Section Home

Leadership in Action

York alumna Rachelle Antoine, Class of 2018, is making a difference.

Class of 2018 York Alumna Rachelle Antoine, Manager of External Relations and Community Outreach at JFK Redevelopment Program, shares what inspired her to transform her academic and professional course trajectory.

John Lewis, the late United States Representative and civil rights icon, once said, “You have to be persistent.” For Rachelle Antoine, joining a group of other students on a 27-hour bus ride to Selma, Alabama in 2015 was the catalyst that changed the direction of her academic career.  The trip, led by York’s Distinguished Lecturer Emeritus Dr. Ron Daniels, was to witness the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. Antoine was among the 40,000 people in attendance when President Obama and the Congressman gave speeches on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. But, as the festivities wrapped up, Antoine held up the bus’s departure. “I have to meet John Lewis, and I am not leaving here without a photo,” she recalled. Her determination paid off, but she got into trouble with the chaperones for not listening, which wasn’t the “good trouble” Lewis talked about.

The trip, however, sparked her academic evolution and made her look at her studies differently. In high school, Antoine had been an A student, but she found her transition to college challenging. She got a D from her introductory social work course during her first semester and felt she was failing. “I was questioning my existence and was praying for direction,” Antoine explains. “I didn’t get an answer that said ‘it’s social work,’ but I found the answer through the trip to Selma.” She started to make a connection between social work, advocacy, and empowerment. Antoine enrolled again in the introductory social work class. York College’s Dr. Selena Rodgers, Professor and the Chairperson of the York College Department of Social Work and She is the Founding Director and Program Chief Administrator of the Master of Social Work Program,was her professor; and this time, she fell in love with the major.

“Dr. Rodgers told us social work is everything in this world. And there is a social worker in every aspect of life.” That perspective helped Antoine realize that she could carve her career path. “I wanted to do macro social work focusing on policy, research, and community development.”

After returning from Selma, Antoine got involved in York’s student government, eventually rising to SGA President. After graduating, she enrolled in a Master’s in Social Work program at Columbia University. While there, she drove Lyft and Uber because she wanted the freedom to contemplate her future. She wanted to be passionate about her chosen work. She found her niche after obtaining her degree when she began working as a Community Liaison in the New York State Assembly District 33’s office, where Clyde Vanel serves as Representative.

During that year, Rachelle served southeast Queens in many capacities, representing the District at several community meetings, including the JFK Redevelopment and the Belmont Park Redevelopment Projects. Antoine’s attendance at those meetings sparked an interest in aviation, which was ironic since Vanel is also a pilot.

Her interest led to her current role as Manager of External Affairs and Community Outreach for the $19 billion JFK Redevelopment Project. Her responsibilities include oversight of communications and community engagement for the program. She works closely with the JFK Redevelopment Community Advisory Council, co-chaired by Congressman Gregory Meeks, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, and the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey to ensure that programs benefit the community in four areas: Career/Workforce Development, Environmental, Education and Business. York College President Berenecea Johnson Eanes serves as co-chair of the Education Committee.

Among the business initiatives the Council has spearheaded is helping local companies earn their certification as MWBE (Minority and Women-owned Business Enterprise). This is a vital initiative since 30% of the project work will go to minority firms and offering courses, including The Institute of Concession. Antoine also manages the project office in South Jamaica.

Antoine is also excited that her work includes initiatives, like the newly established York Aeronautics and Aviation STEM Program at her alma mater. "I was the project manager developing that program because it's York, which is still my home." Recently she came to campus on a Saturday to see the students participating in the program. While she continues to follow her passion, Antoine’s work hasn’t gone unnoticed. This year, Schneps Media’s Power List of Queens and City & State’s 2023 Above & Beyond: Women recognized her efforts.

“My focus is on impacting people, being present, and following what my heart tells me,” she explains. “I was born and raised in Haiti, and when you move to the United States, you don’t take things for granted. I take pride in pouring into others and watching them flourish.”

Rachelle Antoine got into good trouble after all. We think John Lewis would be proud.