As we reflect on ten years of working with QC students, we will be sharing several stories of CERRU Alumni and how their CERRU experience has impacted them.
"It's not the disease that caused this," Will related grimly over the phone. "This is a choice that our so-called leaders make." Will Novello, CERRU Social Change Fellow (2017), has seen firsthand the "absolute lack of a social safety net" that Covid-19 has exposed. In Nassau County, where he lives, he has been hard at work acting as a net, attempting to catch those who have fallen through the system's many cracks. Through a mutual aid group that he helped start with the Nassau County Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), he has been tirelessly delivering food from house to house, giving as much as their inventory will allow.
Three years ago, though he could not have imagined today's pandemic and shutdown, Will, through CERRU, was gaining "awareness about...the history and topics society conveniently forgets to tell you about." At teach-ins and trainings, Will, the other fellows, and members of the wider QC community bonded with one another as they learned the systemic nature of what is often portrayed as individual failings.
Yet more than just teaching participants what was and is lacking in society, CERRU was also preparing Will and the others to channel their rage and disappointment into action. In addition to his CERRU social change project - organizing community beautification projects in Nassau - Will and several of his friends from CERRU engaged in campus activism during his time at QC, forming Student Organization for Democratic Alternatives (SODA), Students' Empowerment Project (SEP), and Participatory Budgeting. Through these moments at QC, Will came to see "the CERRU people like extended family."
Today, Will has taken these experiences and carried them through in his organizing work with the Nassau DSA, as it works via Cooperation Long Island to partner up with MLK Rockville Centre, Community Solidarity, Neighbors Helping Neighbors, and other Long Island-based grassroots organizations.
It is because of this activism and solidarity, from his days at QC to today, that Will sees "a glimmer of hope," knowing that there are "people [who] do give a [damn]." There is much we can learn from this pandemic, and from Will's experience, but the string that weaves all the individual threads together is that we cannot "champion individuals rather than each other." We must see the world not through an individualistic lens but a collective one. And, as Will emphasizes, "your initiative can make a difference."