Ryan Gregware, Fordham University sophomore, interviewed David Nocenti in fall 2020 for LaborArts.org
A few weeks ago David Nocenti was gracious enough to chat with me on the phone. David previously worked as a lawyer and now spends his time as the Executive Director of the Union Settlement in East Harlem. This organization has been around since 1895 as its primary job is to help the community of East Harlem. What I found most interesting about this organization is that they do not have one primary method of helping the people. They understand that each individual has a different situation and needs to be helped in different ways. Typically, there’s a sentiment about throwing money at problems but the Union Settlement truly is dedicated to providing the low-income residents with the skills and opportunities to succeed and build better lives.
Some of the different ways they provide this include; Education/adult education, summer programs, job training, English classes, mental health classes, and all social services that advocate for social justice. The community also opened a food pantry during the ongoing endemic to help feed the community.
Union Settlement is also one of the leading organizations working to reform NYPD practices. David wanted to be a lawyer because he wanted to make a change and understands the way to do that is through the law. He uses his background in law to talk to city councils and try to enact change through legislation to make the NYPD a better department for themselves and the community.
However, Union Settlement alone can not do their job to the best of their ability without help from the government. The main challenges David has had to overcome have involved getting the government to understand and recognize the deep needs of low-income communities.
Through this experience, David told me he has gained a deeper knowledge of the needs of low-income communities as well as an appreciation for the hardships that many families in east Harlem have to go through. He talked about how it doesn’t matter if you’re 70 or in college, you can make a change. He said there is no one answer for how to make a change, but if you give your time and relate you’re giving to your passions in life it will be beneficial to everyone.