A native New Yorker, Roy Paul graduated with a B.A. in political science from Queens College in New York. A refreshingly young voice is how many people describe political commentator, speaker, and analyst, Roy Paul. An expert on youth education, social and economic justice, and the advancement of African Americans in modern pop culture and politics, he is emerging as one of the most knowledgeable youth commentators of our time. In 2006, at age 19, Paul proved his nay-sayers wrong as he was elected to the school board in Middletown, NY, making him the youngest African-American elected to a school board in the state.
Paul developed an interest in politics at 16, when he and his peers were faced with flawed Regents’ exams. He assembled over 200 signed petitions and sent them to Albany to demand a change in the system. Shortly after that, he landed a highly coveted internship with Congressman Maurice Hinchey, where he learned constituent matters and local level politics. During that time, Paul also partnered with his local education network to host a television program “Up Close and Personal” where he interviewed local prominent officials on a variety of issues.
At 18, Paul was elected to the Board of Directors for the Regional Economic Community Action Program – an organization committed to changing the lives of local residents in Western Orange County, through programs such as Head Start, Supportive Housing, and Employment and Training. In the same year, when he learned that the local chapter of the NAACP had no longer existed, he organized a community effort to resurrect the group. In doing so, he became the youngest person to resurrect a chapter of the NAACP.
Roy continues to advocate for the less fortunate. He has sponsored legislation that have had profound impacts on the school district including:
1) a resolution creating an affirmative action officer in an effort to increase teaching staff diversity
2) a resolution lowering the length for board members from 5 to 3 years
3) the creation of a bilingual voting ballot in Spanish to accommodate the many native Spanish speakers in the community.
In 2008, Paul rechartered The Orange County Young Democrats, an organization that exists “to provide young people with experience working on campaigns, grassroots organizing, and support members who wish to pursue elected office.” In 2011, Paul agreed to join the Executive Committee for the Southeast Queens County Young Democrats to educate, engage, and inform young people in that area of the city.
Paul has inspired hundreds of young people and adults through his dedication to the community. He visits schools in the greater New York area to stress the importance of higher education and encourage young people to get involved in the community. Paul also spends his free time volunteering at local organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, and Neighborhood City-Wide Watch.
Q&A With Roy Paul
BS: Where does your passion come from in regards to education and children?
Roy Paul: My passion for education stems from my upbringing. Going back to the early days, the importance of education was always stressed. My mother would say, “Roy, if you want a good job, you will need to get a good education. It will effect the rest of your life.” So I always knew how important it was. And in my family I knew that college was a must, there was no negotiating it. In fact, educational/academic preparation or the lack thereof in black families is something we’re always criticized for, right? When children grow up learning that education is the key to success they internalize it, they embody it, they believe it. Education is arguably the single most thing that can break down barriers. I know of true stories where one persons’ achievements have lead to their entire family being brought out of poverty, and in that moment the cycle of poverty for that family was broken. Children need to know it’s possible and they need to believe it. Therein lies my passion for education; I believe in its transformational abilities. But I also believe in equity and that factored into my decision to run for the school board. When I see school districts in wealthier communities getting more of pretty much everything than school districts who are not equally as wealthy that disturbs me. At a certain point I decided to take a stand. Ultimately our future depends on everyone taking a stand.
BS: What are your interests in politics? Will you run for any political position?
Roy Paul: My interest in politics started in high school when my fellow students and I were facing flawed regents exams. Interestingly, at that time there was a state-wide movement to fix the system and I decided I wanted to get involved. So I asked high school teachers if I could take a couple of minutes before their classes began to present my fellow students with a petition, that once signed, would be sent to Albany for consideration. By the end of my “campaign” I assembled over 200 signatures. That was my first experience actually doing something rather than just complaining about it. The old cliches, “Don’t just talk about it. Be about it!” and “Be the change you want to see in the world” by Gandhi are my guiding principles when it comes to politics. I am a firm believer that the political process, if executed correctly and fairly, can bring about positive changes to peoples’ lives. I won’t rule out a future run for political office, but right now I’m content with where I am. I don’t see politics as a field that I would ideally like to make a career out of, but I enjoy helping people live better lives, and that is something that I will do for as long as I am alive to do it.
BS: Which political and socially well known individual is your role model? Why?
Roy Paul: I am going to digress from your question a little bit and say that the people who have made significant impacts on my life have been those who were ‘unsung heroes’ for lack of a better term. They are people who you have never heard of when reading The New York Times or when watching CNN; they are just average people who went above and beyond. For example, my 7th grade English teacher Mrs. Tina Feliciano, who taught me how important it is to be able to express myself, particularly with my writing. She made me believe that anything in the world was possible as long as I put in the hard work and effort into making it possible. When a teacher inspires and motivates their students to “reach for the stars” and “climb mountains” you know you are in the presence of a good teacher. She made every child feel special, unique, and always gave you her undivided attention. Another person that comes to mind is my next door neighbor, who always lends a helping hand (especially in the winter – he has a snow blower and we do not). In a time when having good neighbors that you actually know and recognize have become obsolete, I rejoice in knowing that there are still people who believe in community members working together for the betterment of a neighborhood, which leads to better societies in general and ultimately a better world. These are the kinds of people that inspire me to be the best that I can be on a daily basis. I believe that role models don’t always have to be famous or well known. We can all probably identify people who have tremendously impacted our lives who are not celebrities.
BS: We see your great involvement in communities. How important is the Black Community to you?
Roy Paul: The Black community is important to me because I identify with it the most, but when governing I try not to see color, because at the end of the day communities comes in all different shapes and colors. But with that being said, as an African-American and having grown up in traditionally minority-populated areas, I will say that communities of color have to demand more than they are usually given because those areas are always the hardest hit – these are the areas with the least amount of , the least amount of public services, and unfortunately the least amount of average income.
BS: Are there more actions you’re working on and plan on taking for the betterment of the community?
Roy Paul: Well, my term on the school board will be coming to an end very shortly (July 1) so I believe I’m done with respect to putting forth substantial changes that cannot be resolved during my tenure, but with that being said, I am happy at the changes that I have been able to make. For example, I sponsored a resolution lowering the length of term for board members which gave the community more much more of a say when it comes to electing their school representatives; and just recently I co-sponsored a resolution renaming an elementary school for a beloved former principal who was actually the first African-American principal in our district (and my former golf teacher). There are many more but those stand out the most. Any action that I’ve taken in the last five years or so has always been to positively impact the community for decades and generations to come. Often times we only consider what’s happening right now and I’ve tried to make an effort to look toward the future.
BS: Where and what will Roy Paul be doing in 5 years?
Roy Paul: I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds my future. Honestly, I can’t say for sure what I’ll be doing in 5 years, but one thing I do know is that I will be playing an active role in the community in which I reside. To me the most important thing a citizen can be is informed and engaged. When we sit down and allow others to step up to the plate without actively participating in the development of our neighborhoods, we do a great dis-service to our ourselves and to our communities.
BS: Do you believe the black community has a responsibility to their children? What are they?
Roy Paul: The black community absolutely has a responsibility to their children, especially when it comes to education. Very few black children are born with a silver spoon in their mouth, so parents have to work twice as hard to make sure their children succeed, even if that means working more than one job. Malia and Sasha Obama have advantages no other children black or white have, but at the end of the day their parents still have to make sure they do their homework and mind their manners. To a larger extent, the black community has to do a better job in recording and preserving our history and making sure younger generations have access to it. Many blacks have been deprived of knowing where they came from and that will only get worse if we are unwilling to share our experiences.
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