All posts by Annabel Otts

Annabel Otts

Voices: Parents Should Not Have to Make Public Health Decisions!!

Imagine me shouting into the abyss: Parents Should Not Have to Make Public Health Decisions!! We pay people to do this. Our tax dollars PAY for public health experts at the county, state, and federal level. Our tax dollars are supposed to PAY for equitable public education. Yet because we’d rather fund billionaires, oil wars, shopping malls, luxury housing complexes, and racist abusive police; and because we choose to fund some school districts and not others, PARENTS are left to scramble to figure out not only what’s best for our kids, but what is best (or rather what’s less terrible) for the collective.

In particular, parents in impoverished districts like Syracuse have to decide whether to send our kids to school during a pandemic, when it is clear we don’t have the funding to do what’s required to make it safe. Long before school buildings closed in March, Governor Andrew Cuomo owed SCSD approximately $4.1 Billion in foundation aid, and our highest court ruled the state has failed to provide the “sound basic” education Syracuse children are entitled to under the Constitution. Buildings were already crowded and understaffed, with insufficient supports to serve youth from the poorest Black and Hispanic neighborhoods in the country, and now Cuomo has told us to expect another 20% cut in funding.

My timeline is full of Syracuse teachers who are also shouting into the abyss, telling us there’s no way to educate our kids in these buildings and do what’s required to stop the disease from spreading. They are in an impossible situation, forced to decide between their health and their job, which is often their calling in life. Many of them are also parents. They want to be there for their students but they also don’t want to risk lives.

Many families rely on schools to educate and keep their children safe and fed while they work essential jobs with no remote option, and they are not set up to homeschool or hire private tutors to supervise distance learning in “pods” with other families. These duties often fall on older siblings, who themselves may be essential workers while also attending virtual school.

Parents who “can” make the “choice” to keep children home are having to consider whether we should do so for the collective good, so in-person learning can prioritize the children of essential workers whose families will starve or become homeless without their jobs, and kids with disabilities who need in-person services. At the same time, pulling privileged kids will further segregate our communities, and remove parents who have the time and privilege to advocate for better conditions from the public system at a time when they are needed most.

Why is this all on our shoulders? Where are our leaders? Who are we going to replace them with? Imagine if we had a Secretary of Education who surrounded herself with the brightest minds and latest research, who created a workable solution and channeled funding where it is most needed, so individual parents, teachers, and school districts across the country didn’t have to waste valuable time, energy, and resources figuring out the same problems all at once? I am happy to pay my share of taxes. I’m even willing to pay higher taxes IF those funds actually provide systems that work.

I don’t expect perfection, but we could do a whole lot better than this if there wasn’t so much riding on our school systems that has nothing to do with education, if we truly valued education, if we truly valued all lives, etc. We can find a way to equitably educate everyone, feed everyone, control disease spread, make sure folks are safely housed and have basic healthcare. We have the knowledge, ability, and wealth to do so. We just don’t want to.

Annabel Hine Otts

Mother of lead-poisoned toddlers says landlord threatened eviction following Onondaga County Legislature testimony. City sues over chronic code violations.

On the afternoon of May 7, Syracuse mother and former candidate for Syracuse Board of Education Darlene Medley testified before the Onondaga County Legislature for better protection against lead poisoning for Syracuse children. Medley took the podium during the public comment period of the monthly legislative session to share how Syracuse’s lead crisis has personally affected her family since her two youngest children were lead poisoned in the home she rents from MRT Properties, LLC. She also challenged lawmakers to hold landlords accountable, as she felt her landlord had not been.

Later that evening as Medley walked to the grocery store, she noticed MRT Properties’ co-owner Tom Voumard’s white late model Dodge 2500 pickup rounding the corner near her Pond Street residence. As Medley returned home a little while later, Voumard appeared again, she said.

“As soon as my feet hit the driveway, my landlord’s truck pulled in right behind me,” Medley said. “He was so close I could feel the light from his headlights on the back of my legs. He said we needed to have a talk.” Medley quickened her pace and climbed her crumbling front steps as Voumard called her name repeatedly, she said. “I told him ‘No, I don’t think we have anything to talk about.’ Never once did he even knock on the door to apologize for my twins contracting lead from his property. I had nothing to say to him.”

Medley said Voumard turned red, yelling about how she had lied to reporters and to the legislature about her situation. He told her his “friends downtown” informed him about her testimony earlier that afternoon, and then he threatened to evict her, Medley said. “He said he could have me and my family put out in a matter of 1.5 seconds,” Medley said. Voumard had attempted to evict Medley twice before, according to public records, but each time the court ruled in her favor.

According to court documents, Voumard filed to evict 68 times in 2018, in relation to 37 Syracuse properties. “That is an extraordinarily high number of evictions for that number of properties,” said Sally Santangelo, Executive Director of CNY Fair Housing, a non-profit organization working to eliminate housing discrimination in Central and Northern New York.

Attempted evictions for 38 Syracuse rental properties associated with Tom Voumard, compiled from a list of cases obtained from the Syracuse City Court Clerk

Shortly after we obtained a list of cases involving Voumard, the New York Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019 went into effect, prohibiting further access to eviction records for anyone who’s not a party in a particular case. The same law also increases protections against retaliatory evictions for tenants.

Stories like Medley’s are not new. Syracuse has been having conversations about poor housing conditions, lead poisoning, and landlord accountability for decades. The featured photo in a 1982 front page Syracuse Post-Standard article entitled Profit-Driven Landlords Scar The City, Its Distressed Poor, depict another Syracuse mother named Darlene — Darlene Lawrence — and her then-young son Mike on their own crumbling front porch on Gifford Street. A second photo shows Mike playing under their own falling kitchen ceiling, just as Medley’s children do in her Pond Street home.

While every passing year brings new initiatives, policies, and resources to help solve these issues, housing conditions on the whole remain substandard in Syracuse’s poorest neighborhoods, as they have been for generations. The health and safety of tenants, especially children, continue to be threatened as families bounce from one dilapidated home to the next.

The perils of lead have been known for more than 40 years and yet Syracuse children, disproportionately from our most vulnerable populations, continue to be poisoned and landlords continue to profit from the properties that poison them. Despite a recent tenant-friendly shift in state housing laws, the power relationship between tenants living in extreme poverty and the landlords who collect their rent is wholly out of balance, often leaving tenants without a safety net or resources to fight injustice. Intimidation, real or implied, physical or material, is an effective means of maintaining that power dynamic.

