’t live in the freshmen dorms because they weren’t accessible. There was no ADA office – well, apparently there was, but their office was on the fifth floor of a building with no elevator. They wouldn’t answer their phones from a disabled student who needed help navigating the campus. Getting the things that I needed was a nightmare. I couldn’t get to my classes. In some places, someone else had to bring a key for me to access the building. On top of that, their definition of diversity was also limited so the ADA/disability person was also the coordinator for the LGB office (at that time the school didn’t recognize trans folk). I ended up having to leave the school for medical reasons.

I came back home to Rochester. I had been horribly discriminated against at Drexel and I had to come back to a home situation that was not conducive to me being independent. As I said previously, I eventually moved into my own place and enrolled in RIT. I still didn’t know what all was out there as far as majors, so a friend told me about bioinformatics. He recommended that as a major saying it would give me well-rounded background, which would allow me flexibility in a variety of fields. But at RIT, I struggled a lot, especially in the beginning. I had a lot of health issues. Again, things weren’t very accessible. For some of my chemistry classes, I had to wait for new renovations to come in in order to get the kind of lab I needed to work with, and staff and I had to advocate to get those modifications in place. The ADA standard was not enough so we developed the idea for height adjustable hoods. A hood is basically a box that has the ability to suck out toxic fumes and keep an area sterile. You work with it while having a sliding window pulled down to protect your face. You might have seen these in shows like CSI. However, there’s usually some sort of cabinet under it, so I couldn’t roll up to use it as was required to pass my courses plus they were tall so an ADA height couldn’t accommodate a short person like myself .But again, that delayed my education for a couple of years. Also, because of my health issues, I had a lot of cognitive problems and frequently became ill. I should have been put into a “create your own major” program, but no one told me about that until my last year that I was there. So my education, instead of being for 3 years, ended up being 7 because of all of these different issues.

However, during that time, I was able to do undergraduate research with Dr. Paul Craig.  Dr. Craig was amazing and working with him opened up a lot of opportunities for me.  in science you have to have a well-rounded portfolio in order to be competitive. Because academic institutions are not too keen on accessibility, especially in the sciences, it was very difficult to do those summer opportunities that were available to my non-disabled peers in other colleges to gain more experience. It took years and a lot of support just for me to get what I needed for 3 courses, how would I advocate/who would help me at another institution? So I was concerned about what my career would look like. I did want to get my PhD in biochemistry and biophysics, but that was going to be a very difficult road not knowing how accessibility was going to be handled in that career path. Also, no one had really done it before, so I did not have any mentors to help me navigate a very ableist system.

After I graduated, I was unemployed for a while. I had continued to make connections through the philanthropic world and so landed a job at the University of Rochester on a fellowship grant through a recommendation from one of those connections. I was in a genomics lab working on parasitoid wasps, looking at their genome, especially for the venom they create. The venom is like a cocktail of different proteins that is injected by the female into the host and we were learning about how the wasps’ venom was causing changes in the hosts. This could potentially lead to advances in research for Alzheimer’s or any sort of progressive disease. We were looking for how venom could be applied in a variety of ways to help benefit humans as similar successes were seen with venom from bees, scorpions etc.  It was pretty badass work, and I really, really enjoyed it.

But yet again, I found myself in another untenable and unsustainable situation where inaccessibility and attitudes towards accessibility hindered my ability to do work. I felt like it was Groundhog Day. This is why I speak about ableism; it’s a system where life (buildings, homes, institutions) are not designed to include the disabled. And what I experienced at UR and RIT is pretty much par for the course in academia. Accessibility is not something that institutions do well for students or employees despite having a federal law in place. My PI, or boss, didn’t want to get a ramp for a walk-in and told me that I had to ask my colleagues to get things for me, including the times when I would have to check in on my experiments over the weekend. He said I should be better at my job by timing things better so I wouldn’t have to come in on a weekend, which is an almost impossible thing to do in science, and is ridiculous to ask someone that one would never ask of a non-disabled person. For him, he probably thought this was better than bugging the university for a ramp, who knows what sort of paperwork would be involved and who would pay for it?  And given my previous experience where one piece of adaptive equipment took years to obtain, I was apprehensive as well. While I appreciated the thought process because I, too, loathe paperwork, it was not an acceptable or reasonable solution. I needed to do my job independently, end of story. So I asked the stock room folk directly and got the ramp I needed, which was awesome as they had done some great work in making an accessible work area for me so for them, this was not a big deal. And I was the first disabled person in that department to go through this type of process so I think there was a hidden expectation—real or imagined—that a higher standard be placed on me just to even reach parity with my coworkers . It was a lot like that scene from Scandal where Rowan, the father,said that you have to be twice as good just to be on the same level as white people to Olivia. I definitely grew up with that mantra instilled in me. On top of my “needing” to work harder than others and “overcome, ” nondisabled people put these barriers up for us and if we rightfully complain and offer solutions we’re seen as troublemakers, but if we don’t “overcome” we’re seen as failures. It’s the fixed deck paradox so aptly articulated in the movie The Tuskegee Airmen.

There was so much pressure that I be perfect, that I never make mistakes, plus I was working long hours just to get things done in the same way the grad students were. Work/life balance is not a thing in science.  It got to the point that I got so stressed out that I became septic and had to be hospitalized at the end of my time at UR. It was a nightmare scenario that confirmed my worst fears that I had in college. I admire disabled people who make it through these systems but my body physically collapsed.  So I needed to pivot and find a different career path.

