Former ACTION member honored for environmental advocacy
JP Viñals was born an activist.
“When he was little he used to like to always help people,” said Viñals’ mother, Leomarys Andujar. “He was confused about pollution and how people can live. ‘How does the world move? How do people breathe?’ He was always thinking about a better life for others.”
A former member of ACTION at The Point, Viñals is now this year’s youngest winner, at 19 years old, of the Brower Youth Awards, which recognizes young environmental leaders who strive to create change in their communities. Viñals was recognized for his work with ACTION alongside the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance at a ceremony last month in San Francisco, among five other recipients nationwide. Along with a trip to the Bay Area to celebrate their success and receive networking, training and grant opportunities, awardees also receive a film made about their story and a $3,000 cash prize.
Anisha Desai, program director of the awards, described all the awardees as analytical, ambitious, enthusiastic, entrepreneurial and passionate. The award team recognized Viñals’ work in particular for bringing so many young people together to effect change.
“JP brought his spirit and the youth voice full force to his work,” Desai said. “We were impressed with the way that he got the largest youth turnout to a summit to increase youth engagement in the neighborhood.”
Viñals is now attending his first year at SUNY Buffalo, undertaking a double major in music and communications. Like his maternal grandfather, whose life was deeply rooted in music as a radio host in the Dominican Republic, Viñals was intuitively a singer and songwriter. But his thirst for activism has not been satisfied.
“My work is definitely not done in the Bronx,” said Viñals, whose mother and siblings, ages 13, 10, and 2, still reside in the West Farms neighborhood. “I want to continue my work that I started in the Bronx and expand it over here in Buffalo.”
Leomarys Andujar and Viñals’ father, Paul Viñals, moved to the South Bronx from the Dominican Republic in 1995 to study business administration. One year later, she gave birth to Viñals, who was raised in West Farms and attended Sacred Heart Elementary School. As a young child, Viñals witnessed his father being stopped and frisked multiple times by the police. It made him want to learn more about his own community.
In high school at All Hallows’ High School, Viñals came across a flier for The Point’s teen leadership group, Activists Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood, or ACTION. It was with ACTION that Viñals discovered a new passion for activism and defending the environment he grew up in.
“Once I found The Point and ACTION, and I learned about the environmental social issues that were occurring in the community I found another way to advocate and use my voice,” Viñals said. “It brought my love and passion for activism to another level.”
Viñals and his student colleagues at ACTION campaigned for the demolition of the Sheridan Expressway and the conversion of the land below it for green spaces, self-sustaining farming and affordable housing. They also focused on the larger issue of pollution. With one of the largest food distribution centers in the nation on the peninsula, Hunts Point has more than 15,000 trucks coming in and out of its local streets, which contributes to the increased asthma rates.
Viñals feels his award will give him a larger platform.
“I felt it was a big win for the community that I was able to bring more light to the Sheridan Expressway campaign, and bring more light to the South Bronx and the Bronx in general,” he said. “I was able to build a stronger team and more support.”
Viñals stressed the importance of youth engagement in the community as the key to achieving the goals of the Sheridan Expressway campaign.
“People think the youth don’t care but really, it’s that they don’t know,” Viñals says. “Youth should always be involved especially if we are going to be the new leaders and making decisions for our community.”