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Our #VBGIVESBACK woman of the quarter, Rosario Dawson

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Lower Eastside Girls Club

A Closer Look: Rosario Dawson on New York's Lower East Side

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The G word—gentrification—often gets bandied about when talking about New York's Lower East Side in the fifth estate. Luxury high rises, glossy towers and Michelin-star restaurants get the lion's share of the media spotlight. But poverty still exists there. Racism still exists. Housing issues, inequality, food insecurity—they all exist, compounded all the more by the stark and growing income disparity. Did you know, for instance, that 69% of public school students in the area live below the poverty line? Or that 60% of the youth are raised in single parent homes? Or that, while citywide poverty rates declined between 2010 and 2016, the LES saw a 15 percent increase? That only 50% of high school students graduate vs. the city average of 70%?

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That's why the work the Lower Eastside Girls Club does is so important. By impacting a girl's future for the better, it's changing lives and the effect ripples outward—to her family and to the larger LES community. Let's not forget that behind those stats are real people—there's a face behind every figure, someone's loved one behind every number. And behind these individuals, there's a vibrant culture and community, one of the largest, most diverse and densely populated districts in NYC. It's a jewel in the city's eye—just ask native daughter Rosario Dawson, our #VBGIVESBACK woman of the quarter, who famously grew up in a local squat.

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Here, the actress shares her hometown pride in the LES—what she loves about it and why it's such a powerful magnet of a destination.

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P.S. Don't forget that each veronicabeard.com order, now through the end of March, gives back to the LESGC—all day, every day.

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Essay

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"I've been interviewed so many times over the years and people always say, 'Oh, you're lucky you got out of there, out of the Lower East Side.' But that's not it at all. We have to shift that narrative. I am who I am because I grew up on the LES. It's important for me to champion it and the Lower Eastside Girls Club. It's important for those girls to know they are part of something really special—not a place they need to escape from.

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"Yes, I grew up on the LES, in an abandoned building, but the way the neighborhood galvanizes is incredible. Self-empowerment and self-actualization is such a critical part of its fabric. The expectation is always trickle down, but in the LES, it really was poor people helping poor people. There was a tenacity and gumption. People who had nothing still made something, somehow. There was so much culture all around us. There were block parties and free concerts and art in the park. There was CBGB, Saint Marks Place, Palladium. It's a place for rock and music and alternative lifestyles. It's where Rent, which is about chosen family, was based. People come from all around the world to be in that heart of New York City.

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“It's important for me to champion [the Lower East Side] and the Lower Eastside Girl's Club. It's important for those girls to know they are part of something really special—not a place they need to escape from.”

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"You can walk around and meet any kind of person in the LES—from tourists to people who have been there 50 years. It's very common to hear multiple different languages in any one moment on the street. You want Asian food? You're going to have to be more specific because you have Korean, Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese restaurants, all within a five-block radius.

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"A lot of people call it a melting pot. I say it's less a melting pot and more like a salad, where each individual, distinct thing complements the other and it all goes well together—but it's never blurred. You won't experience this much in New York. Certain areas have very distinct neighborhoods. You're not necessarily going to feel such a collapse of so many different groups, all in one—and that's what makes the LES so special.

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"I often talk about the transient newness of New York City, but some things always stay the same. There's a guy in my old neighborhood in the LES who, when it gets warm, goes out onto his fire escape and plays his saxophone. For me, that's how I know summer begins. With jazz music in the air. That's what the LES is to me, a close-knit and thriving community." — Rosario Dawson

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Rosario Dawson, center back, at the future home of the Lower Eastside Girls Club on Avenue D

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