37 YEARS AGO OR TODAY? This October 25, 1982 Syracuse Post-Standard article details how the city’s depressed housing stock hurts families, and how little power low-income tenants have to improve living conditions, despite multi-pronged efforts by the local government to hold landlords accountable.

“Tenants must be safe from retribution if they demand habitability, just as landlords must be able to evict problem renters,” said Shadia Tadros, an attorney who has represented both landlords and tenants in Syracuse housing court, in an email. “The court system must be used as a vessel to resolve disputes in a fair and just manner. It cannot and should not be used as a tool to intimidate and coerce people, especially those of lesser means, into subordination. Tenants have the constitutional right of free speech and the moral obligation to speak out about inhumane living conditions, neither of which are diminished by a landlord’s desire to stay under the radar. Threatening and intimidation are forms of harassment and illegal.”

Voumard and his business partner Rob Smith were reached by phone in September. During that call, Voumard denied Medley’s account of the May 7 interaction, stating he came to Medley’s home to “serve her for nonpayment of rent,” after which he left without speaking to her, and without knowledge she had testified before the legislature earlier that day.

Medley’s case record with the Onondaga County Department of Social Services shows her rent was paid in full and on time during the months leading up to the alleged May 7 confrontation. Also, New York State law prohibits landlords from personally serving court papers regarding their own property. It also prohibits landlords from harassing, retaliating against, or seeking to evict tenants solely because they make good faith complaints to a government agency about violations of any health or safety laws.

During a follow-up interview, Voumard contradicted his earlier account, stating he was at the residence on May 7 for an unrelated matter, not to serve Medley. He also admitted a reporter had contacted him about two hours earlier regarding Medley’s testimony before the legislature, which he characterized as “disgusting,” and said he and Medley had indeed exchanged words. Voumard said he remained 60 feet away from Medley during this encounter.

The backstory

Darlene Medley’s twins Rashad and Devon stand on the front porch of the Pond Street property where they contracted lead poisoning. With no better options, the family continues to live in the home today. Although the structure’s 18 confirmed lead hazards were painted over, Medley worries the toxin is always lurking.

Medley’s saga with lead began in November 2018, when her two youngest children were flagged with elevated blood lead levels during a routine screening by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) consider blood lead levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) concerning, and the Onondaga County Health Department (OCHD) initiates public health actions at that threshold, as required by the state. Medley’s twin sons Devon and Rashad tested at 12 µg/dL and 22 µg/dL, respectively. They were two years old at the time.

“When I found out my babies were poisoned, I felt depressed and stressed,” Medley said. “But most of all, I felt like I failed as a mom, and didn’t protect my babies properly.” When Catholic Charities helped place Medley and her children in the Pond Street home after her previous rental on Rockland Avenue was declared unfit for habitation, she believed her living situation was improving,. However her children’s blood lead levels were normal prior to the move, she said.

The primary cause for lead poisoning in Syracuse is aging housing stock with chipping or peeling lead-based paint. Devon and Rashad’s elevated test result triggered an OCHD environmental risk assessment, also known as a lead inspection, to determine the source of exposure. Inspectors use specialized equipment to test for lead in intact and non-intact paint in the child’s environment.

According to public records maintained by the Syracuse Department of Code Enforcement, the Pond Street property failed a lead inspection on November 20, 2018. On December 17, OCHD identified lead hazards on painted surfaces in 17 areas throughout the interior of the home and one exterior area. A December 20 OCHD letter ordered MRT properties to remediate interior hazards by February 5 and exterior hazards by June 1, according to records obtained from Onondaga County through the Freedom of Information Act request.

On February 19, OCHD posted a summons addressed to MRT Properties on Medley’s front door, charging the landlord with failure to comply with its orders to remediate the lead that was poisoning Medley’s children.

Darlene Medley’s rented Pond Street home, where she lives with the youngest seven of her nine children.

Voumard and Smith say they did everything required by the OCHD and completed the work in a timely manner. They blame the delay on Medley for being unavailable when workers came to fix the problem. Medley said she arranged multiple appointments, only for workers to show up late or not at all, or arrive at other times without notice.

During an interview, Voumard offered to share documentation of repairs as well as his communications with OCHD regarding Medley’s home and another lead-affected property Voumard owns at 204 Slocum Avenue. As of this printing we have not received that documentation, and subsequent calls and emails have not been returned.

As directed by OCHD lead specialists, Medley says she scrubbed every wall in the house from top to bottom with soapy water to reduce lead dust in her home. Eventually, a maintenance worker from MRT Properties painted over the effected areas with encapsulating paint, a process that took about three hours, Medley said.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) rule requires that renovations be done by employees certified by the EPA to follow lead-safe work practices. Voumard admitted the maintenance worker who performed repairs on Medley’s home did not have the required training. Voumard and Smith said they were unaware of the EPA RRP rule. However, Medley recalls OCHD lead specialists informing the landlords of this requirement in person, and the December 20 letter stated this rule and provided detailed resources related to the rule.

On March 22, four months after Rashad and Devon tested high for lead, the property passed inspection. But the damage had been done. When Medley spoke to the legislature on May 7, she discussed some of the neurological changes she has observed in her toddlers.

Before the exposure, she said Rashad “would sit down and have a full conversation with you, to the point where you could understand every word that comes out of his mouth. Now, he’s starting to stutter and stammer all over his words. The younger one–” Medley’s voice broke and tears filled her eyes when she began to talk about Devon. “The younger one is becoming very violent,” she said.

Medley said the twins have also lost their appetites. In the past, she always tried to provide nutritious foods as much as possible. But now she finds herself offering them junk food out of desperation, just to get calories into their bodies. “These symptoms are quite consistent with lead intoxication,” said Dr. James Tucker, a primary care physician with 46 years experience practicing family medicine in Syracuse.

Lead is a neurotoxin that can affect nearly every system in the body. There’s no known safe level of exposure, no obvious immediate symptoms, and damage is believed to be irreversible. Children exposed to lead can experience physical and psychological effects such as aggression, hyperactivity, nausea, stomach aches, lethargy, and anemia. Lead poisoning is linked to academic and behavioral problems in school, and children exposed to lead are more likely to need special education and other services and interventions.

Studies show adults who were exposed as children can exhibit decreased brain volume, especially in the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with fine motor and executive functioning skills like awareness, impulse control, verbal reasoning, emotional regulation, ability to pay attention, and mental flexibility. Childhood lead exposure is linked to reduced lifetime earning potential and increased crime and incarceration, according to numerous studies.

Urging Lawmakers to Act

Medley finished her statement to the legislature by urging lawmakers to do more to help families in her position. “This is about simply protecting children,” she said. “And that is not what has happened. My children were not protected. There’s no protection for a tenant. There’s no protection for these babies.”

