The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Omar Herrera, Trustee for the Village of Ossining, New York. Omar was elected to the Ossining, New York’s Board of Trustees in November of 2014. At 24 years old, this election made him the youngest elected official ever elected in Ossining. As Trustee, Omar and his colleagues adopted a “Complete Streets Policy” which ensured that all future roadways are strategically designed to consider pedestrian safety, access and equitable mobility for all. Omar also voted on a successful resolution supporting Governor Cuomo’s “Raise the Age” initiative to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18 in addition to the Raise the Wage Resolution supporting an increase of the State of New York minimum wage to $15 per hour. Omar with the support of some colleagues restored the previously censored video recording and airing of public comment section during board meetings making the actions of the Board more transparent; and, launched virtual and mobile office hours for community outreach. Omar advocated for the importance of youth and young adult involvement in the municipal level, as well streamlining departments and processes for equity and cost efficiency. In 2010, Omar founded OJH Productions and Events by Omar, a full scale event management consulting firm servicing Westchester colleges, non-profits, and private clients. OJHP offered event planning, management, design, rentals, lighting services and consulting. He founded Ossining’s highly anticipated annual Summerfest, an outdoor professional summer music and arts festival in historic downtown Ossining. Omar also took a leadership role as the Fair Coordinator of the annual Ossining Village Fair (which attracts over 18,000 attendees from across the county and state), as part of his work with the Greater Ossining Chamber of Commerce.We caught up with Omar to find out what leadership means to him and what advice he would give to the next generation of leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
Serving others is at the core of my values, principals and faith. I kind of feel like this career choose me at times. Having a seat at the table matters and most people unfortunately do not. I am in this career because I know that my actions, involvement and voice can literally change a life or family for the better for years to come and to me that’s all worth it. No win is a small win.
Who inspired you to get involved?
I would have to say my mother, who because of her I saw the adversity of working class immigrants. I saw her struggles via language, opportunity and relentless determination to make ends meet but ensure me and my sister had everything. Today, I get to be a voice for many that feel theirs does not matter; I do not take that lightly. She’s such an honest person with an amazing heart that meets people where they are no matter who you are.
How do you define a leader?
A risk taker and visionary that knows it’s never about them. An influencer-who empowers, engages and is equitable. Also a person who has empathy and understands that they never stop improving or learning.
What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?
Just recently the member of my local board approved the first Youth Summer Municipal Internship program in the Village of Ossining, New York. I created this program to give more local youth access to learning about their local government and have an inside look at political, policy and municipal operations and managements. I hope that this will inspire participants to consider running for local elected office or serve on our many citizen advisory boards, committees and commissions. I am in the process of planning the communities first ever town hall, where our youth would be able to develop their own legislative agenda for the 2019 budget and present it to local officials in the fall of 2018.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
Trust your instincts and go for it. We live in a society in which unfortunately ageism against young people is a sad reality. “You’re too young” or “waits your turn.” Is pretty common in government, organizations and academic world, but does not have to be embraced. Young people are literally changing lives and the world all across this country. Put in the work, sweat and prove them wrong, meanwhile develop a team- people power matter.