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energy democracy

Young Latina Daphany Sanchez leads energy democracy movement in NYC

Energy democracy is a collaborative community effort focused on shifting away from traditional corporate modes of energy to energy models that are governed by local communities and are environmentally conscience. Daphany Rose Sanchez is an advocate for energy democracy responsible for creating Kinetic Communities Consulting and one of the 50 winners of Grist50! 

energy democracy

Kinetic Communities ED Daphany Rose Sanchez, on of Grist50! awardees (Photo courtesy of Kinetic Communities)

Each year, Grist -a nonprofit news organization for people who want a planet that doesn’t burn and a future that doesn’t suck- searches high and low for the most inspiring innovators and do-ers working on fresh solutions to the planet’s biggest problems.

The result is a collection of 50 Fixers working to build a sustainable world that works for everyone. Solutions come in many shapes and sizes: exciting technologies, smart campaigns, forward-thinking legislation, innovative products, courageous organizations. Fixers vary, too; they include farmers, entrepreneurs, comedians, activists, scholars, scientists, and more. Kinetic Communities Executive Director, Daphany Rose Sanchez is one of#Grist50 2019! Congratulations to all #Grist50 fixers!

energy democracy

Daphany Rose Sanchez, founder and ED Kinetic Communities NYC

Founded in 2017, Kinetic works at the crossroads of affordable housing and energy efficiency, serving low- to moderate-income New Yorkers through education, networking, and making opportunities easier to understand. Daphany, a New York City public housing resident, is passionate about ensuring that all New Yorkers preserve their homes through energy democracy.

Daphany has always been an environmentally conscience person, but her experience during Super-storm Sandy was the major turning point in her career that led Daphany to pursue a collaborative approach to her work in the energy field. After the storm she witnessed how engineering companies and community organizations worked together to help people rebuild. It was then that Daphany realized that what needed to be done was not build something new, but merge existing markets.

She decided to adopt this model of community collaboration and energy democracy for her work in the energy field. Her main goal is to give under-served communities a seat at the table in the fight against gentrification by reducing New York City’s contributions to climate change.

Challenging the status-quo with an energy democracy model

Through Kinetic Communities, Daphany has been able to challenge the status-quo when it comes to energy efficiency.

“Our perspective accelerates clean energy implementation with existing communities that are not traditionally engaged,” she explains. “I have been able to design programs focused on reducing harmful air pollutants, increase visibility for the elderly, and promote job creation for people of color regardless of their socio-economic class and education.”

These experiences have propelled Daphany forward in her journey to spread energy democracy. In a male-dominated industry, Daphany leads the charge in energy democracy for under-represented communities in New York.

“As a minority and a 4-foot-11 woman, I often face validation challenges from industry professionals,” says Daphany, describing the obstacles she has faced.

energy democracy

(Photo courtesy of Kinetic Communities)

Reaching where she is today has not been easy. Growing up she took on many student loans just to have an opportunity to have a seat at the table with other decision makers. She has faced people questioning her validity and position as a leader in her field. Yet she has not let these challenges deter her from her goals.

“Instead of feeling oppressed, I became obsessed with having a catalytic impact on breaking stereotypes,” says Daphany.

Daphany chooses to focus on her strengths and use her skills to effect change. Her skills of perception, creative collaboration, and community intuition have been essential skills in leading New York toward a climate neutral environment. These are skills that have been ingrained in her since childhood. Daphany believes that working collectively as communities is the key to addressing important issues such as systematic housing injustice, economic development, and environmental sustainability.

You might be interested: Leaders, influencers and entrepreneurs converge in NJ at 2019 Entrepreneur Empowerment Lunch (EEL)

A vision for New York’s future

“My vision of New York’s future is an equitable carbon neutral city,” say Daphany. “One where organizations work side by side, and community members are empowered to take hold of their energy democracy without burden of stereotypes directing their lives.”

