Class of 2009
Ischia Bravo was forced to drop out of high school due to her family’s circumstances. However, the opportunities provided by Hostos allowed her to complete her GED and associate degree and prepared her to obtain her bachelor’s in public administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Ms. Bravo has been a public servant for the past 16 years, focusing on addressing the inequities that shaped her childhood and the lives of so many of her neighbors in the South Bronx community. She worked for Congressman José Serrano’s Office, State Senator Serrano’s Office and was Executive Director of the Bronx Democratic County Committee before running for her first elected office in 2016. She currently serves as the district manager for Bronx Community Board 7, the only woman of color on the board, and is a candidate for New York City Community Council District 15. This year, she was honored by the Hostos Office of Alumni Relations and the Division of Institutional Advancement at the third annual Alma Matters Awards.
The following interview excerpts have been edited for length and clarity.
Q & A
What experiences at Hostos prepared you to be successful?
Everything! Hostos was a unique experience for me. Because I didn’t finish high school, the transition to college was very scary. I had to take a lot of remedial courses, and that was the biggest challenge I faced. I used to have to go to my math class then run to tutoring right after in order to help myself with my remedial needs, but I was able to overcome that because I believed that I could do this. When I got to Hostos, everyone made me feel welcomed, and, with that support, I was able to transition into college courses easily.
There are so many people at Hostos who helped me to be successful. I owe so much to my career counselor, Graciano Mátos. He helped me through my application process, and everything you could possibly imagine, creating this comfort for someone who was not familiar with the process. Another person who really held my hand through my time at Hostos was Sandra Ruíz. At that time, she was the chief of staff to then President Dr. Dolores Fernández. These are two individuals who saw an immense amount of talent in me and walked me through the steps toward my current career.
I became student body president around 2003, and I was president for about a year. I worked very closely with the director of government and public relations at the time, Carlos Hargraves, so I got to experience what it was like to lobby for capital projects on behalf of a community college; that experience completely changed my life. I went up to Albany to lobby the state assembly and state senate delegations for funding for the radiology, nursing, and dental hygiene departments, three amazing technical programs that Hostos was expanding at the time. I learned that process, so that was definitely the experience that molded me to become a public servant. Learning the power of my voice and advocacy took me down the road I have been on for the last 16 years.
Who are you inspired by, and what are your goals moving forward?
I hope you've heard of Shirley Chisholm, [the first black woman elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives]. She is someone who I have admired as I have grown in public service. She wanted her people to be represented, and she fought hard. She made sure that they were counted during the census, and she professed the slogan that I very much live by, “Unbought and unbossed.” I want to be just like her.
My inspiration comes from my kids and the inequities that we face here in the Bronx. I’m not going to stop until we get the parity we deserve. That is my drive every morning when I wake up. When something gets me upset, that is what keeps me going. When I see that my kids’ future is not as bright as it should be, that's what pushes me.
I am currently a City Council candidate to represent District 15 – a district that I was born and raised in. My goal is to make sure that those closest to the pain are the ones closest to the power. For too long, we have been served by elected officials who have never experienced the same issues as their constituents. This is why we continue to lack representation; we continue to lag behind the other boroughs. Enough is enough. My goal, ultimately, is to make sure that District 15, and all Bronx districts, have the representation they need – they deserve – from someone who understands the issues they are facing.
What advice would you give to a current student to help them be successful, especially in light of all the uncertainties they face this year?
Remember that your beginnings do not define you. You may currently see some things as mistakes, but they are really learning experiences. I used to feel that having a GED defined me. I was embarrassed about it for quite some time and called it a mistake, but now, I realize that it was a life experience.
For many of us, what the pandemic really did was highlight existing problems. The biggest thing that I can tell students right now is to make sure that you fight hard for what you need and deserve. Work with the College administration and the student government elected body to make sure that your voices are being heard.
I became a public servant because staying quiet is not an option. Be the loudest person in the room. Be the student in the front raising your hand, because others had the same question but were too afraid to ask. Become your biggest advocate. Do it for yourself; do it for generations to come; do it for the person sitting next to you. Never be a victim of your circumstance; be a champion of your experiences.