Conveniently, one of my coworkers’ husband worked at the City of Rochester, and the City was hiring at the time. So towards the end of my year on this fellowship grant at the University of Rochester, I got an interview with the City, and I was hired within a week or two (remember I was septic this entire time!).

I literally got out of the hospital on a Wednesday, packed up my stuff at the lab on that Friday and started on Monday with the City the following week in the Mayor’s Office of Innovation and Strategic Initiatives.

On my first day, I still was recovering from sepsis and a partially collapsed lung! I gave my first presentation to the Mayor while my lung was still partially collapsed and she let me fangirl and take a picture because it was also my birthday. Fun times.                                                                                                                                                              So my career hasn’t been traditional at all.  To get where I am took a lot of grit, a lot of support, and making connections.  This job is amazing as I finally have that mix of science and what drives me as a person. We have professional development where I can take classes online, which I’m doing now to gain better skills, as well as supportive coworkers and a Mayor who is willing to take on challenging projects.

A lot of times, people get caught up in a rut thinking that there’s only one career path. The stereotype is if you’re not doing one job for forty years, you’re not successful. If you’ve read this far, you’ve read a story of failure and that failure is often the key to success.

I have found that the least interesting people have followed a linear path in life. Your job can change multiple times within your career, and that’s okay. You have to have grit, be flexible, know how to make connections with people, and be comfortable with change. Learn how to fail is such a better message than teaching to succeed and be perfect. I think those are where my strengths are.  Where I’ll be in 5 to 10 years, I don’t know. But now, I am ready to go back and get my master’s degree, and I know what I want to gain from that, and I will not be settling for less.

What advice would you give your 21 year old self?

Take more chances. Learn more about the resources that are available to you to help you succeed. Don’t think that you have to do it all yourself. Don’t think you’ve got to grin and bear it on your own. If things are overly difficult, and if people are being crappy to you, it’s okay to speak up and pivot. Also, learn about what the academic offerings are for you as far as what you want to do with your life. What do you want to improve on? A major will come out of your strengths or on what you want to improve on with yourself. Also, travel more while you can because once you get a job, it’s a lot harder. Most importantly, you don’t have to achieve all the things and fix all the broken systems by yourself. You’re allowed a life. You’re allowed to complain, you’re allowed to set boundaries, you’re allowed to make mistakes and fail, you’re allowed to be human and have the breadth and depth of life just like anyone else.

What’s something that inspires you and motivates you to keep showing up?

I know this is not what people typically say, but I inspire myself. I look at where I was not even four years ago. I was in poverty, living in subsidized housing that had insects and black mold. I have done a lot of work to get where I am today as well as the connections I’ve made with the people who have helped me. Because listen, it is a lot of hard work, but a lot of this came down to opportunity and luck, about who I knew who was able to help me get through a hard time or connect me to a job. Anyone who says differently is a liar. There’s always a line of people helping you to success, even if those people turn out to be ones you don’t like or have harmful behaviors, they’re still lessons learned. So I look back at all that I’ve been through as a disabled, queer, solo polyamorous person and realize that I am coming out on the other side of the struggle. Being able to have success and to be happy where I’m at in life-and to lead a life that so many declared impossible- I think is what really spurs me on so that I can be in a position to give back even more.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your day to day in your work at the City of Rochester Mayor’s Office of Innovation?

Sure. I have actually a convoluted diagram of projects on my whiteboard – which, if you’re reading this, you cannot see – but, it outlines all my projects, which are all pretty connected. They also touch on things that are core to who I am as an individual.

I wrote a wage disparities report that has a wonderfully boring title and full of sad facts, analyzing wages across race, gender, and disability here in Rochester and Monroe County. If you are a member of any one of these groups, you earn less than your white nondisabled counterparts. Especially if you are like me, a disabled, black woman, the disparities have a compounding effect.

I am also working with the school district on their Path Forward Plan, which is basically their comprehensive plan about how they want to restructure the district five years from now, ten years from now. The Plan looks at what needs to be done to make sure we are offering the best education to the kids in our city. As you know, that’s a huge problem right now. So I am coming in as the voice for the community and the Mayor, I also lent some data support (but kudos to my teammates and RCSD data analysts). This is the first time a sitting Mayor and Superintendent have worked together on this type of initiative.  As a subset of that, I work with School 17 helping them with data analysis, strategic visioning and support for the wonderful students, teachers, and staff there.

In addition, I am working on a couple of wage-related issues that the report highlights.  To get these initiatives off the ground we as a city need to change the narrative that people in poverty are lazy and that they ended up there through a fault of their own. In reality, my report shows that most are hard-working people serving vulnerable populations (i.e., elderly, sick, disabled) as home health aides/personal care attendants. So without them, many disabled people can’t even get to a job. If we could increase their wages, will we also see an increase in their quality of care? If we move them out of poverty -what would that look like? I’m also interested in learning more about daycare and providers in after-school programs as well. Are we actually giving the quality of care that children need to do well in school? How do we help support educational outcomes? What does quality look like? How do we communicate student needs in a more unified way across the board to uplift the community at the same time? Also making sure accessibility and disabled people are at the forefront of everything we do. What is their plan for disability moving forward? How do we make sure services/accessibility in the city is addressed?

