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Sabrina Castillo: “You don’t need to know everything”

Collectively as a community we need to stop demanding or expecting change and we need to understand why people are not voting, or why they feel like they are not represented. The electoral process should be more inclusive. As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact,” I had the […]

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Collectively as a community we need to stop demanding or expecting change and we need to understand why people are not voting, or why they feel like they are not represented. The electoral process should be more inclusive.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Sabrina Castillo. She works for the Campaign Finance Board (CFB) as the Director of Partnerships and Outreach. She’s been part of the CFB team for 7 years, where she managed and oversaw the planning and execution of nonpartisan community outreach programs under the NYC Votes umbrella. Throughout her time at the agency, she’s managed the planning and execution of community voter outreach and advocacy programs such as National Voter Registration Day, the NYC Votes Candidate Community Forums, and Voter Day for Vote Better NY. Now, she’s been is tasked with creating and developing partnerships and outreach campaigns that will engage New Yorkers in all elections from getting out the vote to running for office.

Sabrina has over 15 years of communications and community relations experience and is committed to her work at the CFBCampaign Finance Board. She started her career working in public relations and television in the Latin music industry and was part of the initial team that helped launch the Voto Latino launch. That experience, sparked her start in community outreach and civic engagement. Sabrina transitioned into public service and immersed herself to work with projects that would help and empower her community. She is driven by projects that support communities and help them thrive.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was fortunate enough to understand the power of my story very early on, and that meant I wanted to help others do the same. I started as a publicist, a very clear career path that helped me share stories and influence. I quickly realized it wasn’t creating the type of impact I wanted to create for communities. I was able to be part of the launch of Voto Latino, an organization founded by Rosario Dawson. I saw the power we had if we were actively engaged in our community and elections. Through that experience, I knew I wanted to help people be part of the process even if they don’t see the value or understand the very process we are trying to promote. Because access and knowledge can’t be the gatekeeper for entry to the democratic process.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Being out in the field, I am lucky enough to hear a lot of perspectives. It is important to understand that our reality isn’t everyone else’s. When you hear a 16-year-old talking about safety in their neighborhood, and someone else asks them, what their vision for safety and the response is: “I don’t know, I’ve never experienced it and it’s hard to have a vision for something you don’t know,”. I feel that it is our responsibility to take that on and give young people a platform to express themselves and build them up.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We are taking a different approach to engagement. We are listening, which is something I think big organizations and government don’t often do. We are taking in what people want and need. To engage young people, we are bringing them to the table, we are letting them lead, we are showing telling them what they should be doing and how. We are doing that across all communities, we understand we are experts, but we also understand we don’t know everyone’s story. We are not taking a technical approach which has been to register people, get and get people to vote. We want to bring a diverse group of people and take on the hard questions, like why don’t people care, why do people feel their vote doesn’t matter, why are people disengaged with the electoral process. Because if it’s there’s one thing we know, it’s is that people care about their community and loved ones. So why is that removed from the democratic process?.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

I can’t think of one person in particular, but every time I work with people and share what we do, or when I share my story and show them make them feel that it’s ok that they don’t understand everything about elections, or when I give them a platform to express themselves, I see the shift. The shift from feeling like the system is not for them, to understanding and owning their power in the electoral process.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Yes, they can take the time to listen. They can create spaces for people to participate beyond the polls, and they can be inclusive. There has to be space for everyone, this includes those who don’t or can’t vote. Collectively as a community we need to stop demanding or expecting change and we need to understand why people are not voting, or why they feel like they are not represented. The electoral process should be more inclusive. Anyone who is 18 and a citizen can vote, but not everyone who is 18 or citizen has access or social equity in the process. Barriers are real and when people are worried about putting food on the table or staying warm, it’s hard to focus on anything else. The information can be confusing and it’s a vocabulary that people can’t relate to — some yes — but not all. Such as when we say we want you to be part of the democratic process or electoral process. Using terms like that excludes people.

At NYC Votes we are creating space to listen to people, we are including members of the public in the planning process, and we want to understand how people want to participate. People care about their communities and family’sies well-being. We need to connect the dots on how voting improves that for them.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I recently came across a definition that really resonated with me:. “Leadership is disrupting your own people at a rate they can absorb.”

Change happens beyond comfort and status quo., As a leader, you need to find the balance that gets you beyond those points without losing people. As a leader, you want to help people find the best in themselves so that they can create peak performance on their own. I believe leadership comes with responsibility, and it is up to us if we take that on. This means, we understand our influence, we create and cultivate spaces to develop other leaders, we inspire, and we lead with empathy and courage.

Some of the best work I’ve been a part of has not been done by myself, and in many cases, I’ve been the lead but not the person who is innovating or creating. This past summer I worked with our interns, I wanted to create a space where young people can testify about what their feelings about regarding civic engagement. It’s hard to get young people out if the message isn’t right. The hearing was youth-led for youth. I met with our interns, I shared what we needed the outcome to be, I gave them tools, resources, and support. I pushed some ideas, but only to fully help develop them, and they did it all. It was our largest attendance at one of our hearings this year.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You don’t need to know everything
  2. Ask questions even if you feel you should know the answer
  3. Don’t overthink your ideas or decisions — there are no right answers, and through mistakes, comes learned lessons.
  4. Be proactive and maximize each position — how can you learn and add value to your skill sets
  5. Be curious and own your space –. This means add yourself to conversations, understand your value.

Yes, in any project or job I’ve had, in the beginning, I felt I needed to know everything. I thought that’s why they hired me because I should know all of this. That’s not the case, there’s a lot to learn when you are hired. Y you should bring your skills and experience, but it’s also the environment’s responsibility to train you and develop you. At NYC Votes, it can feel like I’m one of the few that isn’t from a government background. I certainly don’t know everything. I’ve taken this experience and I’ve owned my space, I’ve asked questions, I’ve been curious, and I’ve learned.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would want everyone to own their story and understand the power in that. I feel that everyone has influence and can create change. If they know the power in their story, they can create a ripple effect and or any type of change. Building leaders is part of that.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said: “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.” Seneca

In the end, to get anything started or accomplish anything, it takes people. The way you make them feel is the only thing they will remember and will have an impact on what you are trying to do. I believe in everything I do, and I believe people want to be seen, heard, be treated kindly.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have breakfast with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. They say if you want to do something, find someone who is doing it and learn from them. She is a fierce leader, who despite how hard it does create change, she has gone all in. I would like to have a conversation about what it takes to overcome that fear and how to take on a system that can feel so overwhelming. From a woman’s and Latina woman’s perspective, she has given the power to our stories and I want would love to talk to her about it.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Your readers may follow @nycvotes on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook to stay up to speed with our work, and they may follow my personal Instagram account, @brina_castillo.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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