Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Haile Rivera is a Hands On Kind of Guy
As the country counts down to next week's inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president, Bronxite Haile Rivera talks with Bronx Latino, reflecting on his own journey to help make history and get Obama elected. Looking forward, Rivera also shares priorities he would like to see Obama take on once he's in office.
Q: Could you please tell me a little about you?
A: I was raised by a single mother who taught me to help others whenever I can. As a result, I am very committed and passionate about helping my community in any way I possibly can. It is not always an easy thing to do because many think I have all the answers to all the problems and we know that's not possible. But I love helping people and I am grateful to my mother for that lesson. For more about me, you can go to http://hailerivera.com/Who_Am_I_Quien_Soy.html.
Q: What did you do for the Obama campaign?
A: I started volunteering and then was offered the opportunity to join the Obama campaign as a field organizer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I continued as a field organizer in North Carolina, Puerto Rico (where I helped organized the famous "caminata" in Old San Juan) and finished in Florida for the general election.
Q: Why did you decide to work in Barack Obama's campaign?
A: I decided to work for Barack Obama's campaign because I believed he was what the country desperately needed. I supported Barack Obama when he was running for US Senate by sending him a small contribution. I then received a personalized thank-you letter and that left an impression on me that made it easier for me to leave everything behind and go on the road with the campaign.
Q: What about Obama motivated you?
A: Originally (when he was running for US Senate) I saw him on C-SPAN and noticed the way he interacted with the voters. It was genuine, real. He understands the challenges our people face day after day and can motivate young Americans to pursue their dreams like no other individual. Then on July 11, 2007, I was invited to an intimate dinner with him. After meeting him, I was more convinced that Barack Obama was our hope and the change America was calling for.
Q: What was the most challenging part about working on his campaign?
A: Convincing voters that Barack Obama was prepared to lead our country in the right direction and educating voters about racism in America and how we must do away with the thought that he was never going to win because of the color of his skin.
Q: What was the best moment for you?
A: Aside from meeting him which took place months before I officially joined the campaign, the best moment was November 4th. I knew that we were going to win the primaries, but November 4th was historic and very emotional for me. I called my partner who was also on the campaign staff in Florida and thanked her for her sacrifice and support. I also called my mother in Philadelphia who was also emotional and finally I called a senior advisor to Barack Obama and thanked him for helping to make "this possible" and saying, "We did it, We did it."
Q: Where were you when Obama was pronounced the winner and what does his win mean to you at a personal and professional level?
A: I was in the campaign headquarters in Hialeah, Florida surrounded by hundreds of local residents and many students who were there seven days a week helping us make history. I was nervous but inside my heart, I had a gut feeling that we did it. At a personal level, I can tell my children and grandchildren how we helped make history and not just stood on the sidelines to watch history being made. Professionally, I have always dreamed of working for a US President but like many kids growing up, that dream seemed to be just that: a dream.
Q: What are the top three issues that you think Obama should tackle once he is in office and why?
A: I am big on really helping urban America and the working poor. The creation of the White House Office of Urban Policy is definitely a priority. Current urban policy has been reactionary instead of proactive in nature and as a result, its programs almost universally target the symptoms, not the root causes, of the poor people's segregation in shattered neighborhoods.
The current economic crisis is definitely a priority and the President-elect has already taken action pushing for a major stimulus package that will help revive the economy and create jobs for the American people.
Dealing with the Middle East crisis must be priority. This also includes dealing with the situation in Darfur. The United States must act to bring about peace and end the genocide in Darfur. The situation between Israel and Palestinians seem to never end. Darfur keeps getting worst each day. Although much talk has taken place, there's no real action. This needs to change. We must end the genocide or we might as well consider ourselves part of it as well.
Q. Do you believe Obama's win will enhance the quality of life of Latinos and how?
A: I believe President-elect Obama's win will not enhance the quality of life of Latinos but of all Americans. The President-elect knows what is like to struggle but also knows what must be done to make sure that future generations do not go through the same struggles. He's a testament that education is really the key to success and that is something very important for Latinos. It might be difficult and sometimes appear impossible, but he's victory is clearly a sign that whatever we set our minds to we can achieve with sacrifice and education.
On key issues which affect Latinos, such as immigration, education, jobs and housing, the President-elect has specific plans to make sure that no one is left behind and that everyone has the same opportunities he did.
Q: What's next for you? Will you be involved in the Obama camp at all? Are you still interested in running for a political seat here in the Bronx?
A: I do not know what the future holds for me, but I would be honored to serve in his administration if an offer is made. If possible, I would like to be part of the staff at the Office of Urban Policy.
I would not say that I'm no longer interested in running for City Council for the 14th district in the future. It is an option. I'm giving it serious consideration. It will depend on what happens post-January 20th.
Q: Do you have anything else you'd like to share with Bronx Latino readers?
A: I am the founder/executive director of Hands On New York, Inc., a nonprofit founded in 2002 to help low-income individuals and families improve their quality of life and work with at-risk youths in the Bronx and New York City. To date, the organization has served over 3,000 Bronx individuals and families and we have been able to do this without no physical space, grants and/or government funding. For more information about Hands On New York, go to http://hailerivera.com/HandsOnNY.html. -- Clarisel Gonzalez
(Photos courtesy of Haile Rivera. In photo #1, Rivera, right, poses for a photo with then presidential candidate Barack Obama. Photo #2, Rivera campaigns for Obama.)