Monday, July 30, 2012

Our Day at Harlem Renaissance High School

"The first thing people do when they get into an a conflict is go for a gun" was the statement of an 18-year old girl at the Harlem Renaissance High School React to Film (RtF) program.

Marlon Peterson, program coordinator of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets and former Save Our Streets Violence Interrupter and Radel Clause the YO S.O.S AmeriCorps program associate traveled from Crown Heights Brooklyn to Harlem to speak with the students in the RtF program. Marlon and Radel visited the Harlem school adjacent to the Frederick Douglas Houses to speak with the teens about the movie The Interrupters and realities of gun violence in their own lives.

Marlon shared his experiences as a Violence Interrupter in Brooklyn and the class delved into a lively discussion about whether violence truly acts like a disease, as the The Interrupters emphasizes. Dennis, one of the students initially objected to that notion, expressing that everyone isn't affected by gun violence the way a disease affects people.  Marlon asked the students to raise their hands if the following questions applied to them:
  • Do you know someone that has been shot or know someone that has shot another person?
  • Have you ever heard gunshots (either outside your window at home or anywhere else in your neighborhood)? Before the age of 18? Before the age of 14? Before the age of 11?

Sadly, to both questions every student except for one all hands were raised. The students reflected on their answers and began acknowledging the effects that such experiences have on their decision-making. Many agreed that at this point gun violence is viewed as normal and "just a way of life in the hood."  Further discussion with classmates led Dennis and other students began to understand the perspective that violence can act like a disease. The importance of this acknowledgement is that if we accept that violence acts like a disease we can accept that it can be interrupted, or cured.  The hour and half ended with this same young man, Dennis, asking Marlon and Radel, "how can I be involved with S.O.S and YO S.O.S?" 

Slowly, but surely our message that gun violence is NOT normal is shifting from whispers of a few in to reverberations of many.

View The Interrupters trailer here: 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Grieving Dad, The Former Cattle Raider And The Youth Worker

In a cozy space where the teens of YO S.O.S. usually meet, known as the YOasis because of its reputation as a safe space, a small international delegation from the United Nations met with YO S.O.S. staff and participants, and members of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence,  reACTION, and DCTV on Thursday, July 5th. It was organized by Oxfam Scotland, an international organization that takes a rights-based approach to its development, humanitarian, and campaign work. We began the visit by hearing from David Grimason, from Scotland, who held the room close to tears as he spoke about the death of his son Alistair. Alistair was two years old when he was murdered by a gunman while sleeping in his pram.  

The delegation included representatives from Spain, Kenya, and Scotland.  Oxfam is currently campaigning at the United Nations to negotiate a stronger arms trade treaty amongst nations. During their time with us we also discussed the parallels between gun violence in Brooklyn neighborhoods, Kenyan villages and Scottish and Turkish cities. Interestingly, all of the people present had had the experience of being told that they don't how the guns are getting into their respective neighborhoods.

After this gripping dialogue, we walked over to the anti gun violence mural located just blocks away from the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center. What a way to spend the day.

Special thank you to: Amy Ellenbogen., Ife Charles, Radel Clause, Dwight Small, Jackie Hilly, Shaina Harriston, Stephanie Skaff, Jamie Livingstone, Marta Muixi Casaldaliga, Julius Arile, and David Grimason.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


 "I never thought I would be the one educating people and telling them about how to end gun violence. I never thought it would be me." Dieynaba Sy, Youth Organizer 2011-212
Those are the words of one of this year's 2011-2012 YO S.O.S graduates. This past Thursday, Crown Heights celebrated the (one) year of work the teenagers of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S) by crowning them with an exquisite graduation ceremony. Located in a community event space, fit with a backyard with tiki lamps, and an indoor space perfect for royal celebration, along with tasty foods, our crowning of the youth organizers was ready to go down in Crown Heights history. 

The Crown Heights Mediation Center celebrated the graduation of 19 youth organizers of YO S.O.S for their year of work in organizing and strategizing ways to inform and educate their community of peers about the epidemic crisis of gun violence. After marching these teens all over the city and even upstate New York, they were deserving of celebration and recognition. AmeriCorps Program Assistant, Radel Clause, was the night's master of ceremonies and had the audience of about 60 in tears of laughter.

Youth Organizers, Veronica Gonzalez, Shakeel Howell, Nickeisha Gaynor and Reean Charles gave heartwarming speeches and poems about how much YO SOS has helped them as individuals in their personal growth. Veronica spoke about witnessing a shootout prior to YO S.O.S. and being proud that she was able to be apart of a group of people that are working to end gun violence in her community. She was followed by a jaw-dropping performance poem by youth organizer, Nickeisha Gaynor.

Our keynote address was delivered by Crown Heights' own royal figure, Queen Ife Charles, (she might not like this) Deputy Project Director of the Crown Heights Mediation Center. A special honor was given to Save Our Streets (S.O.S) Violence Interrupter, Rudy Suggs,to whom twin youth organizers, Shanice & Shyan James expressed, "would have never heard about YO SOS if it wasn't for Rudy." 

Of course, we have dozens of pictures on our facebook page, but we are give only going you all a taste of our Crowning ceremony in this email to entice you.  Special thanks to Amy Ellenbogen, Ife Charles, Al Siegel, Eliana Horn, Anthony Mohen, Lizzie Dewan, Derick Scott, David Bookhart, Allen James, Patsy Foley, Ruby-Beth Buitekant, Jonelli Gordon, Achisimach Yisrael, and Radel Clause.

See all the pictures from the event on our Facebook page.