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Interview with CM Shaun Abreu
By Vionnie Khong
On March, 3, 2022, I had the opportunity to sit down with Council Member Shaun Abreu to learn more about his perspective on the game of chess and on the ideas he has for his district. We talked about a wide range of topics, spanning from chess, politics, his life stories, and the future for his community.
CM Shaun Abreu on Chess
Council Member Abreu grew up playing chess at his first elementary school P.S. 4 and he remembers learning from a Chess in the Schools instructor. He reminisced about those lessons when seeing the demonstration boards that are still used by current instructors. Chess has been a huge part of his childhood, with chess sets being on top of his Christmas list and playing chess with other people when working his first job at the New York Public Library. The skills he picked up from chess and the critical thinking skills have shaped his political career and also his legal career.
CM Shaun Abreu on His Childhood
Shaun is a proud resident of District 7, having been born and raised there. He is very proud of his Dominican Roots and Washington Heights upbringing. Council Member Abreu did not have an easy childhood growing up. He spoke about getting evicted when he was nine years old, his parents separation, and failing fourth grade, all in the same year. Through all of this he relied on chess as an escape from the struggles in his world. He credits the investments in afterschool programs because they shaped his understanding of the world. He would like to remind everyone that there is no success without failure and he is an example of that. Shaun went from getting left back in the fourth grade to graduating from Columbia University and becoming a tenant rights lawyer.
CM Shaun Abreu on his Legal Career
Council Member Abreu is a proud alum of Columbia University and Tulane Law School. Before entering politics, he was a tenant rights lawyer with the New York Legal Assistance Group. He was influenced to enter this sector of law because of his experiences of being evicted as a child. During our conversation he explained that it was the work of Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine that allowed people to have representation in tenant court. This has decreased evictions by over 84 percent. He is especially proud that through all of his cases, family has never been evicted. CM Abreu emphasized that the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the existing tenant problems.
CM Shaun Abreu On Politics
The change from law to politics has been a challenge to Councilmember Abreu but he says that it was a step that he wanted to take to change his community and city for the better. Abreu says that he has the ability to increase the number of people these policies are going to affect and the scale of his impacts. As a tenant attorney, he was only dealing with each family and landlord at a time, but when dealing with politics, each policy affects thousands of people. This means that there is a need to more critically think out his decisions. He credits chess for helping him early on with his critical thinking skills. Council Member Abreu feels extremely prepared to be serving members of district seven and he also acknowledges his team that is always ready to help him with his needs.
CM Shaun Abreu on His Future Plans
Now that Council Member Abreu has been elected to serve for District 7, he is ready to start helping students and families as soon as possible. His main goals are to create initiatives to help children succeed, initiatives to help his community thrive and to create affordable housing for low income families. He points to Chess in the Schools as an organization that can help serve his community with programs to help instill critical thinking skills to children of all ages. He would also like to add more afterschool programs into his communities’ schools and access for students to have the opportunity to enrich themselves. The Council Member also talked about his personal experiences when describing his mental health initiative. He was diagnosed with ADHD when he was an adult. While hoping that no one else has to go through that situation, he wants to add resources into his community. In this program, people would be able to seek resources for treatment and diagnosis. He also talked about affordable housing for families. He said that low income families should be able to live in NYC and without fear of eviction. Building low-income housing would help families find stable housing and also improve quality of life. Council Member Abreu acknowledges how we have failed many communities of color so it is now time to address it and find solutions.