Youth Educator Haydil Henriquez '14 on DreamYard Prep
The New Yorker: Bronx Dreams
Haydil Henriquez ['14] became a DreamYard kid in eighth grade. Though she was her class’s valedictorian at Middle School 390, she got into none of the high schools she applied to. That news, given to her and twenty-six other unfortunate eighth graders by their middle-school principal during an assembly just for them, reduced her to tears. The next part of the assembly, a presentation by [Jason] Duchin and [Tim] Lord and Rod Bowen, the incoming principal of DreamYard Prep, revived her. As they described the new high school that would open in the fall, she felt she had been rescued. She remembers how the circles of sweat under the men’s arms grew on that hot May afternoon, and how Bowen’s dreadlocks made shadows in the light from the projector. “That was the beginning of the journey I’m still on,” she says.
She applied to DreamYard Prep, got in, and showed up early the first day, before any other student. Henriquez is a vivid young woman with dark eyes and wisps of brown hair around her face. She still has the expectant and hopeful look of that person who is the first one to show up.
“I was born in Manhattan because my parents didn’t trust the hospitals in the Bronx,” she told me one morning at the center. “They both came from the Dominican Republic, but they met here. They didn’t really like the Bronx, but they never lived anywhere else. My father was a cabdriver and my mom works in restaurants, and I have three sisters, two older and one younger. When I was ten, we moved to the projects—the Melrose Houses, on East 153rd Street. Public housing had negative connotations for my parents, but it was what they could afford. Because of their preconceived notions, they wouldn’t let us kids do very much outside. I spent a lot of time staying alone and reading. I was really shy, but I got over that by being on the poetry-slam team in high school. I became almost a different person. I did literally every single extracurricular activity that was offered at DY Prep. It’s almost embarrassing how much I loved my high school.”
Duchin and Lord saw her at poetry competitions and other events, helped her with scholarship money for a summer exchange program, and, in return, asked her to be a student representative on DreamYard’s board. When she was looking for colleges, Swarthmore’s name came up. She had never heard of it, but a fellow board member who had gone there encouraged her application. She was accepted, with a substantial scholarship. She could not believe the campus, which appeared to her like a huge garden with labels on everything. The fact that Swarthmore was in a suburb of Philadelphia and just a three-hour drive away made the transition from home easier.
She graduated in 2014 with a major in education and psychology and a minor in Latin-American studies. By then, she had traveled in Italy, co-managed a counseling program that she had helped develop for teenagers in Bogotá, Colombia, and thought she might work in agriculture and natural medicine in the Dominican Republic. In the end, she interviewed for a position with DreamYard.
“When they offered me a job running youth programs at the center, I decided to move back to the same apartment in the Melrose Houses that we moved to when I was ten,” she said. “I wanted to be in my community again. Now I’m even in my old bedroom. My parents were more critical of the projects than they should have been, but it was also worse back then. There was a man on my floor who I was actually afraid of. And he’s still there, in the same apartment. He used to be addicted to substances but now he’s clean, trying to set a better example for his two sons who have become incarcerated. He and I get along now, say hello in the hallway. People see me when I go shopping and they recognize me and say, ‘You graduated high school, you graduated college, and you came back?’ I want to show the kids I work with that someone like themselves can make a good life here.”
Read the full article at The New Yorker.
Henriquez graduated from Swarthmore with a special major in psychology and educational studies and a minor in Latin American studies. While at Swarthmore, she received the Janice Bond Senior Award for excellence in Latin American studies and was the student speaker at Last Collection.