By: Danielle Chiriguayo
“This country changes when the most vulnerable take risk and put themselves out there.”
Nelini Stamp, actress turned activist and the casual tap dancer.
The half Puerto Rican, half Belizean Afro-Latina has spent her entire adult life working to make change among communities across the nation.
By the time she was 5 years old, Nelini Stamp was technically already a professional actress. Now, nearing 31, she is the National Organizing Director for the Working Families Party, mobilizing marginalized communities and helping motivate them to express their views through the electoral college.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Stamp has always been at the intersection of life and culture. She grew up devoted to the performing arts – a skill her family thought would lead her to become a great actress.
It was during her years in high school however; that she became acutely aware of the type of unequal world she was living in. She was attending LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts and was applying for federal financial aid. Her application was denied because of her mother’s income.
According to the Federal government, the $60,000 her mother made a year would cover the expenses needed. What they had failed to recognize, Stamp said, was her mother’s same-sex marriage, as well as the caretaking she was performing – her mother was caring for someone with multiple sclerosis.
“It was the first moment [in life] where I was like …wow,” she explains.
Although she was already a junior in high school, Stamp ended up dropping out of high school and getting her GED instead. At 16, in order to make a living, she worked in retail, often off the books.
But, once she had her GED and was ready to apply to college, it was 2008 and the financial crisis had hit.
“My whole family was underwater,” Stamp explains.
But, she also remembers 2008 marked a different time – one of hope: the presidency of Barack Obama. And as she describes it, it was a “message of hope and of change.” So at 20 years old in 2008, she joined the Working Families Party.
In the 10 years since then, Stamp has stayed busy trying to make a difference.
Although she’s no longer in front of the camera, Stamp continues to be a part of the action.At the height of the financial crisis, Stamp took part in Occupy Wall Street– a national movement centered around income inequality and the disparity in the distribution of wealth.
She remembers an event where 750 protestors took over the Brooklyn Bridge, which eventually led to her arrest. “It was something that people were doing and doing with each other because we were upset that the banks crashed and were not held accountable,” Stamp said. “It was just so liberating to be young and putting my body on the line and I haven’t looked back since.”
Beyond her work with the Working Families Party, Stamp is the host of Women Run Campaigns, a podcast about the women behind political campaigns. She is also the co-creator of the Resistance Revival Chorus, as well as the co-founder of The Dream Defenders, a Florida-based non-profit centered around ending police and state brutality. In 2014, the Dream Defenders organized a 31-day-long sit-in at the Florida Capitol, protesting against the acquittal of George Zimmerman.
Today, her activism is a clear manifestation of where she has stood her entire life – at the intersection of multiple identities, stratified by race, culture, and class.
As a woman of color – a woman of both Latinx and African descent – she recognizes the steps she’s made to get here. She recognizes the women in her life, the matriarchal makeup of her family, and thanks the work of her ancestors that helped her accomplish her goals.
She hopes that the Luz Collective can help remind society that the Latinx community isn’t one giant monolith, and that as large and diverse as the Latinx community is, every person who makes up that community is just as diverse: “Having a platform to tell our stories, to show who we are, to give our hot takes on what’s happening in culture and fashion and in politics – it’s super important because there isn’t a space out there as a whole that exists to show the breadth of who we are.”