“I see a lot of potential on the streets. I see a lot of students, young people and when you speak with them one-on-one. . . they have a lot of talents and a lot of ideas–and we can utilize them.”
Beroro Efekoro is grinning behind a cup of hot chocolate as he talks about the students in his growing tutoring program. As of mid-February, the education advocate is one of the few young candidates for the Albany Common Council–running for the 11th Ward–and he has a lot in store for the neighborhood he has come to call home.
The decision to run for Common Council stemmed from what Efekoro sees as a stagnancy of action for the people of his ward that includes a dearth in after-school care. The youth of Albany, he says, deserve to have a clean, safe and positive environment to spend their time. “I was speaking to a student some time ago and she said she didn’t want to go to school because she doesn’t feel welcome. If you go to a school, you want to feel like, ‘okay, this is home. I can be here. If need be, I can sleep here.’”
Efekoro will focus on the improvement of local after-school and recreational programs for youth and senior citizens and plans to look for new ways to supply jobs in Albany.
“We have some great institutions in Albany and a lot of students coming here for school. But students graduate from these schools and they leave the city. Why can’t we retain people? I want to make sure that people are developing their talents in Albany and make places accessible to them where they can grow their talents,” he says.
The 26-year-old Nigerian native has already made a significant impact on Albany youth as the founder and executive director of the International Organization for Education, Inc.–a local non-profit dedicated to youth education and mentoring programs in Albany and around the world.
In 2013, Beroro Efekoro was lying on his dorm room at SUNY Albany’s Freedom Quad listening to the news when he heard the anchor quote that an approximated 40 to 60 percent of high school students drop out of high school before senior year. It got to him.
“I started doing research and I looked at Albany High School and saw that the graduation rate at Albany High School then was 49 percent. Forty-nine, Efekoro said incredulously. “So I took a few of my friends and said you know what? Let’s go and start volunteering.”
He met with the Albany School District Coordinator and organized a time for he and five friends to visit Albany High School after school hours to tutor students in math and science. The small group grew and branched off, with additional tutoring times at SUNY Albany’s Campus Children’s Center. “I spent my own money doing all of that, resources and transporting them to volunteering spots, but it payed off,” he said, still grinning ear-to-ear. Soon it became a real organization, originally named the National Organization of Students for Students. “It was college students helping high school students, then high school students helping middle school students,” Efekoro explained.
Today, the International Organization for Education, Inc. is a certified 501-c nonprofit organization that now offers an ESL program for immigrants in partnership with Literacy New York of the Greater Capital Region–a project the founder is excited to run, especially within the 11th ward which he says is the most diverse in Albany.
The nonprofit also partners with organizations such as the Liberty Partnership Program and The Frank Chapman Memorial Institute for various projects and was recently approved for consultative status at the United Nations with a pending appointment status as permanent representatives.
When it comes to campaign planning, Efekoro has a long road ahead. He has multiple opponents, incumbent councilman Judd Krasher and local activist Clifton Dixon, president of Justus4us: The Poor People’s Campaign, a nonprofit grassroots organization that works for the empowerment of marginalized communities. The Alt did not receive a comment from Dixon before publication concerning his campaign.
Like Efekoro, Krasher ran for Common Council in his early twenties. “It’s not easy to be young and running for office,” he said. “There’s an element of ‘who do you think you are? From the folks who aren’t open to young people in government but I think there has been a tremendous shift since then.” As for having Efekoro and Dixon as opponents, the incumbent said he is grateful to have the competition.
“There are some people who have served for 10, 15 years unopposed,” Krasher said. “People have to engage with new ideas and policies, it’s important that no one takes this seat for granted.”
Krasher explained that he is looking to run a “campaign of empowerment,” adding that, “so many people feel disillusioned by local government, and rightfully so.” The councilman has been one of the main critics against Mayor Kathy Sheehan and her administration and has been an open supporter of Councilman Frank Commisso Jr. in the upcoming mayoral race.
This is an issue that has been particularly concerning for Efekoro who hopes to improve diplomacy and communication in local government if he is elected.
“The mayor is not going to do everything,” he says. “If you are a councilman you also have power, you have responsibilities. You can make things happen, that is why your people elected you. This is about bringing services to the community.”
If he is reelected, Krasher plans to continue what he refers to as “being the squeaky wheel” for working families and local economic reform as well as focusing on the issue of climate change.