I am really proud of the work that’s moving forward. Data analysis is at the core of my work.  I’m still a scientist but not in a typical lab. For me, this has bigger impact. The work I did at UR was awesome but I wasn’t ever going to see the impacts for a long time or even ever maybe.

I don’t want my work to become shelf art. I prefer “immediate” broad impact. The work we do in our office brings that philanthropic spirit to civil service. I also want to be scientifically minded about what I do by having the rigorous approach that comes from my scientific background. I want people to know that whatever I do, it must be done with rigor, with integrity. I’m not here for any sort of political gain or whatever. I am here solely because I want to see the best for the citizens of Rochester. So it’s nice to know my projects align with what I care about outside of work.

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#RocCity Doer: Jonathan Nwagbaraocha

Joseph Barcia, RocCity Coalition

RocCity Coalition is a collection of people from various facets of the community whom are connecting with one another to achieve a stronger Rochester. Jonathan Nwagbaraocha is a transplant who works at Xerox and is president of YP NeXus, the company’s young professional group, which is one of RocCity Coalition’s member organizations.

YP NeXus is one of Xerox’s caucus groups; others include the National Black Employee Association, Hispanic Association for Professional Advancement, Asians Coming Together, The Women’s Alliance, Black Women’s Leadership Council, GALAXe Pride at Work, and Veteran Service Members Association.

With YP NeXus, Xerox does more than promote volunteerism among its young professionals. Jonathan explained that YP NeXus is not only a way to get involved with projects that benefit the community but gives members a direct link to senior management, the creative space to plan events, and a launchpad for outside volunteer interests.

What got you involved in YP NeXus?
I was new at Xerox and someone advised me to get involved with YP Nexus. She said, “You’re new. This is your way to get involved.”  Then I ran for president. Before coming to Xerox I’ve worked in organizations where the management structure prevented you from offering new ideas. Those haven’t been pleasant places to work. That’s one of the reasons why when I found out about YP NeXus I was like, “This is different.”

What sort of group is NeXus within Xerox’s culture?
We want to make sure Xerox retains young professionals, so we have YP NeXus. We’re only one caucus group. Corporate culture is encouraging of diversity. There’s the black women’s association, GALAXe, a hispanic caucus, and more. When you’re a member of a community it’s not just about you or your family but the larger family as well.  One thing that shines through whenever the caucus presidents meet is that we want to understand one another because we’re all part of the same community. We ask, “How can I be a better advocate for you?” I’ve been able to speak with senior executives I wouldn’t have been able to speak with otherwise. One thing that shines through is you sit at the table and no corporate champion is unapproachable.

What is your takeaway from your direct line of communication with senior management?
I think you have to assess what your values are as a company. Beyond making money, what are our corporate values? That’s where you start. Some companies haven’t done that and are willfully ignorant about what values they should have to be a company you want to work for – or they just sound good on paper.

I haven’t come across an organization that gives that level of support. Before Jeff Jacobson started as CEO he met with some of us. The caucus groups meet with high senior executives in the company. They want us to be engaged. Jeff Jacobson even offered me a ride between buildings on campus.

At Xerox, there’s a from-the-top commitment to being a good citizen. There is a foundation of diversity and inclusion that predates the caucus groups. Joseph C. Wilson set the ball rolling that the company thinks about the community. We did a round table recently with the CEO, who wants to hear from young professionals. We have regular diversity trainings. Our next topic is unconscious bias.

What is the role of volunteerism in YP NeXus?

Part of what I love about my role as president is encouraging people to volunteer. We’re always trying to reach out to other young professional groups in the city. We want to encourage members to go to events in the community, whether or not we organize them. Maybe you don’t want to be president but if there’s something you want to do and invite other people, do it. As a partner with RocCity Coalition, I let members know about those events.

Each November we have YP NeXus Random Act of Kindness Week. This year we will make Disney countdown calendars for Make-a-Wish Foundation children, put together paracord ropes for deployed soldiers through Operation Gratitude, and make fleece blankets to warm hospitalized children of Project Linus.

Is Rochester’s NeXus group an example for other chapters?
The Rochester chapter is the flagship NeXus chapter. For years we have participated in United Way’s Day of Caring. We have the support of HR and management to be released from work to volunteer. Everyone gets excited. This year the Rochester chapter volunteered with the Genesee Land Trust to spring clean the El Camino Trail in downtown Rochester.

In Rochester this has been going on for years but we did it nationally for the first time this year. What was going on when we reached out to the Norwalk, CT and Wilsonville, OR chapters was that they weren’t going out in the community. Now we’re making that national. They’re talking to the United Way in their areas and making it happen.

What else excites you about YP NeXus?

We’re all kind of mentoring each other. We mentor to encourage translating eagerness to help into action. Part of the key in taking energy into action is to look at “what do we want to achieve” and then say “this is how we’re going to do it.” If there’s a good idea, we talk about it and then agree to do it. As YP NeXus grows we want to make sure we are setting good groundwork for future actions [by other chapters]. The Rochester chapter is the largest chapter. Other cities have young professionals doing great things but haven’t been made official chapters yet.

What led you to Rochester?
I graduated from law school and spent time in Baltimore representing families with lead-poisoned kids. That took me to DC, consulting multinationals on environmental compliance. That job took me to Belgium, and then I got the opportunity at Xerox. My wife and I were looking for new opportunities on the east or west coasts. I didn’t know when I applied the Xerox job was in Rochester.I was pleasantly surprised by Rochester. I didn’t have low expectations but I only knew RIT, and it’s a little different. The city has a lot of charm. My wife and I love city living. We lived in the East Ave area and recently moved to the South Wedge.