Medley pointed to statistics that show poor neighborhoods in Syracuse have higher lead poisoning rates than Flint, Michigan did at the height of that city’s water crisis. 10.4 percent of Syracuse children tested high (above 5 µg/dL) for lead in 2018, which is more than triple the national average, and twice that of Flint when its water source was tainted. In census tracts with highly concentrated poverty like Darlene’s, that number can be even higher. In some Syracuse neighborhoods, as many as 20-30 percent of children are testing high for lead, annually. On average, there are 680 children poisoned by lead in Syracuse every year.

“And in all honesty, the only reason we’re not getting coverage is because Flint has it in the water,” Medley said. “But if you look at it, our government is allowing our landlords to poison our children. What’s it going to have to take? Enough is enough.”

Percentage of Children Tested with Elevated Blood Lead Levels

At a recent “Lead Town Hall” event hosted by OCHD’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, program coordinator Debra Lewis said the percentage of children with elevated blood lead levels is slowly decreasing in Onondaga County, but acknowledged there’s still work to be done. Lewis said in addition to complaint-driven intervention, the Lead Program is working on targeted efforts in zip codes with the highest incidence of lead poisoning.

Reached by phone for comment, Onondaga County Legislator Miles Bottrill said he found Medley’s May 7 testimony compelling and felt her story helped propel county officials to act. Less than two weeks after Medley addressed the legislature, County Executive Ryan McMahon announced a new policy stopping landlords from collecting public assistance payments when lead contamination is found in one of their properties. During the four months between the time lead was found in Medley’s home and when the property passed OCHD inspection, MRT Properties was paid $4,400 in Section 8 rental subsidy payments. Under the new law, it would not have been able to collect that revenue.

In June, the Onondaga County District Attorney’s office announced criminal charges against seven Syracuse landlords for neglecting to remediate lead contamination in their rental properties.

“When you’re a landlord, you have a moral obligation to ensure your properties are clean and safe,” Bottrill said. “I don’t think any tenant should be threatened or feel threatened, particularly if they’re trying to improve the quality of their living situation, especially if it affects children and safety.”

Bottrill said he saw his share of landlord retaliation when he served on the Syracuse Common Council. “It’s not unusual, but it’s not the norm when it’s taken to that level,” he said, speaking of Medley’s account of the confrontation between her and Voumard. “Darlene has a right to address these issues,” Bottrill said. “People should be able to come to the legislature and speak about an injustice without fear. That’s why we’re there.”

County Halts Blood Lead Testing at WIC Appointments

Misse Ross, a Syracuse activist and Working Families Party candidate running against Bottrill and Democrat Bill Kinne for Onondaga County Legislature, recently took to Facebook Live to criticize OCHD for a recent decision to stop screening children for lead at WIC appointments, a change brought to light by a parent attending a recent lead poisoning film screening and discussion hosted by Legal Services of Central New York, and confirmed by the county via email.

The county cites a trend towards increased testing in the primary care setting, as required by NYS PHL, and decreased clinic-based testing. “​The OCHD supports this trend, as our goal is for every child to have a medical home in which comprehensive care can be provided, including lead testing,” the statement said.

Medley believes that if Devon and Rashad had not been tested at WIC, their lead poisoning may never have been discovered. WIC is a crucial point of contact between families living in high-poverty areas, who are more likely to be affected by lead, Ross explained. “We just shot ourselves in both feet by cutting off testing,” she said. “We finally have the funding to remediate these houses and get things going, and now we’ve lost the testing piece. The testing at WIC is vital.”

OCHD said WIC program staff work to identify any barriers to testing for individual families. Staff can then refer families to the Lead Program, which works with parents and healthcare providers to ensure testing. Ross feels the policy change itself indicates a lack of understanding of the barriers many families face, and overcomplicates the process. She believes children will fall through the cracks because families living in extreme poverty are less likely to consistently access comprehensive healthcare. Not all doctors do the required testing, she added. And even if they do, she worries  what may be missed by only testing at ages one and two, as required by law. WIC formerly tested children regularly, up to age five.

Newly formed Syracuse Tenants Union hopes to build tenant power

Palmer Harvey is a real estate agent and housing advocate with the Southside sector of Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today (TNT). Harvey and others are working to build a union for Syracuse tenants to help address some of the issues she feels are currently not being addressed by the systems in place. “We have a lot of tenants falling through the cracks, and it doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

Darlene Medley prepares breakfast for her kids, while talking to lead activists in her Pond Street kitchen, in July.

What stands out most to Harvey about Medley’s case is “how shocking it is that someone, the landlord, property manager, anyone, could not feel something for those kids, and not offer something or even say I’m sorry,” she said. “That tells me you’ve been doing this for quite some time, when you treat somebody like they’re nothing, and all you see is a dollar. [Lead poisoning] is a lifelong problem, it’s not just a tetanus shot. You can afford to [prevent lead poisoning], you just don’t want to.”

Syracuse Tenant Union (STU) is advocating for updates in the city’s rental registry, including required inspections prior to move in. “If you’re running a restaurant, you have food safety come in and inspect,” Harvey said. “Why is it not the same thing?”

“Currently, the rental registry law demands that properties used as rentals are designated as such and undergo a preliminary inspection, although interior inspections are still voluntary,” Tadros explained via email. “Improving the housing stock benefits everyone, tenants and neighbors. If the safety of renters is not reason enough to act, losing money from already strapped homeowners should be cause to care. A blighted or dangerous rental property reduces property values and discourages families from buying properties in the neighborhood. One bad tenant or one bad property owner can accelerate the decline for the entire block and so on.”

The Big Picture

MRT Properties, LLC owns six rental houses in the City of Syracuse, including the four-unit property where Medley lives. Voumard and Smith also co-own two apartment complexes on the city’s Southwest Side, under J-BON, LLC. At the time of this printing, there are roughly 40 additional known properties Voumard owns under a handful of business names and partnerships, including MTH Properties, Cathedral Gardens Properties, Voumard Rental Properties, All Phase Property Management, and Voumard Associates.

The map above shows all known Syracuse rental properties associated with Voumard, including the ones owned jointly by Smith and Voumard. Click on individual house icons to view each address, purchase price, purchase date, estimated number of units, and a Google Street View image of the property.

It’s common for landlords to use the LLC business structure, which shields them from personal liability and can also help them maintain anonymity. “It’s a cozy way to insulate yourself,” said Bottrill. While perfectly legal, this practice can make it challenging to track landlords and get the full picture of their impact on the community.

