There’s a famous quote of unknown origin that goes something like this: “I wondered why somebody didn’t do something. Then I realized that I am somebody.” Alex Dumas is somebody who is doing something. He grew up in New Paltz, a New Paltz High School grad, class of 2008, and went on to study law. He now works as an attorney in town and is passionate about social justice and making the world a better place. Recently Dumas co-founded “Let’s Bridge the Gap,” a nonprofit 501 (c) (3) officially launched in June.
“We want to incrementally bridge the gaps in urban and black communities,” he says. The idea is to uplift minority communities historically affected by institutional privilege, inspiring this generation and the next to bridge the gaps they experience in education, healthcare, the judicial system and income inequality.
The group plans to accomplish this in a number of ways, including partnering with community members, institutions of learning, churches, media outlets and other organizations.
Raising funds will be a part of it, of course; it always is. “We’re just beginning, so we’re in the early stages,” Dumas says. “We have a lot of ideas, and right now we have to think in terms of ‘when we have the funding’ so we can put action to a lot of our ideas.”
And “action” is a key part of this. Inspiring and delivering actionable change in urban and black communities is a crucial part of the mission. As an attorney, Dumas says, he knows that drafting policy that can be taken to local and state legislators could go a long way toward solving problems within communities.
Changing the narrative is equally important. Within urban and black communities, the next generation needs to be able to see themselves as having possibilities other than what they see in the media, Dumas says, “where black people are all either athletes and entertainers or violent and incarcerated. Those are the images portrayed. We want to start a social media campaign similar to ‘Humans of New York’ [the blog that provides glimpses into the lives of everyday New Yorkers], but ours will be a video blog of everyday African-Americans. They might be a lawyer like myself, or a social worker, or doing anything; but just sharing their stories. We think by sharing our stories we can inspire the next generation to think, ‘I can do that, too.’ To just see themselves on different paths and avenues. We believe diversifying the narrative and telling the story of our community from a strength-based perspective is the best way to inspire long-term change and healing.”
But changing the narrative is not only about changing the way black youth see themselves and their possibilities but also about changing the way other communities regard brown and black communities, he adds. “In the Michael Brown incident [Ferguson, Missouri, 2014], when officer Darren Wilson described Brown as looking like ‘a demon,’ in my mind, that makes me think that when he’s apprehending an African-American, his thoughts on what he’s facing escalates the situation instead of de-escalating it. Just having this idea from the beginning that this person is a ‘demon’ causes the moment to become bigger. We need to change the narrative for everybody and see African-American people as everyday people like everyone else.”
The problems that exist between police and black communities could be resolved if officers had relationships with communities rather than just the authoritarian view of looking at African-Americans as “perpetrators,” Dumas says. “We think it starts with relationships. We need to change the language and the relationships so that it’s more communal, so that we’re all in this together. I think that will help heal a lot of the pain and trauma that have existed for years.”
Providing a safe place for honest dialogue is part of the plan. “We want to host events where people can discuss the issues that we all face. The topic today, police brutality versus the senseless killings of police officers, is causing tensions between both communities, whether you’re in an urban community or you’re a police officer and you’re literally going out there every day not knowing if you’re going to come back home, and you’re protecting communities that don’t necessarily like police officers. People need to come together, get their thoughts out and work toward solutions.”
Providing mentorship is another avenue for Let’s Bridge the Gap. Because a lot of boys in urban communities don’t grow up with their father in the home, the group plans to host innovative events like father-son baseball games to promote family, Dumas says. “It will make the fathers more engaged and involved in their children’s lives.”
When Dumas moved back to New Paltz last year, he joined a Hudson Valley-based “young professionals” group to immerse himself in the community again. But when he realized he was the only African-American involved, he saw the need to form a group of black Hudson Valley-based young professionals who could support each other and serve as mentors to youth. Dumas says he has approximately 20 people so far who have expressed interest in being involved in such a group, and he hopes that when it comes to fruition, they can go into the schools to host “professional” days where they can present a positive role model to minority students. The group will also provide a base of professionals to get involved in future Let’s Bridge the Gap projects.