Outside of work, what keeps you in Rochester?
My wife and I have found it’s very easy to get involved in things. It’s an affordable city. Every time my in-laws visit they are amazed. You’d think a city this size wouldn’t have much, but they’re always finding something new to do when they come here. It’s very easy to get involved in different organizations here. The resources are there and it’s an easy city not just to live in but to get involved in.

What’s your best advice for other young professionals, wherever they may work?
Don’t feel afraid to get involved. You don’t have to have a leadership role if you don’t want to. Just get involved and plan something. For me it started with YP NeXus. I was new to the area and wanted to meet other young professionals. Then I looked at other opportunities and also became involved with Pillars of Hope. Getting involved is the key.

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#RocCity Doer: Vanessa Cheeks

Joseph Barcia, RocCity Coalition

RocCity Coalition is a collection of people from various facets of the community whom are connecting with one another to achieve a stronger Rochester. Vanessa Cheeks is a local writer whose byline appears these days throughout Open Mic, an online-based black publication.

Vanessa is a Rochester area native whose passion for the city and its potential aligns with RocCity Coalition’s Vision 2025 plan. She is finishing a bachelor’s degree in advertising and communications with a minor in journalism. At the core of Vanessa’s work as a journalist is a desire to help people and make an impact.

Vanessa chatted with us about inclusive revitalization, the value of critical perspectives, and the importance of fair storytelling.

Where are you from originally?
I’m from Rochester and grew up across the street in Seabreeze, but as a kid we traveled a lot to see family in the south. Ultimately I moved to North Carolina as a kid and came back in grade school. As an adult I got an opportunity to live in the middle east which was great and then landed in Virginia, but Rochester has always been home. I think that is something native Rochesterians share. You can’t help but come back and feel like you never left.

What got you started writing?
I have always had a knack for writing, but in school it was book reports and essays. I love it, so journalism was an easy step. It was hard getting started, though. I made a lot of mistakes. My first opportunity came from MCC. I wrote for the Tribute out of the Brighton campus. I made a lot of mistakes. I don’t think I had even taken a journalism class yet! But I believe in hands-on learning, so it was a great experience and helped me get into Rochester Woman Magazine and then Open Mic after that.

What do you like best about working for Open Mic?
Being able to say what I wanted to say and not be worried about being censored in a way. When I was writing for Rochester Woman Magazine there were things I wanted to write about from the perspective of a black woman living in Rochester that didn’t make it to print all the time. I wanted to write for a publication that would allow me to ask questions where they don’t get swept under the rug or pushed aside or even misunderstood. These things often affect communities of color so I put it out in the universe and within a month I connected with Tianna, editor at OM. It has been a dream since then.  

As an area native, what are your thoughts on the revitalization under way?
Revitalization is always good, especially when you can balance the historic value of the old and the energy of the new. That being said, I don’t want to see Rochester take off and leave part of its community behind. I went to TedX Rochester and a speaker presented an idea about demolishing an entire neighborhood in Rochester to make way for a more upscale housing. After the talk, an organizer told me the speaker believed that the current residents were renters, low income and not able to bring value to the area, so just remove them. Even holding those ideas, he was still allowed to give the talk. Those types of ideas, which have the potential to displace people of color and people in challenged communities, are dangerous. I think if you are talking about changing, moving, demolishing, rebuilding, you need to ask yourself how it affects people that currently occupy those spaces and how everyone can benefit from it.

Historically the narrative we have about prominent figures and major events has always been a little skewed.
Being able to find fault in something or someone is not attacking, just knowing. The conversation can be had. I have never found someone whose life was ruined by having a better understanding of something. When celebrating Susan B. Anthony we don’t talk about how she was racist and how when women got the right to vote it wasn’t all women. We had to wait even longer to go to a voting booth and cast a ballot without any interference. It’s not bad to talk about these things and it’s necessary. If I had kids I would want them to know Christopher Columbus was garbage and Rosa Parks wasn’t just tired. She was working as part of a movement. These narratives are changed and altered. There was the movie about the Stonewall riots and they just added this character and people say, “It’s fine! It’s just a movie.” It’s not fine. It changes the story in a way that discredits the people of color who were actually influential in making these changes. You have to be able to let people tell their own story. That’s how you get and keep the truth even if it is a complicated truth.

You recently did a story about millennials in Rochester. What led to this idea?
New data released suggested Rochester’s millennial population is the fastest growing. We are also a large part of the workforce and that number is going up as well. But, despite the negativity that surrounds us, we really are interested in making our communities better. We want walkable green spaces, we want to support local businesses, we are demanding work/life balance, and, while a lot of articles put a negative spin on these things, ultimately millennials are inheriting this town and we are kicking ass to make it something we want to live in.

Do you think allies receive more chances to speak than the people they’re speaking up for?
Allies sometimes feel they don’t want to step aside because they don’t want to lose recognition. That’s understandable. When I do something I want credit. But to be an ally – whether it has to do with race, sexuality, anything – you have to be prepared to silence yourself for someone else to take your place and not treat someone like they’re speaking for an entire community. I haven’t seen it yet, but I would love to see someone step aside. If you look around and see a panel, speaker list, artist lineup, whatever and there are very few or no people of color, give someone your spot. Don’t just comment on the lack of diversity. Take action.