“It is very difficult to hold someone accountable if you don’t even know who that individual is,” said Santangelo. “This practice can be very problematic, not only for an individual tenant, but for anyone trying to link multiple properties when they’re sheltered under individual LLCs, it can be very challenging.”

Among Voumard’s holdings are his 3,000 square foot waterfront home in a Syracuse suburb and four properties connected with Industrial Color Labs, founded by Voumard’s father and currently managed by his sister. A former location for Industrial Color Labs’ main office in East Syracuse serves as storage for Voumard’s rental business and family boats, he said.

Voumard owns several commercial and residential properties in the suburbs of Phoenix, Salina, Solvay, and Clay, and a total of 37 are rentals in the City of Syracuse, concentrated primarily in the city’s Northside and Westside neighborhoods. He recently expanded to Utica, purchasing a 98,774-square-foot apartment building comprised of 92 rental units at 1506 Whitesboro Street for $950,000.

According to public records obtained from the Onondaga County Real Property Tax Service, the average purchase price of the 23 one and two-family houses Voumard owns is $18,726. His 12 larger four through 10-unit apartment buildings were purchased for an average of $67,592. He also owns two larger complexes, with 12 and 23 units.

Two buildings owned by J-BON are listed for sale on Voumard’s Howard Hanna realtor profile webpage citing a “partnership dispute”. The two landlords have “many, many differences,” according to Smith. The listing for 127 South Avenue states “this makes lots of money”, of the 10-unit building. A 23-unit complex at 679 West Onondaga Street, also owned by J-BON, is listed with a rental revenue breakdown, totaling $15,675 per month, or $188,100 annually, which is more than a third of the purchase price, according to public records. .

Code Violations

Kitchen ceiling in Darlene Medley’s Pond Street home.

Many of Voumard’s properties were purchased in poor condition with outstanding code violations, according to our analysis of records in the Syracuse Department of Code Enforcement public database compared with purchase dates listed in the county property tax system. Codes records show a pattern of serious violations and repeated failed inspections in many of Voumard’s Syracuse rental properties– faulty fire alarms and locks; structural damage like collapsed ceilings, broken windows, and holes in the floor; electrical problems like hanging or flickering fixtures and exposed wires; moisture issues like mold, water running down the walls, and rotted holes under sinks; plumbing defects like broken toilets, sewage leaks, and faulty faucets; HVAC issues like lack of heat or heating ducts falling off the wall; chronic pest issues including mice, rats, roaches, maggots, and bedbugs; and building without a proper permit.

Click here to view a compilation of notable complaints, violations, and failed inspections.

This information was compiled from the Codes public database to provide an overview of the general condition of Voumard’s properties. You will see the original complaint description, the number of violations associated with that complaint, and the dates of failed inspections associated with that complaint. Note most of the complaints listed have been resolved to the satisfaction of the Codes officer. The average number of months between the initial complaint and its resolutions is three, with several stretching out into years, and many popping up again after they are closed. The average number of failed inspections is four, and some have up to 10, 11, or 15 failed inspections.

Crumbling front stairs to Darlene Medley’s Pond Street home.

This data has limitations. When a member of the public calls Codes, a description of his or her complaint is entered into the system. Any inspections, violations, and other actions resulting from that complaint are noted. However specific details are not available in the public view. Therefore, violations associated with a complaint may or may not directly correspond with the original description. For example, a tenant may call Codes because a sidewalk is in disrepair. When Codes inspects, it may discover the sidewalk does not violate code, but observe and cite the landlord for several other issues at the property that are not reflected in the original complaint.

Harvey described her impression of the condition of Medley’s Pond Street home, a four-bedroom $1,100 per month “back house” situated behind a three-family residence. “Her steps are broken,” Harvey said. “The railing is broken. You walk into that place, the ceiling in the kitchen looks like it could come down on somebody. I’m looking around like how is this allowable? This is not satisfactory. You put a new floor down, but you didn’t paint the walls? In an old building? I’m confused. We all know every house built before 1978 has a high chance for lead. So her kids have been poisoned. Whose fault is that?”

According to the Codes public database, there are four open code violations associated with a May 13, 2019 complaint filed on these issues. The “comply by” date was June 4, the property has failed five subsequent inspections, and the case has been referred to the city’s legal department.

Hours before this story was published, Codes officer Todd Clark knocked on Medley’s door to conduct a follow-up inspection, just as she was attempting to dispose of five mice that crawled into a jar of peanut butter, she said. According to Medley, Clark noted the use of substandard materials for repairs and structural failures. “Many of the doors are falling off the hinges,” Medley said. “[Clark] was concerned with the kitchen ceiling and the infestation. He said the only reason he’s not shutting the whole building down is because he knows I have a lot of kids and he doesn’t want to displace us right before the holidays, especially after we already went through it last year when our last house was condemned.” When Medley’s previous rental was declared unfit for habitation, she had to stay in a homeless shelter. Her two teen sons were separated from her because the shelter where she was staying does not allow teenagers.

October 22, 2019 screen shot from the Syracuse Department of Code Enforcement online database, showing the current status of violations related to Darlene Medley’s Pond Street home. Click to enlarge.

According to the Codes database, the status of the case associated with Medley’s address was also changed today from “referred to law” to “referred to BAA”, the city’s brand now Bureau of Administrative Adjudication.

The BAA was created as a follow up to many ordinances passed in the City to address problem properties,” explained Tadros, who is an Administrative Law Judge with the BAA, in an email. “It’s set to efficiently adjudicate properties that have outstanding violations that would otherwise be backlogged in City Court.” That backlog of cases has at times been as high as 700-900 cases, said Santangelo, who feels the BAA has the potential to help move things along and give Code Enforcement more enforcement power.

Why doesn’t she just move?

Screen shot of a text message exchange between Darlene Medley and an prospective landlord.

At the end of Bottril’s interview, having expressed concern for the conditions Medley described and a landlord’s duty to provide safe housing, there was one thing the lawmaker could not wrap his brain around. “After all of this, why is she still living in the same place?” It’s a common question many ask in response to a situation like this.

Medley said after the May 7 confrontation with Voumard in her driveway, she wanted to move but was unable to find any suitable options. “I did look at numerous other apartments,” she said. “But they were all run down. A lot of them were worse than what I’m in now.”

“There are thousands of properties that look like [Darlene’s],” said Harvey of Medley’s Pond Street residence. “Based on the homes that STU has been going to and some the eviction interviews I have [conducted], and what I see everyday driving around the city, most of these rentals [are places] no one should be living in. We have a really big challenge on our hands in Syracuse with enforcing code violations.”

