Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : October 18th 2013 Contents B4
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Friday, October 18, 2013
Sorraya Sampson believes in civil
rights and social justice, and isn t
afraid to fight for it---even if her efforts
only help a few.
"I can t change the whole universe,
but I know I can make a difference in
the lives of a few people. If I do it one
step at a time, I ll do ok...It s helping
one person at a time."
Sampson is originally from Trinidad,
and moved with her family to the US
as a nine-year-old girl to "make a better
life." Little did she know at the time
she would also positively change the
lives of many as an adult.
Now at the age of 48, she is the first
female, and foreign-born president and
CEO of the Urban League of Westch-
ester Inc in New York, one of the oldest
civil rights organisations in the US, and
will be inducted into her high school s
hall of fame for her achievements.
The 95-year-old league s mission is
economic empowerment and social
justice for the African-American and
disenfranchised community, she said
during a Skype interview.
Her career as a champion of social
justice began in college in Long Island,
where she worked with churches to
foster community awareness for people
She said at that time, information
about the virus and disease was scarce,
making those infected social pariahs.
"People didn t truly understand it to
be the public health disaster that it was.
They were judging characteristics and
judging people. I worked in prevention
and community awareness."
This was her first passion, but as she
entered the League, she expanded her
scope to providing employment services
and skills training for "people of colour"
and who are in need within the Westch-
She said every homeless person who
lives in a shelter in the community is
a client for her to help get them jobs.
"We help them, which is about 1,500
people or so in any given month, with
their employee-related services."
The League also offers educational
management to school-age children
living in shelters.
The organisation s long-standing his-
tory of advocating for empowerment,
change and social justice is an indicator
for how important the League s work
is, Sampson said.
"It is still disproportionate, the
unemployment rate for people of colour
in the community. Health services are
disproportionately negative for people
of colour. There needs to be a voice
and we provide that voice."
Sampson said there was nothing she
would rather do.
"Sometimes you choose your career,
and sometimes your career chooses
you. I think my career chose me. My
career chose me from the time I was
in high school."
She said if she ever ventured off that
path while growing up, somehow life
always brought her back to helping
"I didn t have a choice here. This is
Speaking about being honoured by
her alma mater White Plains High
School, Sampson said she was very
humbled, and was still trying to figure
out how she made the cut.
"I am in there with some incredible
people and I hope I can live up to it."
Sampson, affectionately known as
Rhea to friends and family, was orig-
inally from La Romaine, and credited
her open-mindedness to being from
"My ability not to judge...I see all
people as just the same."
She said: "I am very proud of who
I am. I am proud of my culture, my
people, I think I am a typical Trinida-
dian in the sense of my ability to work
with other people. My ability to be
compassionate. My ability to serve. I
just appreciate everything that I have
been brought up to believe by the
Trinidadian people who raised me."
Sampson still misses Trinidad, and
hasn t visited since 1999.
"Oh I miss home. Actually, even
today when I dream, I dream about my
house in La Romaine."
Sampson and her Jamaica-born hus-
band Wayne have two children, Ashley,
17, and Christopher, 15, who have never
been to Trinidad. This is something
Sampson hopes to change.
"I have to bring my children soon.
I think there s a lot they miss by not
knowing and not seeing where I am
Trinidad-born Sorraya Sampson moved to the US almost 40 years ago, but credits her home country for
making her the person she is today. She is president of a civil rights group in Westchester County and will be
inducted into her high school's hall of fame this month.
On the quest
for social justice
am proud of my culture, my
people, I think I am a typical
Trinidadian in the sense of my
ability to work with other
people. My ability to be
compassionate. My ability to
serve. I just appreciate
everything that I have been
brought up to believe by the
Trinidadian people who raised
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