What’s Open Mic’s approach?
At Open Mic we definitely try not to speak for people. For us our writing style has more to do with accessibility. When we write it can’t be so technical. We want facts. It has to be accurate. It’s also about creating accessibility. When people read it you want them to understand it and not come away feeling like they understand less of what they’re reading about. We reach a broader audience but our accessibility online skews our audience a little younger.

How do you approach storytelling through Open Mic?
As a journalist you have to follow rules of engagement and writing. Sometimes I ask questions and just let people talk. I would much rather have an hour or hour and a half of you telling your story than ask short questions and get short answers. It can be hard to put it into words. I know Tianna would rather I am on time with my deadlines, but sometimes you need to let the interview marinate and find perfect quotes to let someone speak for themselves.

It seems Open Mic appreciates intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the tool to use to find overlaps. People in communities are diverse. There are black gay people. There are people of color who are into comics. Life has overlap, and being able to tell the story of or for our community that highlights our variety is fantastic. Open Mic appreciates intersectionality because we embody it and we know that our readers do as well.

How has Open Mic helped you use your voice?
Open Mic helped me understand the things I’m passionate about a lot more. I wrote some personal pieces about my life, about how racism within my family made it hard for me to like myself and how I had an abortion when I was younger. I think without OM I would never have the nerve to say these things out loud, but knowing I have the support of my fellow writers and editor is like having an army behind you. Our stories are important as well. When we cover the mayor’s time in office, community gardens, or millennials in Rochester, it is important to all of us. Writing for a magazine has taught me not to get stuck in a bubble and to look at every aspect of something.

Is the wider community aware of Open Mic?
I think the community could benefit more from sending us press releases for everything. We want people to read our publication. If black people are the only people reading a black publication it kind of creates a vacuum. We have amateur bloggers getting invited to press events and we are not as regularly. We are a credible news organization. If you’re a business or hosting something, definitely think about who you’re reaching out to. Do a quick Google search and if there’s a black publication, include them in your event. Again, if you are looking around a press event and there are no media professionals of color, speak up!

What’s next for you?
I love writing for Open Mic. Writing for OM impacts people on a community level. I like helping people understand the world around them and I want the opportunity to make policies and help people on a wider level. I’ve decided to go into government. I have my eye on counter terrorism or working for a federal agency, still writing but to impact policy. OM has given me the guts to stand up for what I believe in and I want to take that all the way to the top.

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#RocCity Doer: Becca Delaney

Joseph Barcia, RocCity Coalition

Rochester’s Fast Forward Film Festival is an annual competitive short film festival that encourages Rochester-area filmmakers of all experience levels to shed light on environmental causes.

Fast Forward has had Becca Delaney as its project director since it launched in early 2014. By day she runs Delaney Marketing, a cause marketing firm, and is also an adjunct professor at RIT and St. John Fisher College.

Fast Forward welcomes advisory council members, volunteers for its various events throughout the year, and community sponsors to ensure free or low cost programming. Later this month there are two free Fast Forward screenings: June 29 at 6:30 p.m. on the Memorial At Gallery’s front lawn and June 30 at 8:30 p.m. at the City of Rochester Public Market.

RocCity Coalition is a collection of people from various facets of the community whom are connecting with one another to achieve a stronger Rochester. Becca is a person of action whose path aligns with the coalition’s Vision 2025 plan.

Becca shared some thoughts about feeling called to Rochester, doing what she loves, and the power of opening up to one’s network.

What brought you to Rochester?
I often say it was just meant to be. I tend to be someone who comes up with crazy ideas and I’m creative about making it happen, and Rochester has lent itself to that since I moved here. I grew up in Syracuse and both my parents didn’t go to college, so St. John Fisher College was the perfect fit for me through their first-generation scholarship. I graduated St. John Fisher with a communications and journalism degree and went on to RIT to get a master’s degree in marketing and technology. I have always loved Rochester for the art, the many, many festivals, the activism, the people here and much more. I convinced my sister and her family to move back here from the DC area. Rochester is slightly larger [than Syracuse], and it’s always been the right balance to keep me happy hobby-wise.

Now I’m trying to help as many causes as I can, and that has made me entrepreneurial. I started my company to fill a niche here in Rochester, and Delaney Marketing has done just that. I wanted to find a way to help Rochester so even though the niche route, business-model-wise, can prove to be difficult to make as quick of a profit. I believe that we’ve already surpassed the odds – we’ve filled a void and been able to step in to help not-for-profits of every size. When you’re passionate and love what you do, energy exudes you, and it shows to everyone around you. In my work, that passion has brought the right people and the right causes to our doorstep.

One way you’re making a difference is through your company, Delaney Marketing.
By 26 I opened Delaney Marketing’s doors. I told myself, “I will go to work and I will love what I do” and I was set out to make a company that was all about tapping into your passion. We are a nonprofit-focused cause marketing firm and we work with a range of causes – from mental illness, to sustainability, to poverty, and much more. Delaney Marketing has found the perfect fit of energetic people to the company and we leech onto causes that we can get personally get passionate about to make a big difference. We’re set out to raise as much money as possible for the cause and raise as much awareness in conjunction with our efforts. I have around a dozen causes each year right now, and we continue to expand. Fast Forward Rochester is just one for 2017 that we plan and implement.

