Written by Maeve McKaig
Wailly Compres, a senior philosophy major, is a community organizer with a passion for education and conversation. As an activist, Compres works as a leader of the Bard chapter of Million Hoodies for Justice, a national human rights organization working to end gun violence and systematic violence in communities across the country. Compres got involved in activism just one year ago, after seeing a need for conversation spaces for communities of color at Bard.
“Back in my junior year, first semester, I remember coming back from the summer of 2016, and it being really overwhelming for a lot of us at Bard because there was a lot of shootings happening between the police and the black community,” he said.
He recalled a conversation with Davon Blanks, a senior at the time, about what they could do to help the community cope. Blanks had already been working with Million Hoodies at the time.
“It made sense to start a chapter here at Bard, and so we did,” Compres said. “I feel like since the beginning, most of the work that we’ve been doing has to do with offering support to people here at Bard who might be most affected by these issues, and that includes mostly the black and brown communities at Bard.”
Compres said that the chapter’s work on campus focuses on offering spaces to communities of color for conversations and training on community organizing skills. The chapter also connects the Bard community with the national organization through trainings and conferences. Million Hoodies at Bard also works with local organizations off campus, such as Citizen Action in Kingston and Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson in Poughkeepsie.
Since starting the chapter, Compres has evolved as a leader through learning by doing.
“A lot of us, [..] even me as a leader, we did not come from a background of organizing and knowing how to organize.”
This year, the chapter is looking to rebuild, since a number of members graduated last year.
“Our goal for this year was to establish a structure for the chapter so we can hold people more accountable,” Compres said. “We started creating committees, so people are meeting every other week to have their own conversations outside of the chapter meetings, and then we have a big chapter meeting every other week as well. We have people working on political education, people working on campaigns, and then people working on outreach and communication.”
The chapter saw a surge of new energy at the beginning of the semester.
“Right now, we are at 12 or 15, and a lot of the members are first-years, which is a great thing because they have a lot of energy and it’s really good to have them in the room. They collaborate a lot.”
Considering the chapter’s future, Compres said that underclassmen members are promising.
“I’m graduating this year, and Lexi [the other club head] is as well, so we’re trying to find people who are really excited about doing the work and can develop as leaders for the club,” he said.
Compres sees Million Hoodies as a valuable space for people of color at Bard.
“It’s a space where we can sit down and complain about things we don’t want to complain about to the larger community,” Compres said. “It also gives us a space to really have a conversation about those frustrations knowing that no one’s going to speak about it outside [the meeting], and knowing that it can stay there and it can be solved.”
Reflecting on his work as an activist, Compres said that much of what he wants to bring to Bard was inspired by his first-year experience.
“Most of the work I do has to do with offering spaces for communities of color wherever I go because that’s what was offered to me as soon as I walked into Bard,” he said. “I guess that’s the main principle, offering spaces for people who might feel like they don’t have one.”
After that experience, Compres strongly believes that no one should feel like they don’t have a space to be themselves without fear or hesitation. There should always be spaces for minority communities to seek support and solve problems with other people who are in similar situations.
Like many people involved in social justice, Compres saw the 2016 election as both a step backward and an opportunity to unite. His personal motivation in activism was influenced by the frustrating political and social climate of the country. Engaging in educational outreach was a way to understand all of the issues surrounding the election.
“I feel like me starting the activism work was a lot about understanding what was going on in the country,” he said. “Something that really shifted the way we were doing things was the election of Donald Trump. I was really thinking about how can we be prepared for the things that we know are going to happen, because this country keeps disappointing people, in many ways.”
Following his passion for education and communication, Compres also works with Bard organizations like Brothers at Bard, and the Nicaragua Education Initiative (NEI). Through working with these organizations and gaining experience in political education, Compres said he has learned the importance of understanding a specific community’s needs.
“[NEI] helped me think about how we can really help in a specific community; how do we listen to them and not just bring our own humanity into a space and be like ‘I’m going to change this stuff,’ as opposed to listening to them and giving help for what they need. That’s something I really learned in Nicaragua when I was there, because there are so many organizations that work in the community that we go to, and something that they always complain about is that all these people come and impose things in the community. We as an organization try to talk to them and ask ‘okay, what do you want?’”
Compres said that he tries to apply that thinking to all of his work.
“I think the conversation is always important between the whoever is intervening in something and whoever is the receptor of that,” he said.