The cost of moving is another barrier for tenants hoping to escape poor housing conditions, Harvey said. People often don’t have the means to pay a new security deposit, rental truck fee, or any of the other expenses associated with moving. “Also, it’s hard to find an apartment that is good without paying a high price for it,” she said. “And great apartments usually have a long waiting list.”

Medley also explained that as bad as her experience has been with Voumard, she’s apprehensive about all the unknowns when entering into a relationship with a new landlord. “Yes, he’s a slumlord,” she said of Voumard. “But I didn’t want to take the chance of moving my family into a worse place, not knowing the landlord, having to establish a whole new relationship. It was just too much.”

Many landlords are reluctant to consider a single black mother of seven children, who receives a Section 8 rental subsidy, and despite the new state law prohibiting them from discriminating against tenants based on income source, they still do it, Medley said.

She shared a screenshot from a prospective landlord who had a house available in Mattydale. “Sorry my brother refuses to take [Section 8,] I didn’t want to waste your time,” they said. After Medley responded by informing the landlord of the anti-discrimination law, the response was “Really fuck off. Text me again I’ll call the police. Better wise up, whoever you are. Lose the number.”

“Onondaga County is the 9th most racially and economically segregated county in the nation,” said activist and candidate for County Legislature Misse Ross. “That is in part due to discrimination in the housing market that has gone on for decades. The landlords that rent substandard housing are preying on a group of individuals who are most likely to be discriminated against and least likely to have the resources needed to move. Even if they do move, the problem remains for the next tenant, and there is no guarantee that the next residence won’t have similar problems, especially considering that we have a shortage of affordable housing locally.”

Tenants often bounce around from one dilapidated rental to the next, Harvey said. Census tracts in Syracuse with the highest incidence of childhood lead poisoning also tend to be the same census tracts with the most transience, the most code violations, the highest rates of concentrated poverty, and the largest black and Hispanic communities in Syracuse. It all takes a toll on individuals like Darlene Medley, and on the community as a whole.

As Medley struggles to navigate at the intersection of all these issues as a mother, she continues to speak up, knowing retaliation is a possibility. In addition to the County Legislature, she has also testified before state and city government officials, and spoken to reporters and activist groups working to fight for better housing in Syracuse.

“I hope my story will help educate the community,” Medley said. “Because a lot of people, especially out in the suburbs, tend to think that us people in the city are just sitting around letting our kids walk up to the walls, lick the paint, eat the chipped paint off the walls, or whatever the case is. This is about educating my community and getting them to understand this is a really really serious problem. Our government is allowing our landlords to poison our children, and it’s just not right. You can’t poison children and just get away with it and think everything is okay. This has a direct effect [on my sons] and it hurts my soul. And this landlord, he just thinks it’s okay, and it’s not okay. Because I’m the one that’s going to suffer these consequences at the end of the day. It’s going to be my babies that are going to suffer these consequences. So this is why I’m doing this. Nothing more, nothing less. I don’t want no money out of this, no award, nothing. I just want to wake the community up and get them to understand this is a real crisis that’s going on in our own back yard.”

Addison Simone

Addison Simone (Nottingham, 2019) is earnest and analytical, with a solid work ethic and amiable nature. A young man who approached high school with a clear goal, to prepare for college success, Addison has strategically taken advantage of the many opportunities available to him at Nottingham to move him closer to that goal. The greatest dividends, however, came when he allowed the environment to stretch him in ways he couldn’t have foreseen.

“When I came to high school, I sort of stuck with my friends,” he said. But when Addison found himself in classes full of unfamiliar faces, he was forced to form new connections outside his comfort zone. Participating in sports further expanded his horizons, and he recommends the experience to incoming freshmen. “Get involved in sports because it’s a great way to meet people in the community,” Addison said.

“[In school] there are clicks and groups of people, all separated. Doing sports is a great way to sort of erase those boundaries. Volleyball is a districtwide team, so I got to meet so many new people that I’m friends with now. I’m friends with so many people from so many different backgrounds. It’s awesome. I feel like diversity is a big advantage to grow up with because you get to go into the world knowing all these different cultures and being exposed to it, and already knowing how to adapt to other people’s values. If you’re in a suburban school where it’s majority white and everyone has the same views, you’re not being challenged, you’re not thinking of things differently. In an urban school you have to think of things differently, there’s a wider view of things.”

Addison played volleyball, tennis, soccer, and spike ball during high school. He also participated in Nottingham’s robotics team and drone racing club, worked as a lifeguard in the Syracuse city pools, took part in the National Honor Society, and volunteered in the community through Nottingham Key Club and his church. This fall, Addison began the college career he has worked so hard to prepare for, at the University at Albany, studying homeland security and cyber security

“I’ve always been interested in computer science and the computer hardware field,” Addison said. He built his first computer in eighth grade and has been working towards his college journey ever since. Addison is graduating with 47 college credits from the Syracuse City School District’s partnership with Syracuse University Project Advance (SUPA), which offers college classes to SCSD students free of charge. Addison’s SUPA classes included entrepreneurship, finance, forensics, physics 101 and 102, United States history 101 and 102, and calculus.

Addison also took three SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry courses through the college’s partnership with Nottingham. “I really enjoyed those classes, especially the writing and public speaking classes because you really got to interact with the college,” Addison said. He feels the classes prepared him for college-level writing and presenting, and he also enjoyed traveling to SUNY-ESF’s Newcomb Campus in the Adirondacks to camp and work on his writing.

What drives you and keeps you motivated? “I have two really really great parents, and I wouldn’t have any other parents because they’re always supporting me. They do a really good job at keeping me motivated and on track. They’ll say ‘this is what you need to do,’ but they’ll leave all the work to me.”

What’s your favorite quality about yourself? “The energy I bring to people. I always bring a lot of energy to class and I always brighten up everybody’s day. If I see someone not so happy, I’m gonna talk to them and try to bring a smile to their face.”

Favorite place in Syracuse? Schiller Park by the pool. When I was a lifeguard there, I would go up to my car after work and see the sunset there, and it’s really nice.

Click here to read more We Are Syracuse – SCSD Class of 2019 profiles.

Ana Kreidler-Siwinski

Ana Kreidler-Siwinski

Ana Kreidler-Siwinski (Nottingham, 2019) is a star athlete, scholar, outdoor adventurer, and activist for social justice. As captain of the Syracuse City varsity swim team, Ana was a fierce competitor in the 100 yard butterfly, NYSPHSAA Section III Class A finalist, and state qualifier. Ana also rowed for the city-wide varsity crew team, and they work during the summers as a canoe guide in the Quetico Park and Boundary Waters Canoe Area within Superior National Forest.