Daphany’s work in promoting energy democracy is making great strides in actualizing that vision. Her accomplishments thus far include being recognized as one of Grist50!, collaborating with NYCHA to create rooftop gardens at 24 buildings in 8 developments, creating green jobs for NYCHA residents, and organizing efficiency awareness campaign events that provide active workshops on energy efficiency. Additionally, Kinetic Communities has joined a national campaign which collectively reached 58 governments, 358 organizations, and 80 million residents in the country. Through the efforts of this campaign, the Brooklyn Borough President announced October 5th as Brooklyn’s Energy Efficiency Day. These experiences have only emphasized the importance for collective action in the energy field. Through collective community efforts change can be effected.

As parting words of advice to others looking to effect change in their careers, Daphany encourages people to find mentors and be curious.

“Explore how other new businesses are implementing their products and learn from their opportunities how you can be different and excel in the future,” she says.

Finally, she encourages people to see their that persistence and risks are worth it. The opportunities for change and success are limitless through learning and accessibility and Daphany hopes to continue to make opportunities available to under-served groups through her own work in the energy field.

fighting for education

Latina activist and educator Maria Santiago-Valentin advocates for classroom inclusion

Maria Santiago-Valentin is a fierce activist and educator who has used her platform to advocate for classroom inclusion and the environment. A passionate, energetic and creative educator with over twenty-five years of experience in her field, she has taught in Puerto Rico, Connecticut, and New Jersey, and has been recognized for her achievements nationally and internationally. 

Lifelong learning

“Education is a crucial foundation for our youth. Now more than ever we need quality education to help younger generations pave the way toward better futures for our society,” said Maria Santiago-Valentin, one of the many great educators who are fighting for education and advocating for our youth. One of the founding members of CURE  — Community United for the Renaissance in Education– a bilingual parent advocacy group working to improve the educational system in New London, Connecticut and an educator for over twenty-five years, Maria has dedicated her life to the pursuit of knowledge.

“Education is a lifelong experience,” she shares with Latinas In Business. “To achieve success one must acknowledge that they do not know everything.  We need to update our skills and open ourselves to other cultures, to opposition, to failure and strive for classroom inclusion to see what we need to work on internally to be where we want to be in order to have an impact in our field.”

Maria has lived by this motto all her life as one can see by looking at her extensive list of degrees and certifications. Living in Puerto Rico she studied Language, Literature, and Translation in English, Spanish, and French. In 1991 she began her career as an ESL teacher in Puerto Rico where she taught for several years. Later her love of language lead her to the United States where she pursued her second M.A. in French and Francophone Literature at the University of Connecticut which she completed in 2002.

Challenging herself to reach new heights, Maria sought to become a certified Learning Disabilities Consultant / Case Manager and now works at a public high school in New Jersey to help meet the learning needs of students who require extra attention and inclusion in the classroom. 

And with several M.A.’s and certificates under her belt, it is only natural that Maria is now pursuing her Doctorate in Education, specializing in Reading, Literacy, and Assessment. The learning never stops!

Sharing messages with future generations

classroom inclusion

Maria Santiago-Valentin receives a recognition from Sira Macias Chacon, Human Rights International Commissioner and President, Caminando Juntos por el Cambio in Santiago de Guayaquil, 2018.

“The message and principles we share with the future generations in our homes and our schools is what is going to bring changes and paradigm shifts in society,” says Maria.

This is the core message Maria imparts to others, especially the youth. “In order to advance, there must be continual knowledge and education both at school and in the home. Children must always be learning to become adults who will continue to learn and be open and tolerant to new experiences, cultures, and ideas. Our futures depend on our children, so we must equip them with the necessary tools for success, and that all begins with education,” she affirmed. 

This educational foundation extends to all children regardless of their background or abilities. Always striving for acceptance and inclusion in the classroom, Maria has used her experiences as an educator and Learning Disabilities Consultant to write a book for educators on the topic of mental health. Her book Bipolar Disorder: Etiology and Treatment Overview: Mindfulness, Medication, Digital Psychiatry and Classroom Accommodations explores ways of approaching issues of mental illness in the classroom and how to accommodate for these students so that they may receive the proper attention and care. Maria works diligently as an educator to ensure that all students have the opportunity to receive a quality education as it is the foundation that they will build a lifetime of learning upon.