Becca Delaney at East High School talking to the Science Stars about Fast Forward Film Festival

How did Fast Forward come about?
The idea for Fast Forward came from Dr. Andrew Stern in a coffee shop in 2014. I was working full-time at a corporate company and began looking for an opportunity that would help me align my interests in my work. I told my mentors I had kept in touch with in my network that I was open to other opportunities, which led to meeting Andy. I was told “we’d get along great” and that proved to be very accurate. We were kindred spirits – passionate about Rochester, and passionate about environmental awareness. Andy said he wanted to raise environmental awareness in Rochester. It has been a privilege to be a part of something from the beginning. From helping to concept and name the film festival to creating the business plan, to running the project year-round. From building an advisory council, and pulling a team together, this was the first of now many clients I was able to get behind and attach my passion to. My work no longer  felt like my job; it was blend of passion, energy, and hard work day in and day out. I took someone’s idea, expanded upon it, and was there to implement and grow it to success.

What do you like best about Fast Forward?
In my opinion, the coolest part about Fast Forward is how accessible the festival is – it’s a true ‘platform’ for storytellers and people who care about our environment. We put out a unique competition-style short film festival about raising awareness. When we do a call for entries, we tell Rochesterians to “make something that makes people laugh or makes people cry – something you can get behind.” We receive entries ranging on topics from beekeeping and the Flower City Pickers to a young man using comedy and humor to highlight the Paris Climate Agreement to a student from East High School rapping about the environment. We are using short film as the platform to tell environmental stories. If you can tell your story beautifully in five minutes or less and are selected by our acclaimed jury, your story is shown on “the big screen” across Rochester venues. It’s been amazing to watch someone as young as nine engage with this platform.

Would you consider Fast Forward a success story?
Success for me was seeing what we can do in this community to create conversations, and change. The dream would be that yes we all take a step into our everyday lives to change what’s in our own control – from replacing our light bulbs, to eliminating waste whenever possible – but the greater dream of this movement is that we helped focus on the environment in this community. It all starts on a local level. If we start doing things a little differently, big change can happen here, and that’s where I get excited about this work. We’ve already had conversations about bringing Fast Forward to other cities and I think this effort is easy to replicate. We’ve started the process of documenting how we did it. It’s simply a platform. People in Rochester already cared about the environment; we didn’t have this platform and now we do. I would also say we have grown the environmental community and connected like-minded individuals and companies to create conversations, efforts, and partnerships.

At our premiere festival weekend every year during Earth Week we try to get filmmakers and amateurs to network, environmentalists and artists to mingle and talk about something. We don’t need just five minute films that are shown just once a year. How do you create action in the community? You put them together and hope they talk and create something. Three of our past filmmakers are working on an environmental film. A teacher at RIT came and said, “I want to add a class on environmental filmmaking,” and now it is happening. This is the type of collaboration that will affect Rochester for generations to come. It’s not just a trade show. This is people interacting in a space, watching, being motivated and inspired, learning something, and then going home and changing their behavior.

What’s next for Delaney Marketing?
We are moving from Village Gate to the Public Market District. We are all about the city. I want to give my money to local business owners and we’re excited to be walking distance to Boxcar Donuts, the new doughnut shop on Railroad Street, and to the Public Market. My company focuses mostly on planet and people, which has turned into profit – but in that order. To grow, we focused on working the hardest we could, and we brought unique approaches and ideas to the table, which led to fantastic word of mouth. I also think Delaney Marketing has a way to be replicated [by others]. I’m proving in this community you can focus on nonprofits not just as an occasional service or just pro bono. There are thousands of nonprofits here, and we are 100% collaborative. I want to and do work with nonprofits, for-profits, and other ad agencies. It’s a unique business model and when you’re in business for the right reasons, work will come to you, and with that we’ll continue to make a difference.

Becca Delaney talking on Good Day Rochester with some of Fast Forward Film Festival’s adult filmmakers about the festival

What does loving what you do mean for you?
If you love what you do, work just doesn’t feel like work. If you are meant to do something, it shows. At the end of the day we do get paid for the work we do, but there’s something about the fact that if you love what you do, people are drawn to you, and all of us at my company love what we do and we care deeply about the work we are doing in this community. We want to get to know you and get to know the story behind the organization. Teaching is a hobby of mine that I hope I can continue to balance, it’s my way of giving back outside of my work – it’s also a way that I can help mentor the way my mentors have mentored me. I think mentorship is so important for young people.

What’s your best piece of advice for finding inspiration?
My inspiration has always come from other people. Mentors for me are now some of my best of friends. The best advice I give my students is to keep in touch with your professors, your internship supervisors – people who come into your life. The more you keep in touch with people and let people in to know you and your motivation behind what you’re looking for in a career, the better. And if you’re out of school, and you don’t like your job, don’t be afraid to trust your gut and make a change. If you ever need help or feel stuck, ask for help and reach out to your network. If you’ve been authentic from the get-go, people will flock to you.

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#RocCity Doer: Khoury Humphrey

Joseph Barcia, RocCity Coalition

RocCity Coalition is a collection of people from various facets of the community whom are connecting with one another to achieve a stronger Rochester. Flower City Pickers, featured recently in the Fast Forward Film Festival, is a secular, inclusive, all-volunteer group with the mission to ensure no food is wasted and goes to people, animals, and Mother Earth.