It’s no surprise that Ana feels most comfortable in and around the water, and chose to study marine sciences at Stony Brook University. Ana hopes to find a way to use their education to combat climate change and pollution, and is also drawn to wildlife rehabilitation and youth wilderness education. In high school, Ana spendt their spare time playing guitar, participating in the Nottingham chess club, juggling (figuratively and literally), and doing lots and lots of homework.

Above all, Ana feels their greatest accomplishment to date was being part of the student group who organized Syracuse’s March For Our Lives event in 2018. In conjunction with similar demonstrations across the country and in solidarity with the students who survived the school shooting in Parkland, Florida one month prior, several thousand Central New Yorkers marched about a mile from the Everson Museum of Art to the James M. Hanley Federal Building, where Ana and others spoke to the crowd:

“Guns don’t think for themselves, we do, and we have to take responsibility, but we don’t think faster than the time it takes to pull the trigger, and we don’t think faster than a bullet flies, because once that bullet is let loose, there’s no taking back the consequences. Let’s end these unnecessary deaths, and use our voices to end the weak laws that put guns into the hands of the next generation of mass shooters. These are our lives at stake, worth more than rich ignorance or corporate greed, so let’s put our thoughts to actions, for peace.”

Ana was proud that students from the city were able to work together with suburban students to tackle this issue and organize such a powerful event. “It was awesome to see the support,” they said. “Even when something terrible happens, it can bring people together.” Ana’s only regret was inadequate diversity along race and class lines among the organizers. Diversity is Ana’s favorite thing about Nottingham. “I like talking to students and seeing glimpses into their lives, culture, and history,” they said, adding that there’s always more work to do to fully integrate these groups and ensure everyone has a voice.

Ana also co-organized Nottingham’s National Walkout Day event in tandem with similar events across the country, as well as the Town Hall for Our Lives event at Nottingham in 2018.

What advice do you have for future Bulldogs? “It’s not always the smart kids who graduate high school or have a successful life. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. ‘In a gentle way, you can shake the world.’ -Mahatma Gandhi.”

Where does your motivation come from? “I think my motivation comes from small acts of kindness I see in everyday life. It reminds me that people are not necessarily inherently bad, and that I can work to do good, and make a difference.”

What have you overcome to get where you are today? “I don’t think I’ve overcome all my challenges so far in life, rather I’ve always been working hard to be better than the person I was yesterday. Each day I try to learn something new, because regression is as possible as progression.”

Click here to read more We Are Syracuse – SCSD Class of 2019 profiles.

Amirah Downing

Amirah Downing (Nottingham, 2019) is a powerhouse. She’s loyal, self driven, gives a thousand percent to all her endeavors, and will succeed at anything she puts her mind to. Amirah achieved honor roll for every marking period throughout her high school career, and was accepted to the University of Pittsburgh.

As a member of the Nottingham varsity track and field team, Amirah threw a shot put 30 feet, 9 inches and a discus 53 feet, 10 inches. She won first place in shot put at the Syracuse City Track & Field Championships, and seventh in discus. Amirah plays the flute and helped the Nottingham wind ensemble earn the prestigious “Gold” rating from the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) annual adjudication festival.

Of all Amirah’s accomplishments, she’s most proud of her own personal development. “My greatest accomplishment is understanding who I am and what I want in my life, and finally knowing my limits, strengths, and weaknesses,” she said. “I eliminated any negativity or toxic people in my life, and I now know I’m very self-driven and a high achiever.”

But the road hasn’t always been smooth, and Amirah had to walk through fire to get to where she is now. “I used to get bullied,” she said. “I saw a lot of things that a child shouldn’t see.” Amirah fell in with the wrong crowd and began participating in the kinds of behaviors and pastimes they were doing. Some key adults intervened in Amirah’s life, and helped her find her inner strength to channel her energy into achieving her goals and building a future.

Curtis “Tall Bucks” McDowell. Image from McDowell’s Facebook page.

The late Curtis McDowell played a major role in that transformation. McDowell was a Nottingham graduate and local hip hop artist, who worked as a Family Support for Student Success (FSSS) specialist at Nottingham. He passed away suddenly in March of this year, a loss that is felt deeply at school and throughout the community. In his role at Nottingham, McDowell collaborated with students and families struggling with behavior problems and other issues that academic success. He made an impact on Amirah’s life she will never forget.

“Curtis was like a father to me,” she said. “Then he passed, and I still love and miss him. My latest decision was enlisting into the Army National Guard and he helped me realize that if I want something, then get it. He told me to not live for someone else, and I listened to him. Because of him, I came to my decision. He cleared my mind and I never got the chance to tell him thank you for helping me. So I want to say thank you. Thank you for being like a dad to me.”

In August, Amirah went to basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. When she returns, she will work full time in the Guard and attend the University of Pittsburgh.

Favoriite thing about your school: “Staff members who actually care about the kids. The closest staff member to me that impacted my life is Coach Marty, Coach Rodriguez, and Curtis McDowell. Each and every one of them helped me get my life back on track. They gave me advice on what to do and what not to do. Coach Marty is like another father to me. He makes sure that I’m good in school, emotionally, and gives me advice on everything. Thanks, Marty. I love you, coach Marty.”

Favorite class and why: “U.S. History. I learned a lot of hidden topics that most people wouldn’t know. Because of this passion I got a 97 on my Regents.”

Click here to read more We Are Syracuse – SCSD Class of 2019 profiles.

Emmaya Reed

Emmaya Reed (Nottingham, 2019) is a phoenix rising. A violinist who performed with Nottingham’s award-winning advanced band, and an aspiring psychiatric nurse, Emmaya has a talent for the performing arts and a passion for helping people. Emmaya is full of grit and determination and has pushed through every obstacle that tried to sink her in order to find her inner strength and pride as a strong black woman.

As the only violinist in Nottingham’s advanced band, Emmaya helped the ensemble earn the prestigious “Gold” rating from the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) annual adjudication festival. “Emmaya’s work was particularly impressive because as the lone string player in a wind ensemble she had to learn music that was not designed for her instrument,” said instructor Eric Petit-McClure. “She worked really hard to sound like part of our ensemble and blended herself in seamlessly. I enjoyed having her kind, caring, and intense personality in the group. She was never shy to share her ideas and push students around her to be better.“ Emmaya also performed with the Nottingham orchestra and choir, and participated in the drama club.

