Wanda Salaman

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November 12: Wanda Salaman
Wanda Salaman: Executive Director of Mothers on the Move
Wanda Salaman works to end disparities in education by fighting political corruption and organizing students to take leadership roles in their schools. Mothers on the Move is a social justice community organization in the South Bronx that hopes to bring fair housing, clean air, job training and green development to the neighborhood.

Wanda Salaman’s experience mobilizing her neighbors began soon after she arrived in the South Bronx from Carolina, Puerto Rico, in 1975 at the age of 10. Bronx building owners were setting their buildings on fire for insurance, leaving neighborhoods devastated. Wanda organized the girls on her block to clean up and reclaim an abandoned lot, build a baseball diamond and organize the first girls’ baseball team in the neighborhood. She then formed youth patrols to protect families from robbery and harassment.

Since those early years, her reputation as a community organizer, consensus builder and strong Afro-Latina leader has only grown. Through door-to-door organizing, research and issue-based campaigns, she counseled tenants, homeowners and landlords about legal rights and neighborhood revitalization, building a strong base with the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition, the Crotona Community Coalition and the Fordham Bedford Organizing Project.

In 2002, she joined Mothers on the Move (MOM) as a housing justice organizer. Within six months she had organized 18 tenant associations and shortly thereafter was promoted to executive director. Having formed in 1992 to organize parents around public-school inequity, MOM had expanded to take multi-issue community leadership on environmental, housing, youth and educational justice.

Wanda’s vision for community empowerment led her to form the Latina Political Action Committee (LPAC) in 2003, to educate other Latinas to understand electoral politics and to build the voting power and influence of Latina women. But Wanda also works outside of traditional paths — for example, hosting a visit from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to the Bronx, then working with other community groups to set up a heating-oil discount program and grants initiative for local social justice groups.

MOM’s current campaign to secure a pilot Green Jobs training program for local public housing residents was launched after a yearlong Community Visioning Process in which local residents underlined the need to comprehensively address the interconnected housing, environmental and economic crises they are facing. This reflects MOM’s practice of participatory democracy, in which low-income neighbors take leadership in addressing the issues that deeply affect us. Wanda’s vision for social change begins at the individual level. Although Mothers on the Move’s work is rooted in building community power to address systemic inequalities, MOM is also a family that works to ensure access to healthy food, holistic health care and community education. “If we want to see our community change, we have to overcome the tangible obstacles to individual progress,” she says. “It’s always complicated and cumulative. But we are stronger together than apart.”