Her call to advocacy

During her years in Connecticut, Maria first became rigorously involved in the education advocacy community. Working at public schools in New London, Connecticut, Maria saw that there was much work that needed to be done to improve the quality of education. Two of her main areas of focus were to incorporate multilingual programs into schools’ curriculum and to fight for public school funding.

A staunch supporter of multilingual studies—being that she is fluent in Spanish, English and French— Maria has championed for multilingual programs in schools since her time teaching in the New London Public School District. With CURE, Maria helped support local public schools and bring awareness to multilingual studies by organizing a variety of events including parades to the public library, translated events, and community forums.

classroom inclusion

Maria Santiago-Valentin, Educator and Activist for classroom inclusion and environmental sustainability

From 2004 – 2007 Maria also served as one of the plaintiffs of in the “Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding” which sought to ensure that adequate funding was being “distributed equitably based on student learning needs, fair measures of town wealth, and fidelity to the tax equalization principles underlying the ECS.”

In March of 2015, Maria’s advocacy work was honored with an award presented by the New Jersey Hispanic Newspaper Poder Latino USA, which commended her contributions to improving education in urban public schools and her advocacy and volunteer work in Connecticut and New Jersey.

Environmental activism  

Another issue close to Maria’s heart is protecting the environment. Anyone keeping up with current events will know that our environment is in dire need of help. Environmental crises such as the California wildfires, the increase in devastating hurricanes, and the deadly drops in temperature this winter have shown that our planet is crying out for help. Still the political world is full of debate and controversy over climate change, with deniers holding important positions in office. If education is to ensure that our youths have the knowledge to advocate for change, then environmentalism is to ensure that our youths will have a habitable planet to enact change upon.

classroom inclusion environment

Maria Santiago-Valentin, speaker at climate change rallies in New Jersey

Maria is just as passionate as an environmental activist as she has been for education advocacy. She has worked diligently with organizations and local legislation attending marches, representing projects such as the Climate Reality Project, and speaking publicly about critical issues. In 2016 she spoke alongside Assemblyman John McKeon about new bills passed by the New Jersey State legislature that would make critical steps towards helping the environment.

In 2017 Maria took her activism a step farther, founding the NJ Coalition for Climate Justice, an organization that works to bring together social justice movements with environmental movements. The organization has lead community events, marches, and provided aid to those in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria.

Currently Maria serves as Vice-Chair of the NJ Environmental Justice Committee and has worked for OFA (Obama for America/Organizing for Action) as a volunteer for 8 years. Through OFA Maria became a Climate Reality Project Leader, a role that has allowed her to be a mentor to a diverse group of individuals from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey.

Overcoming opposition

As a resilient Latina, Maria has persevered through all the challenges she’s faced over the years in her career. She has never let opposition get in her way of achieving her goals. Still when she came to the U.S. over twenty years ago, she struggled with an issue many immigrants face: she was self-conscious of her accent –despite being fluent in three languages! She worried about the biases people would have toward her when they heard her accent and this lead to an intense fear of public speaking.

She however did not let that fear stop her. “I faced bias, skepticism, and opposition,” she says, “but that did not scare me or make me shy away. That was the fuel that motivated me to continue to prove the skeptics that I was being underestimated.”

She has since made various major presentations at the Learning Disabilities Association of America NJ Chapter, the GSA Forum, and the NJEA Teacher’s Convention and will also be presenting at the NECTFL this year on a talk about Dyslexia and the Foreign Language learner.

Maria is filled with gratitude for all the experiences she’s had, both positive and negative for they have only made her stronger and more inspired to learn and grow. She hopes to continue to be an inspiration for others and to advocate for education and environmentalism, be a mindful and inclusive educator, and of course never stop learning.