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Natanael Vélez

If we’re not involved in making our decisions, someone else who is making money off of us is going to make decisions for us

When Nate Velez, 24, is not at City Hall, he is in his neighborhood organizing meetings and fighting against food deserts in Springfield’s urban neighborhoods. He is pushing for community gardens, farmer’s markets, and quality supermarkets that offer residents better food choices to support healthier eating habits in the war against obesity, diabetes and other health issues facing his community. Nate is a recent Western New England University graduate and current Case Manager for Catholic Charities. Though he was born and raised in Springfield, he did move to Puerto Rico when he was four months old and came back when he was nine years old.

What issues concern you on most days?

One of Nate’s goals is to undo structural racism, which affects him and others every single day. A big way he is looking to do this includes getting involved with community gardening, because “what we put into our bodies is not always healthy.” Because neighborhoods of color often have [access only to] fast foods, obesity and diabetes are high on his list to help eliminate.

How do you handle these issues?

Nate says that there are different ways to advocate, including growing your own simple foods and going to City Hall and committee meetings. “There are many ways to take back your power,” Nate explains. “Grow your own cilantro. You’re claiming your body back. It’s not easy, but there are small steps you can take.”

Why is it important to be involved?

“We are constantly blinded by materialism and manipulation,” Nate says. “If we are not involved in making our decisions, someone else who is making money off of us is going to make decisions for us. It is important to speak up. Hustle and get your power and money back. Only you can do it for yourself.”

Any other thoughts?

“My work isn’t work, it is a living experience,” Nate says.” I am working poor. I am Springfield. I am Puerto Rican. My mom has taught me to never forget your roots. People are becoming too individualistic.”