Founded in January 2015 by Khoury Humphrey, an artist and Rochester transplant, Flower City Pickers collects, sorts, and distributes vendors’ leftovers each Saturday – rain or snow, sunny or overcast – from Rochester’s Public Market.

The Pickers collect vendors’ leftover food, sort it into food grades, and distribute it. Grade “A” food goes to a list of shelters, halfway houses, and food pantries. “B” grade food is cooked and served that day by a partner group and distributed to soup kitchens and refugee centers, and “C” grade food goes to local critters or is composted.

FCP welcomes volunteers for Saturday market activities as well as administrative work throughout the week, new participation on its board, and fresh faces to attend its organizational meetings the second Monday of each month.

Khoury chatted with us about Rochester, turning ideas into action, and the importance of keeping one’s eyes open.

Q: What drew you to Rochester?
A: Being part of the LGBTQ community. I am transgender – female to male – and I came to Rochester because of the transgender rights and the community. I started volunteering with the Gay Alliance, taking pictures for The Empty Closet, and was going to “family dinners” in parks and at people’s homes and getting involved with groups like Rochester Snowball Effect. That group met and took on actions, like the little free libraries, and it was cool to see how inclusive everything was and go on bike tours of Wall Therapy and everything. Coming from Oklahoma, where a lot gets demolished or blown over, the architecture here, I’m enamored by it. I just fell in love with this place – except for the winters.

Q: What led you to form Flower City Pickers?
A: I never really had the idea of what Flower City Pickers has turned into. I was just upset about something, wanted to help and to be of use, and started picking up stuff and asking others if I could take what they couldn’t sell. But I was having some health issues and was here in the winter – usually I wouldn’t be – to get heart surgery. The City of Rochester had bulldozed Sanctuary Village, a tent city located under a bridge, and they got relocated to a warehouse shelter with no running water. I was baffled and taken aback. That wasn’t the Rochester I knew about. I couldn’t work at the time and didn’t have any money to help and had noticed there was stuff on the ground at the Public Market that was still completely fine and usable. So I decided to go and start picking it up and see what I could make of it. Maybe soup, maybe goulash, whatever. I just went there with a little piece of paper with my face on it and a blurb that basically said, “Hey, I’m going to be here every week. Be nice to me.” People started giving me stuff. It went from filling one car at a time to not having access to enough cars to fill up.

Q: A lot of people have ideas, but what compelled you to bring this one to action?
I had always gone to the Public Market and really enjoyed it. Every time I went there it was with friends and I passed on picking stuff from the ground. It’s not proper social behavior to pick up someone’s trash and be like, “I’m gonna eat that.” So when I read about Sanctuary Village I thought, “Maybe since I was too shy to do it for myself but there are so many people who need this, I’ll pick for them.” That gave me the courage. The fact that there’s so much waste is really disturbing. It’s ridiculous how oblivious people are. People ask, “How did you think of this?” I tell them, “I have two eyes, just like you. All you have to do is keep them open and look.” There’s a lot of waste at the Public Market and even in the grocery stores.

Q: How would you describe yourself?
A: I’m just me. I work as a barista for Java’s at RIT, which is great and they donate to us, and I’ve been doing photography for more than five years. I used to make and sell art a lot. But Flower City Pickers sort of grounded me. It used to be that during the winters I would never have been here. The only reason why I was up here during the winter I started Flower City Pickers was I had to get heart surgery at Strong. FCP has made me adjust to life in one city through each year, which is new for me. When I was younger my family was evicted often from homes and we were homeless for months at a time. I got used to moving around a lot, so became I was an adult, every six months or year I’d move. It’s challenging for me because I always have the desire to run around, do things, and go somewhere else for a while. But I really enjoy doing photography and art, and pretty much any free time I have goes into Flower City Pickers.

Q: Is there a philosophy that guides you?
A: There’s this quote by this little boy Nkosi Johnson: “Do all that you can, with all that you have, in the time that you have, in the place where you are.” I consider myself Buddhist. In Buddhism you’re supposed to sit where you are and make change where you’re at, and accept your surroundings, even if you don’t like them. Just be in them.

Q: If someone says they’re inspired by you, how do you respond?
Mostly, “Hey, that’s cool, but it’s nothing special.” I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. I just started picking up stuff that was on the ground. The fact that no one has done that in so long is what you should notice – that this is our culture and our society. It’s disturbing.

Q: What’s next for Flower City Pickers?
We’re a secular group of volunteers, we have a board of directors, and everyone has their own ideas about where we’re going. This year we’re getting more media coverage, networking, tabling at events, and more. We have a bus that is at the market and is our storage. We would like a permanent spot at the market. We definitely need a company vehicle to help us with deliveries for the greater Rochester area to places that are by the lake or a little further out of town where some volunteers aren’t able to go. We’re experimenting with more than just Saturday collections and are trying out Tuesdays and Thursdays once it gets a little warmer. And we’ve had people from Buffalo and a group from Syracuse check us out and express interest in starting up similar projects.

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#RocCity101 List

Category : Uncategorized

#RocCity101 List

Take pride in Rochester!  RocCity Coalition has partnered with Yelp to help you discover (or rediscover) 101 Rochester, NY, destinations.

Please visit the many unique shops, restaurants, festivals, and attractions that make Rochester a wonderful place to live and work.  We’ve started you off with 101, but please explore all that Rochester has to offer!