That kind and caring personality is driving Emmaya toward a career helping others, especially black and brown youth. “They don’t have a safe place,” she said. “I ain’t talking about ‘oh you a little snowflake.’ No, I’m talking about they see this stuff in the streets. They see their friends getting killed. They got PTSD. They need to have someone they can talk to. I want to be one of those people when I grow up who they can talk to, because this stuff is inside of them all the time. I just want to let them know you’re gonna be alright. We’re here for you. You ain’t gotta be alone in this. You ain’t gotta be hard or nothing like that.”

Emmaya is attending Onondaga Community College, and plans to transfer to a four-year school to work towards becoming a psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. She has volunteered at Crouse Hospital and Syracuse VA Medical Center. Emmaya learned first hand how crucial it is to have caring and relatable adults in helping professions. At the age of 13, she lost her mother and she struggled with depression. “It was a hard, hard road from middle school until now,” Emmaya said. She credits her inner strength, a spiritual practice, and a caring teacher who made a powerful impact on her self image for turning her life around.

Mrs. Elliot was one of a small handful of black teachers at Nottingham and created the district’s first African American History curriculum. “She really cares about the people of color youth in the Syracuse schools,” said Emmaya. “Mrs. Elliot taught me just to stop hiding myself. Stop hiding the fact that I talk a certain way, I am a certain way, and to love that part about me, and that it mostly had to do with me accepting I’m just a black woman here in America, and it’s not going to be an easy road. She helped me realize that I’m worth more than I think I am. She helped me be alright with not having my mom in my life, my sexuality, and all of that. I’m comfortable in my skin. I’m comfortable being a black woman, and I’m comfortable being me”

What is your advice to next year’s incoming freshmen? “Get y’all work done! I’m going to keep it real with you, it’s going to get hard, and 10th grade is probably going to be your hardest year. But once you get all that stuff done, your last two years here is going to be a breeze. Don’t get caught up in the moment ‘Oh I’m this type of person’ or ‘I’m that type of person.’ You’re yourself. Be yourself. Be comfortable with who you are, be comfortable with the way you speak. Don’t code switch. Be you. I always learned that the man that knows something knows that he knows nothing at all. You’re always learning.”

Click here to read more We Are Syracuse – SCSD Class of 2019 profiles.

Tysean Canada

Tysean Canada (Nottingham, 2019) is former basketball player from an athletic family who broke the mold to set aside sports and concentrate on academics. In 2018 when he was a junior, Tysean helped take the Nottingham varsity basketball team all the way to the NYSPHSAA Section III Class AA finals, where they lost by only four points. Although Tysean feels this was his greatest high school accomplishment, the 6 foot 5 inch tall athlete chose a different path in his final year of high school, devoting himself to intellectual pursuits.

Along with great success came even greater challenges, and Tysean says junior year was the hardest part of his high school journey. Between three-hour practices and a heavy load of homework, he had a hard time finding balance or maintaining a social life. After some soul searching, Tysean knew he had a difficult choice to make. “In 12th grade I wanted to really focus on school, and make sure I got into all the colleges I wanted to,” he said. In some ways, Tysean wishes he made the decision sooner, and he encourages incoming freshman to take a hard look at their priorities.

“If what you want to do is definitely what you want to do, pursue it 100 percent and put your all into it,” said Tysean. “And also don’t let that take you away from school because school is a key part. I wish I knew that coming in, because then other colleges would’ve probably been on my list, to say the least.”

Tysean’s sacrifice paid off. He was a National Honor Society member and high honor roll student, meaning he maintained a grade point average above 95%. Tysean was also a Le Moyne College Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) scholar, a member of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and a Sigma Beta Club member. He will attend Syracuse University in the fall to study computer engineering.

Stepping back from basketball also helped Tysean work through aspects of his background that he struggled with. “It helped me become more mature and deal with a lot of adversity,” he said. “Everyone has their trials and tribulations, it’s just about how you deal with them. My trial is really my father’s absence, and I kind of just deal with it because my mom is always there for me. She took his role I guess, and I prosper because of it.”

As the baby of a large family, Tysean is very close with his siblings and lights up with pride when he talks about them. “My sister is about to become a doctor,” he said. “My brother is a manager at Hertz right now; my other sister is about to become an English teacher; my other brother works at an engineering firm in Rochester. Basically this life is a blessing, that’s all I can say.”

Favorite thing about your school? “I appreciate this school because it has free SUPA credits. Honestly, what other school could you really go to outside the city schools that has free SUPA credits? You can’t beat that.”

If you could go back and give one piece of advice to yourself on the first day of freshman year, what would you say? “Take all your classes seriously. Colleges care about everything.”

What quality do you love most about yourself? “My courage.”

Click here to read more We Are Syracuse – SCSD Class of 2019 profiles.

WE ARE SYRACUSE: Class of 2019

In this series, get to know some of the many exceptional 2019 Syracuse City School District graduates

Welcome to the second installment of our WE ARE SYRACUSE: Class of 2019 series, where we’ll meet five recent graduates from William Nottingham High School. We began our series with Thomas J. Corcoran High School (scroll down if you missed it) and will continue to bring you all 29 short profiles from the SCSD class of 2019. Once we’ve toured each school, there will be a special edition featuring all 29 of these exceptional young adults, including video interviews. Make sure you like and follow Urban CNY on Facebook for updates…

This is a love letter from one city kid to the next generation of graduates from the Syracuse City Schools. This is a thank you card to all the adults who love, feed, teach, and coach these kids. This is a memo to the naysayers, that our kids are exceptional and that the future is bright and belongs to them. This is a celebration of the diversity and opportunity we have here, and the resilience of our children and community to overcome obstacles and take it all the way to the top. Congratulations to the class of 2019. Thanks for making us proud!

