Mayor de Blasio has appointed a community organizer who got his start working with clergy in the Bronx to lead a new citywide Clergy Advisory Council.
Jonathan Soto, 30, a senior community liaison in the mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, will be guiding the new citywide clergy coalition.
This comes after working extensively in the borough as policy director with the Bronx Clergy Roundtable and as the leader of Bronx Long Term Recovery Group, an organization seeking to empower affected communities to recover from Hurricane Sandy.
The Civil Rights Movement and the philosophy of Martin Luther King Jr. informs his social justice philosophy, he said, adding that he believes this new position is an opportunity to address the specific needs of individual New Yorkers, as well as systemic issues through shaping public policy.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to work with diverse faith leaders and communities, as well as partners citywide on crucial issues for our city,” he said. “I look forward to working with the new Clergy Advisory Council to build an important and effective bridge between city government and residents.”
Soto noted that CAC, comprised of 53 members from pretty much every faith and ethnic group that comprises the city, would seek to reach out to the outer boroughs.
“This administration has been very explicit about reaching out to the outer boroughs and traditionally underrepresented communities,” he said. “So, that is going to be one of my main tasks; and my social justice theology really kind of frames that constituent driven approach we have taken.”
The CAC seeks to establish a direct line of communication between local faith leaders in all boroughs and City Hall.
One of the first conditions the coalition will address is that of homelessness, said Soto.
Soto spoke of the way he sees clergy help homeless people and those in need, providing a window into his ideas about the work of religious leaders.
“What has always caught my eye is when they approach somebody in need they don’t just give them a solution for the afterlife,” he said. “Their concern is (also) about their present circumstances: whether they are sick, hungry or in need of shelter.”
All faith leaders address the spiritual and earthly needs of their congregations, he said. His parents were ministers and missionaries, he also said.
When he was at the Bronx Clergy Roundtable, he worked to establish a mentoring program for young people and improve community and police relations through programming, he said.
He assisted BCR on various organizing programs.
Soto said he discovered the BCR while working for a healthcare company shortly after his graduation from Fordham University, when he attended a forum on police and community relations.
In a statement, Mayor de Blasio said that Soto had been brought on as senior liaison to facilitate the administration’s engagement with religious communities.
“A seasoned and inspired community leader and activist, I’m confident that Jonathan will bring us closer to communities of faith to ensure that New Yorkers can provide essential feedback and benefit from what our city has to offer,” stated the mayor.
Soto is expected to graduate from Brooklyn Law School in 2016.