Each location on our list is linked to Yelp, so click the links, bookmark them using Yelp, and start exploring our fine city!  (If you haven’t already, create a Yelp profile with your name, email, password and photo.)

Don’t forget to download the mobile app and check in on Yelp as you go.  A shout out using Facebook or Twitter using #RocCity101 is also appreciated!

#RocCity101 was launched at RocCity Rising 2013.


  1. 1872 Café
  2. Aaron’s Alley
  3. Abilene
  4. Abundance Cooperative Market
  5. Aladdin’s Natural Eatery
  6. ARTISANworks
  7. Balsam Bagels
  8. Boulder Coffee (South Wedge, Brooks Landing, Park Ave.)
  9. Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County
  10. Chocolate and Vines
  11. Clothesline Festival at Memorial Art Gallery
  12. Cobbs Hill Park
  13. Corn Hill Arts Festival
  14. Corn Hill Fine Wines & Spirits
  15. Cure
  16. Dicky’s
  17. Dogtown
  18. First Fridays (monthly citywide gallery night)
  19. Flight Wine Bar
  20. Flour City Brewer’s Fest
  21. French Quarter Café
  22. Fringe Festival
  23. Frontier Field
  24. Full Moon Vista Bike & Sport
  25. Genesee Center for the Arts & Education
  26. Genesee Brew House
  27. George Eastman House
  28. Get Caked
  29. Geva Theatre Center
  30. Greentopia
  31. Habitat ReStore
  32. Hedonist Artisan Chocolates
  33. Hickey Freeman Factory Store
  34. Hochstein School of Music & Dance
  35. Hogan’s Hideaway
  36. Hot Shots
  37. Java’s Cafe
  38. Jazz Festival
  39. John’s Tex-Mex
  40. L&M Lanes
  41. Liberty Pole Lighting
  42. Lilac Festival/Lamberton Conservatory
  43. The Little Bleu Cheese Shop
  44. The Little Theatre
  45. Love Hate Tattoo
  46. Ludwig Center Stage Café
  47. Magnolia’s
  48. Manhattan Square Park
  49. Marshall Street Bar & Grill
  50. Mary Jemison
  51. Mount Hope Cemetery
  52. Natural Oasis
  53. Needle Drop Records
  54. Nick Tahou’s
  55. Nikko Restaurant
  56. The Old Toad
  57. The Owl House
  58. Park Avenue Holiday Open House
  59. Parkleigh
  60. Party in the Park
  61. The Pizza Stop
  62. Pont de Rennes bridge
  63. Puerto Rican Festival
  64. ROAM Café
  65. ROC Boxing & Fitness
  66. Roc Brewing
  67. Rochester Art Supply
  68. Rochester Brainery
  69. Rochester Contemporary Art Center
  70. Rochester Greenovation
  71. Rochester Public Market
  72. Rochester Marathon
  73. Rochester Museum & Science Center/Strasenburg Planetarium
  74. Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO)
  75. Rochester Taproom
  76. Rock Ventures
  77. Rohrbach Brewing Company
  78. Roux
  79. Sahlen’s Stadium
  80. Salena’s Mexican Restaurant
  81. SC Fine Art Studio
  82. Scotland Yard Pub
  83. Seneca Park Zoo
  84. Solera Wine Bar & Lounge/Cheshire
  85. South Wedge Farmers Market
  86. St. Patrick’s Day Parade
  87. Starry Nites Cafe
  88. Stever’s Candies
  89. Sticky Lips BBQ
  90. The Strong
  91. Susan B. Anthony House
  92. Tango Café Dance Studio
  93. Tapas 177
  94. The Generosity Store
  95. Thread/Bake It or Cleave It
  96. Tony D’s Coal Fired Pizza
  97. Verona Street Animal Society
  98. Victoire
  99. Voula’s Greek Sweets
  100. Water Street Music Hall
  101. WXXI

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RocCity Rising

Category : Uncategorized


RocCity Rising is the premier annual event hosted by the RocCity Coalition, a collaboration of Rochester’s young professional organizations.

The 6th Annual RocCity Rising was held on May 22, 2013, and launched “#RocCity101″ and a year-long theme focusing on the resurgence of downtown, with a focus towards encouraging YP’s to explore 101 unique and interesting destinations and experiences within the various neighborhoods comprising the City’s urban core.

RocCity Rising 2013 was held at the historic Sibley Building (288 E. Main St.), overlooking the Midtown redevelopment site and new Windstream building currently under construction.  Over 200 young professions and established leaders, like Mayor Tom Richards and Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks, joined RocCity Coalition member groups for this night of collaboration, connectedness, and community as we celebrated everything downtown is and the potential of what is yet to come!

At the event, Matthew Leonard and Juan Vazquez both received the RocCity Rising “Established Leader Award” in recognition of their­ contributions to the entrepreneurial community in Rochester through their work on The Innovation Trail.  The program advocates for and brings exposure to the exciting developments in business and technology across upstate New York.

Michael J. Brown received the RocCity Rising “Emerging Leader Award.” We celebrate his contributions to the City of Rochester through advocacy, volunteerism and leadership in the community.


Thank you to our generous event sponsors:

The New Sibley Building (Winn Companies)
The Community Foundation

Gathering to Give
SC Fine Art
Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP
Rochester Business Journal

A3 Design
NeighborWorks Rochester
Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority
Dale Carnegie Training
Vittorio Formalwear
Rochester Brainery
EPi Printing & Finishing