A collaborative venture
Let’s Bridge the Gap (or “Let’s BTG,” as they’re found on their website and Facebook) was co-founded by Dumas and several former college classmates who all met at Oakwood University, an historically black Seventh-day Adventist private university in Huntsville, Alabama. The other principals in the group are Jeffrey Aguy, executive director; Ashley Aguy, director of healing; Kristina Desir, finance chairwoman; and Daniel Oyinloye, creative director.
Because the Aguys are based in Minnesota, the official headquarters of the nonprofit are in that state, but with Dumas in New Paltz and Kristina Desir in Boston, the group extends across the Northeast. “We’re creating leaders in different parts of the country that will be able to take on the mantle and be agents of change in their community,” says Dumas. The classmates had talked about forming such an organization while still in school, but it was during an alumni weekend in 2013 when they really sat down and hashed out the details.
Executive director Jeffrey M. Aguy brings his expertise as a business consultant to the table. “Another avenue for us is helping black entrepreneurs start up a business,” says Dumas. “The unemployment rate in black communities is higher than the rest of America’s and we think developing businesses and fostering entrepreneurs will help provide jobs for people in urban communities.”
In addition, they plan to host seminars on financial planning within urban communities, to teach parents about how to start saving so when the time comes, their children will have the financial opportunity to attend a university.
Ashley Y. Aguy is a social worker who is developing a network of therapists who will be able to go out into the urban communities and maintain stability there when incidents happen. Kristina A. Desir works in public policy in Boston on gender wage gap issues. Creative director Daniel O. Oyinloye works on promotional videos for Let’s BTG in Minnesota.
Hometown kid makes good
Growing up in New Paltz, Alex D. Dumas helped lead the varsity football team at New Paltz High School to a Section 9 championship and led the basketball team to its only Section 9 championship in school history. He was selected to the 2007-08 New York All-State football team and named 2007-08 Daily Freeman Football Player of the Year. When he graduated in 2008, it was with a Regents Diploma with Advanced Designation and he was the only African-American member of the high school’s 2008 National Honor Society chapter.
Dumas attended Oakwood University, earning a BA in history with a minor in business management. And while he initially experienced quite a culture shock going from New Paltz to Alabama, it ended up being “a great experience,” he says. “I met wonderful people there; Jeff was a suite-mate of mine, Kristina was in my department, and we were always passionate about these issues. I was really able to develop as a person there and grow as a leader.”
He also started working in urban communities in the south, teaching fifth-graders math and English. “Seeing the impact and effect that I could have on people made me want to pursue law,” Dumas says, “and do something like Let’s Bridge the Gap.”
He was named to Dean’s List all eight semesters and graduated with a 3.87 GPA. In addition to being elected as the executive vice president of the student body association for the 2011-12 school year, Dumas was recognized by a nationally syndicated radio show as a “Tom Joyner Hercules Scholar” and traveled to Haiti in 2011 to take part in a humanitarian trip to help those affected by the 2010 earthquake.
He attended the University of Southern California, Gould School of Law in 2012. At USC he was co-president of the Black Law Students Association in 2014 and had externships with the Writers Guild of America, Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California Chief Judge Claudia Wilken. He was honored during his third year of law school by the Black Prosecutors of Los Angeles and the John M. Langston Bar Association.
Dumas moved back to New Paltz in 2015 and passed the state bar exam in February of this year, becoming a licensed attorney in June. He currently works as an associate attorney at Getman & Sweeney in New Paltz practicing labor and employment class action law.
“It’s rewarding work,” he says. “A lot of our clients come from disadvantaged communities where they’ve been taken advantage of by their employers and not paid minimum wage. Every day when I go in, I’m passionate about it and I feel like I’m doing a public good. I feel like a public servant, and for me, that means a lot.”
More information about Let’s Bridge the Gap is available at www.letsbtg.org, on Facebook at “Let’s BTG” or e-mail Dumas at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the young professionals group or seminars and events planned for upcoming months.