As far back as Justin Westbrook-Lowery can remember, his mother would take him to the polls with her every election day. When he was four years old, she gave him an important task.
“She’d cast her vote and I would get to pull the lever,” said the Southeast Bronx native. “I would always look forward to that.”
Today, the Fordham College at Lincoln Center sophomore has taken on a bigger role that is bringing him closer to his public service ambitions. Westbrook-Lowery is a member of Bronx Community Board 9, which supports the Bronx River, Castle Hill, Clason Point, Harding Park, Parkchester, Park Stratton, Soundview and Unionport communities.
The 20-year-old political science major represents an ongoing effort by local council members to get youth to apply for board membership.
“A host of people saw that young people could prove themselves, handle the responsibility, and meet the demands of the job,” said Westbrook-Lowery, who serves on the board’s executive team. “They knocked down the doors so that people like me could come and work for our community and make our communities a better place.”
In 2015, Bronx President Ruben Diaz Jr. appointed Westbrook-Lowery, who was 17 years old at the time, to be one of the youngest executive board members of Community Board 9. He was named to the youth and education committee after the New York State Legislature voted to lower the minimum age for board membership from 18 to 16 years old.
Though he was enthusiastic about his appointment, Westbrook-Lowery, who has interned for New York City Council member Ritchie Torres, state assemblywoman Latoya Joyner, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, had some concerns that he would be pigeonholed into “the young issues.”
As an advocate for affordable housing, health care policy, LGBTQ rights, education, and issues related to labor and employment, he wanted to focus on matters that affected everyone—not just youth.
“I’m the son of a social worker and a trade unionist,” he said. “So, whenever we talk about raising the minimum wage, making sure that people have retirement and security, overtime pay, and health care for workers, those issues have always been immensely important to me.”
He was able to flex his leadership muscles when he was appointed vice chair of the social services and housing committee a year after he joined the board. In the role, he is helping to communicate community concerns and interests to the New York City Housing Authority, Department of Homeless Services, New York City Human Resources Administration, Department of Aging, and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
In addition to organizing a health fair to help educate members in the community about mental health, this summer Westbrook-Lowery is working on a symposium that connects elderly residents with important health benefits.
But his civic duties extend beyond the boardroom: He wants to motivate other young people to be agents of change in their communities.
“Young people are very open to learning, open to seeing new things, hearing different arguments, and trying to decide what the best course of action is,” said Westbrook-Lowery. “We as young people can be just as rational as older folks are, and there are some people that see that.”