Callie Jayne talks about her Citizen Action-packed life


Callie Jayne. (photo by Phyllis McCabe)

If you have seen the name Callie Jayne, it might have been attached to her sharp commentary in local news stories about police brutality allegations. It could be on social media, where Jayne and her fiery activism can be found. You might have heard it on Radio Kingston, where she hosts a regular radio show on Thursdays from 1-3 p.m. called “Rise Up Radio.” Jayne is a community organizer for the Hudson Valley chapter of Citizen Action of New York, with whom she recently returned from the Women’s March in Washington D.C. She’s got a lot going on around her, but she also has a lot more going on within her as well.

Carrie Jones Ross: Where did you grow up?

Callie Jayne: Wilton, Conn.

CJR: Where did you go to school and what did you study?

CJ: It took me a decade to finish my undergrad. I started at Northeastern University, and hopped around; music industry, psychology, jewelry, metal smithing, business. My master’s is in human services/non-profit management.


CJR: Married? Kids?

CJ: Yes. Two fierce, independent young ladies — 10 and 4. Liliana and Althea. One incredible husband. I’ve known him since I was 10.

CJR: Astrological sign?

CJ: Taurus.

CJR: Where do you live now? 

CJ: Kingston.

CJR: What does a “community organizer” do?  

CJ: My role as a community organizer is to provide people with the skills that they need to fight for justice. I work with members of the community to strategize how we are going to achieve the world we want to see.

CJR: How would you explain what Citizen Action of New York is to someone who has never heard of it?

CJ: We’re a grassroots organization that fights for racial, social, economic and environmental justice. We work to build power in the most impacted communities — focusing on the rising American electorate. We push for change by building from the grassroots with political educaiton, legislative work and lobbying.

CJR: What issues are you currently working on? 

CJ: The biggest thing we are working on in the Hudson Valley is building a block captain structure that will strengthen the ability for the community to be involved in the decisions that impact them most, no matter what the issue. That being said, Citizen Action is a statewide organization that works on several issues. The Hudson Valley chapter is currently working on education justice, criminal justice reform, early voting and federal issues.

CJR: Kingston can be a very insular, “small town” city, in the way that so many of the residents today also grew up here, and do not necessarily trust those coming into their communities to try to make changes. How do you reach people? How do the communities you’re trying to engage accept you? How have you gained people’s trust?

CJ: Truly, I think that people reach me. People are facing problems in their lives, and I do my best to try to help them find the solutions to their problems. Solutions can be building power, advocacy or working to change legislation. Our chapter works by listening to the problems on the ground, and helping people find their own solutions. Our members are really the leaders of the work, not me.

CJR: What outreach strategies and methods have had the greatest yield for you in Kingston?

CJ: Our mass engagement and block captain structure is how we organize. Our vision of having a block captain on every street in Kingston is really exciting for me. We’re even working on pre-printed snow emergency handouts in English and Spanish, so that the block captains can let their neighbors know when there’s a snow emergency. No one wants parking tickets.

CJR: What was your path into this work? Was there a mentor or a great influencer in your life that inspired you to this?

CJ: After working in the human services field, I realized that the people making the decisions were not the people most impacted, and the people who were most impacted didn’t even know it was going on, for a majority of reasons. I want to make sure that people know what’s happening, and voice their concerns.

CJR: Did you have a mentor in your life who deeply impacted you or shaped you to become the advocate that you are? 

CJ: Not really — it was my experiences and struggles that pushed me to want to do more.

CJR: Wow. Care to cite any?

CJ: When I applied for food stamps when my oldest daughter was not quite 2. I remember the woman telling me I made too much. But my student debt was high and my car payments were high and my rent was high and they didn’t care if all my money was gone before food. They also wouldn’t pay for childcare while I was in school, but they would if I went to work. The woman told me that they would take better care of me if I stayed working minimum wage, and not to try to do too much for less. That moment made me realize that we were trapped in this system, and I chose to take the route less traveled. Over $110,000 in student loans debt, lots of random skills and experiences, I’m still on a journey of self-discovery.

CJR: How do the local law enforcement agencies regard you?  

CJ: You’d have to ask them. I’d like to think they see me as someone who is fighting to ensure that members of my community feel safe, not as someone who is looking to threaten their livelihood.

CJR: What do you think your reputation is?

CJ: Depends on who you ask. As we work on undoing the societal standards that have gotten us to this place, I know we all may have very differing views. I can’t please everyone, but I do move with the goal of making sure that everyone has all they need to survive and thrive. Some folks say I’m too radical, but no one approved of the civil rights movement while it was happening, either. Others say I’m not radical enough, but we have to build power.

CJR: Tell me about your new radio show! 

CJ: It’s an incredible opportunity to be a part of Radio Kingston. The show is an opportunity to talk to members of the community about the issues that they are engaged in and working on.

CJR: What have you enjoyed about the Kingston community that you did not expect? 

CJ: The incredible diversity, and stories that the people in the community share with me.

CJR: Tell me how about balancing work/mom life. 

CJ: I’m grateful for my incredible partner, Steve for taking on the domestic aspect of our partnership. Cause I’m certainly not that good at it. I bring the kids with me to a lot of this work.

CJR: Do you have a personal mantra? 

CJ: I believe in the good in people. I believe sometimes they need to be pushed to get them.

CJR: Tell me about your hobbies, interests.  Like, are you a figure skater as well?

CJ: I love dancing, I love music; Ben Harper, Trevor Hall, Joss Stone, Beatles … Playing music with friends around a fire is church for me. I used to be a jewelry designer in a past life. It was fun! I still make jewelry with the kids.

CJR: Last book you read? 

CJ: No Shortcuts. I’m now reading Women, Race & Class.

CJR: How do you blow off steam? 

CJ: Dancing, singing, playing music.

CJR: What did you want to be when you grew up?

CJ: I’ve always had a goal to create a space where everyone’s needs were taken care of. A communal environment where all work is valued. Over the past 10 years, that’s become more specific, but Care-A-Lot was a dream for me as a kid.

CJR: What aspects of your work keep you up at night?  

CJ: Not being able to help everyone. Citizen Action isn’t an advocacy group, but I often find myself trying to help people wade through the services available to them from local groups or from city and county agencies. We can’t work on every issue, but I often find myself trying to support people on any issues as long as they are committed to the work.

CJR: What message would you like the Kingston community at large to receive? 

CJ: Listen. We are all inherently good. We have all been taught to believe a particular narrative that is driving us apart. We can achieve more by working together.