Damilola Iroko

Tell us about yourself.

I am a 23 year old student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, an employee at T-Mobile, and a father of two wonderful children. I love my job because I get to help people and make long-lasting relationships with them. I love to debate and discuss policy and issues that I am passionate about. I love the idea of advocacy and democracy and hope to pursue a career on that trail.

How did you first get involved in PB, and why?

I first got involved in Participatory Budgeting through a program at John Jay called the CUNY Service Corps. We were selected to represent the school at one of the many partner sites in the program. We received a packet with about two hundred different organizations, each one having a brief description of its purpose and mission. We were asked to review the packet and select which sites we were interested in working with. After I read the description of PBNYC, and how it was centered on advocacy, civic engagement and giving ordinary constituents a voice in the spending of capital funds, I could feel the jitters in my stomach because I knew that this was the type of project that I and many others in my community were looking for but weren’t aware existed. I put PB as my number one choice because I wanted to learn everything about the program and how I could bring it back to my community. Little did I know that my district already participated in this program.

I could feel the jitters in my stomach because I knew that this was the type of project that I and many others in my community were looking for but weren’t aware existed.

What did you end up doing in the PB process?

I represented PB in District 45 as an intern. This was wonderful because it gave me the opportunity to be a part of more than just one aspect of the process. I played the role of a planner, organizer, outreach person, facilitator, and liaison in the office. My favorite duty was when I was facilitating the Educational Committee. We worked together and conducted multiple site visits in order to gather information for the green house and roof top farm projects we were working on.

I think the most important activity was keeping the communication constant between the office and the community on behalf of PB. The constituents appreciated being kept updated and guided along the process, and also it made them and us in the office comfortable knowing that everyone was in sync at all times.

What most surprised you about your experience with PB?

The thing that surprised me most was seeing how the community came together to make PB work. Even though I went to school in the district during my Junior High and High School days, I was just an outsider looking in. As a result I developed my own unfair and biased notion of the community as a whole. But when I began working in the field on behalf of PB, and I met the council member and his staff and the constituents who were so passionate about their district and its betterment, I realized how wrong I was previously. The phrase “never judge a book by its cover” became a lesson I learned. Now I have a new philosophy, instead of judging the book by its cover, how about you open it, read it, and when you see that it’s worth reading, do whatever you can to better its appearance.

What were the biggest impacts of PB on the community? On you as a person?

The biggest impact of PB on the community was the way it brought the people together and encouraged them to engage and make group decisions, regardless of what they may have felt about each other beforehand. It is nice to believe that every community is tight-knit and everyone looks out for their fellow man, and we can sleep with our doors open and the rest of ideals that are attached to utopia. But the reality is that in some transient communities, and especially in NY where there are quite a few transient communities, that isn’t the case. PB encourages people to drop their biases to be more than just people living in the same neighborhood because it’s close to where they work. PB says, if we want to have a voice and make a change, we have to forget what we thought of each other and come together for a common good. So essentially, PB brings us closer to utopia. This has impacted me tremendously because I never thought that this was possible for people in neighborhoods like mine. But now that I’ve realized that this is attainable, I know I will strive to make unity happen for my generation and my children’s.

– July 2014