William Nottingham High School

Emmaya Reed

Emmaya is a phoenix rising. A violinist who performed with Nottingham’s award-winning advanced band, and an aspiring psychiatric nurse, Emmaya has a talent for the performing arts and a passion for helping people… read more

Ana Kreidler-SiwinskiAna Kreidler-Siwinski

Ana is a star athlete, scholar, outdoor adventurer, and activist for social justice. As captain of the Syracuse City varsity swim team, Ana was a fierce competitor in the 100 yard butterfly, NYSPHSAA Section III Class A finalist, and state qualifier… read more

Tysean Canada

Tysean is former basketball player from an athletic family who broke the mold to set aside sports and concentrate on academics. In 2018 when he was a junior, Tysean helped take the Nottingham varsity basketball team all the way to the NYSPHSAA Section III Class AA finals… read more

Addison Simone

Addison is earnest and analytical, with a solid work ethic and amiable nature. A young man who approached high school with a clear goal, to prepare for college success, Addison has strategically taken advantage of the many opportunities available to him at Nottingham… read more

Amirah DowningAmirah Downing

Amirah is a powerhouse. She’s loyal, self driven, gives a thousand percent to all her endeavors, and will succeed at anything she puts her mind to. Amirah achieved honor roll for every marking period throughout her high school career… read more

Thomas J. Corcoran High School

Josiah CarnegieJosiah Carnegie

Josiah will be the first man in his family to go to college, and this is what he’s most proud of. He’s looking forward to going on to study nursing at Onondaga Community College in the fall, and says his motivation comes from picturing himself in ten years… read more

Madison Guy

Madison is a true renaissance woman who lights up a room and brings excellence to everything she does. She’s a boxer, runner, scholar, actor, and aspiring nurse with a love for science and history, but all roads lead back to her bass… read more

Ry’Zair Robinson

Ry’Zair is a creative spirit with natural ingenuity, athleticism, and a winning personality. Awarded “Mr. Corcoran Cougar” at Corcoran’s annual Seeds of Peace talent competition for his performance of his original composition “Outside,” Ry’Zair has  a gift for identifying problems in his world and addressing them through art… read more

Lok Bir Chauhun

Lok Bir Chauhan knows education is the key to success, and earns honor roll grades despite having to learn English as a new language at the age of ten. Lok Bir came to the US from Nepal eight years ago, first settling in Albuquerque NM before moving to Syracuse and attending Corcoran… read more

Maggie Sardino

Maggie is an achiever with a desire to reach high places and lift others up along the way. Valedictorian, class vice president, lacrosse and soccer team captain, National Honor Society president, Coronat scholar, and Renée Crown honors student attending Syracuse University in the fall, Maggie’s list of accomplishments is impressive and long. But her drive comes from a desire to make the world more equitable for those who suffer… read more


Ry’Zair Robinson

Ry’Zair Robinson is a creative spirit with natural ingenuity, athleticism, and a winning personality. Awarded “Mr. Corcoran Cougar” at Corcoran’s annual Seeds of Peace talent competition for his performance of his original composition “Outside,” Ry’Zair has  a gift for identifying problems in his world and addressing them through art.

“My first song I ever wrote was spelling out my name,” Ry’Zair said. “I never really liked my name growing up. People used to always pronounce it wrong. People would say ‘Rah-zeer, Razor, Razire’. It was kind of annoying and I just didn’t like it. So my name was the rap I always performed to make sure people would say my name right.”

Other problems aren’t so easy to solve. Ry’Zair’s award-winning song “Outside” chronicles the dark realities of living in a community where gun violence complicates the simplest of childhood freedoms, like playing outside with friends: ”Mama don’t want us going outside/ Too many villains people killing I ain’t trying to die.”

Backed by a complex multidimensional beat Ry’Zair composed from scratch on his computer, “Outside” gives voice to the trauma of losing peers in the streets and forgoing friendships to stay out of harm’s way. It also speaks to Ry’Zair’s personal strength and fortitude as a young artist finding his way through: “I’m just picking up the mic ‘cause music gonna change my life/ I want to make it past 25 I don’t want to die.”

Ry’Zair also performed this song in front of students from several schools, Mayor Ben Walsh, and coordinators from the Good Life Foundation, as part of the Stop the Violence peace rally at Clary Middle School in May.

"outside" – A Song Written And Produced by Me (Let Me Know What Y'all Think)sc – ryzairsnaps IG – @ryzair#share#315

Posted by Ry Suh on Monday, March 18, 2019


Ry’Zair also creates wildly funny comedy videos, where he edits together multiple camera angles, allowing him to play all characters in a situation. He bounces ideas off a lifelong group of friends who make similar videos and promote one another’s YouTube channels. “I give them my output, they give me input,” he said.

On the field, Ry’Zair is a formidable tackle, helping to propel the Corcoran varsity football team to some big wins. He has also participated in Corcoran’s wrestling and track and field teams. Ry’Zair can throw the 12 pound shot put an impressive 41 feet, 3.5 inches, and discus more than 96 feet.

Ry’Zair plans to attend Onondaga Community College in the fall and then transfer to a four year school to study graphic design and sound engineering.

His senior quote and advice to incoming freshman is “U.G.L.Y.” which stands for U Gotta Love Yourself. “Happiness comes from loving yourself no matter what,” he said. However Ry’Zair admits he often focuses on others’ happiness first. He’s a good friend who goes the extra mile to make sure his peers are okay. Ry’Zair never takes “I’m fine” at face value, when he knows it’s not true. Instead he will sit down next to his friend and ask them again via text message, and they will often open up. “You gotta check on other people and make sure they’re okay,” he said. “Sometimes it takes a minute.”

Favorite spot in your school? “The auditorium.”

What have you overcome to get where you are today? “People’s opinion.”

Favorite class and why? “Piano. I like playing piano.”

What quality do you love most about yourself? “I have a great personality.”

Click here to read more We Are Syracuse – SCSD Class of 2019 profiles.

Lok Bir Chauhan

Lok Bir Chauhan knows education is the key to success, and earns honor roll grades despite having to learn English as a new language at the age of ten.

Lok Bir came to the US from Nepal eight years ago, first settling in Albuquerque NM before moving to Syracuse and attending Corcoran. On January 30, 2019, he was one of 107 New Americans sworn in as a US Citizen at the Everson Museum of Art.

“Where I come from there’s not much education,” Lok Bir said. “They don’t get opportunities. It’s a poor kind of place. Coming here and getting that education means a lot.” Focused and driven, Lok Bir has seized every opportunity to improve his studies, pushing himself to take difficult courses in subject areas where he feels he needs improvement, staying after school for extra help, and drawing motivation from other high achievers.

Lok Bir will be the first member of his family to go to college, and plans to study business administration at Onondaga Community College in the fall. He hopes to be successful so he can inspire the next generation to push through their challenges and reach for their dreams. “I want to inspire them to be like me,” he sad. “Better than me.”

Lok Bir plays soccer, cricket, and watches YouTube videos for fun, and his favorite place in Syracuse is downtown.

What are you most proud of? “I’m proud of being a student at Corcoran High School.”

What advice to you have for incoming freshman at Corcoran? “Spend your time wisely. Make good decisions. Choose the right path for you. Go outside your comfort zone, That’s where you will find your interest.”

Click here to read more We Are Syracuse – SCSD Class of 2019 profiles.