Gigi Li: Representing the under-represented
Updated: 2014-07-18 13:53
By Adelina Zhang in New York(China Daily USA)
Gigi Li gives back to her community by representing the under-represented.
Gigi Li is the first Chinese American to serve as Board Chair for NYC's Community Board (CB). She was reelected for her third term for CB 3, which covers community issues for Chinatown, Lower East Side, and the East Village, in late June. Adelina Zhang / for China Daily
Those include Chinese immigrant families and other members of the community she represents as the first Chinese American to be chair of New York City's Community Board 3(CB3).
"I truly believe that the community board should reflect the community," said Li, who was re-elected to her third term in late June. "Everyone should give back to the community where they think that will have the greatest amount of impact. This is the road that I found to do that."
Li said she puts in about 30 hours a week in her volunteer post. As the chair of CB 3, which covers the Chinatown area, the Lower East Side and the East Village, she guides the board on issues relevant to that community and acts as the spokeswoman on issues that the board votes on.
"I'm proud to have this opportunity and have the other members of the board believe in me and allow me to serve for a third year. I also see this as an opportunity to have the Chinatown community to be more tied to this board," she told China Daily.
When Li was first elected to the community board in 2009, she said that there were approximately five board members who were Chinese American or lived in Chinatown, out of a total of 50 members. Now, there are 11 Asian-American board members. Since one-third of the board represents Chinatown, geographically and by population, she said that she decided to do run for board chair in 2012.
In 2011, she ran for second vice-chair so she could get a better understanding of how board policy and procedures work.
"Working for the community is a challenging balance act," said Li. "Everyone tells me that they have different priorities and different needs. But everyone wants the same basic needs, such as affordable housing, quality education and a good paying job."
Li said that in the monthly Manhattan Borough board meetings with the Borough president, she is the only Asian-American board chair. "By being board chair, I get a lot of additional opportunities, which allows me to represent the needs of this community at a higher level," she said.
Li is also the director of a non-profit organization, Neighborhood Family Services Coalition, a group of service providers and advocacy organizations committed to providing quality services to children and families at the neighborhood level.
Currently, CB3 is working on the mayor's middle school after-school expansion and expanding the number of job slots for the Summer Youth Employment Program.
As a representative and a local third-generation resident of Chinatown, Li said that Chinatown and the Lower East Side are facing a gentrification issue. These areas are seeing a lot of commercial hotel development, increasing rent for small mom and pop businesses and an increase in a different type of residents who are moving into Chinatown. Multigenerational families are moving away to the other boroughs or other areas and younger, single individuals are moving in.
"All of these aspects have affected the local economy there and what Chinatown looks like," she said. "What makes Chinatown vibrant is that there are local businesses with owners who live in that area and have families who go to the local public schools. There needs to be a balance of tourists who come in there and the local residents who shop in Chinatown and eat in the restaurants."
CB3 committees are working on numerous problems, including interstate buses that are located in Chinatown and the Lower East Side. The buses have raised issues ranging from whether they are beneficial to local businesses to have they disturbed the quality of life for residents because of the large numbers of people waiting to board them.
Being board chair has allowed Li to learn about more community-based issues. She said that has learned the most from the Land Use and State Liquor Authority committees.
In addition to working on larger city projects, CB3 also works on smaller issues such as ensuring that agency flyers will be in English, Chinese and Spanish.
"Being on the board means understanding the needs of the community," said Li. "Any project the board works on, community members should have access and know about them like everyone else in the city."
As chairwoman, Li is committed to creating a leadership ladder for board members and ensuring that there will be great successors for when she is no longer chair.
"When I am no longer board chair, I will be serving the community in other capacities," said Li, who hopes that the Chinatown community will continue to be represented on the board. "I will always be encouraging Asian residents to be involved in their community, so there will always be a new group of leaders among the younger generation."
For China Daily
(China Daily USA 07/18/2014 page11)