Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Youth Exchange: Y.O. S.O.S. and Art Start

During its first month and a half, Y.O. S.O.S. has been working on building group dynamics and learning about different types of community organizing. The Youth Organizers have heard from a number of guest speakers, including a speaker from the Brooklyn Movement Center and Project Reach Youthas well as one who spoke about violence as a public health issue, signs of trauma, and strategies for self-care.

Last week the young people had an opportunity to take action themselves. The Youth Organizers met to collaborate with Art Start, an organization that uses art to work with at-risk youth. Art Start's One Mic program works with court-involved youth to help them write and create their own music, while also doing self development and leadership activities.

The YO S.O.S. Youth Organizers pose with Art Start participants

Y.O. S.O.S. is all about valuing youth voices, and this collaboration was driven entirely by the young people. The Youth Organizers chose what they wanted to present and how to present it. They thought through all the activities they had experienced so far in Y.O. S.O.S., and selected three pieces to share during the Youth Exchange event:  They spoke about their own experiences with violence, taught about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and resiliency, and led activities to show how conflict escalates and how to de-escalate it.

One of the Youth Organizers leads an icebreaker activity for the group
After Y.O. S.O.S. presented, members of Art Start shared some of the music that they had created. The young people from both organizations then discussed different mediums that could be used to make change. They also had a productive discussion about gender ratios in the two groups, and how to make both more diverse. One young man from Art Start said that after meeting with Y.O. S.O.S., he was going to start talking to his friends about gun violence.

Members of Art Start perform
In closing, they discussed what will come next for the Y.O. S.O.S. collaboration. In the future, the Youth Organizers may have the opportunity to present and collaborate with other youth involved in alternative to incarceration programs, and they look forward to attending events hosted by Art Start and similar arts and empowerment based youth programs. Art Start is currently recruiting for their Emerging Artists-in-Residence program, a one-on-one arts mentorship for youth between the ages of 17 and 20 who are not currently in school. Click the link to learn more about this and other Art Start programs.

Friday, October 11, 2013

YO SOS 2013-2014 Has Begun!

The 2013-2014 cycle of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets is in full swing! The new Youth Organizers are off to a strong start. 

They have created guidelines for their year, played games together, and started to strategize about how they are going to spend their efforts working to end gun violence this year. Stay tuned for more from this fantastic group of young people.

The Youth Organizers' Community Contract, which they created together to help make the year run smoothly.

Two YO SOS participants at Thursday's shooting response rally

Friday, June 14, 2013


On Thursday, June 13th Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets held it's 3rd graduation at Bethany United Methodist Church.  The year long program came to a close by honoring the accomplishments of each Youth Organizer. 

Congratulations to all of the Youth Organizers and their families! 

Copied below is the  the speech given by the program's leader, Ruby-Beth Buitekant:
In thinking about what to say tonight I couldn't get this idea out of my head. This notion that sometimes when you meet someone you have this overwhelming thought that  "if given the chance this person could change the entire world." I sincerely feel that way every week when I am around these teenagers. There is a notion in many of our communities that violence, specifically gun violence, is normal. So normal that it almost seems silly to try to work against something that is so powerful.  We, all of us in this room, are working to shift that mindset.  
We talk so much in our society about the importance of education-- we always tell you all to prioritize school over everything else but it's also important to unlearn things.  That's a lot of what we've done this year. We have had to unlearn our ways. Unlearn our norms, change what we think is normal so that we can make better decisions. We've had to help each other make better decisions and in turn help our neighbors and then, eventually, the world. We had to unlearn the stereotypes we held about each other. Unlearn our reactions to things- remembering to pause before we react.  
The thing is -- unlearning takes a lot of learning. 
The youth organizers came ready to learn. They are fierce and loyal and sometimes really harsh and occasionally so loud that I can't hear myself think let alone talk but above all they are powerful. More powerful than gun violence and more powerful than stereotypes about teenagers.  I always try to sign YO S.O.S. related things with the phrase "Youth Power" because I believe in it. I personally believe youth have more power than we give them credit for and less than they deserve.
We watched Antoinette transform in front of our eyes into a peace maker: on more than one occasion coming in and telling us about breaking up fights, We heard Angelica say time and again that she is proud of her big dreams and won't let anything stand In her way, We listened intently to Mike's incredibly mature insights.

We watched Stephanie remind her friends I be respectful of each other. We heardJason say, out loud just how “AWESOME” he is. We listened to Chris as he spoke to complete strangers on the street about attending positive community events, We laughed as Lance shared his clever and unique observations, We gasped listening to Bernadette as she fiercely shared her powerful opinions, we were in awe as Irena started participating more and more letting us see her sweet self. We were so appreciative as Arianna shared her thoughtful considerations of a topic at hand, we sometimes couldn’t and can’t stop laughing (staff included) at Claudlin's hilarious antics. 
We centered ourselves listening to Mariama talk about kindness and supporting each other. We learned as Joshua shared his always creative view of things, We watched as Nicole took on more and more over the year, maturing every step.   We cherished seeing Eli go from "the one with the eyes" to an active speaker with confidence and humor. We heard Beverly speak eloquently about her passions, We watched Victoria who came her knowing no one make friends so quickly, We felt it as Isis spoke time and again of how personally important this work was for her.  We saw T'rea come out of her shell with a biting ability to speak truth, We finally got to see Shaquana's smile and listened as she spoke about her transformations this year. 
We reveled in Helen's poetic movements and dramatic expressions while listen listening intently for her wisdom, We are proud of the work Imani has done I not holding back when being tasked with a project. We saw Karina shine in her role as a leader, taking it on without holding back. We were challenged by Leann’sopinionated stances and powerful voice. We shared laughs with Rachel, a natural organizer and fast friend to so many. And we were listening to all of Rezzy's VERY loud and very powerful declarations about violence, friendship and literally anything else that popped into her head.

These teens took on topics that many adults struggle to grapple with. There are lots of adults that will not talk about gun violence. They spoke candidly and with respect about the realities of gun violence in their neighborhoods. They decided it was their issue, they decided to take it on and become advocates for change. They didn’t hold back. They had disappointments and successes all year. This is not always the issue that people want to tackle head on so sometimes asking your friends in high school to participate in anti-violence work is incredibly difficult. They did it anyway.    If that's not power I don't know what is. THIS is youth power. This is youth. This is power. This is YO S.O.S.                                                      
Congratulations to all of the graduates! 
We can't wait to see what you do next!

Monday, March 11, 2013

YO S.O.S. in the News!

Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets was profiled by Metro News today in an article featured on the front page of their website and in a paper version distributed around New York City. The article detailed the dedication of teens to ending gun violence, and quoted youth organizers who spoke about the way the program has changed their lives. To learn more about the Arts to End Violence festival that the youth organizers are helping put together this year, click here. For the Arts to End Violence tumblr, click here.

YO S.O.S.: Brooklyn teens ready to holster gun violence



On any given Monday or Wednesday afternoon, in a third-floor room in a church on Kingston Avenue, a group of 14- to 17-year-olds are gearing up for important work: tackling the issue of gun violence in their community.

These teens are part of a group in Crown Heights called YO S.O.S. (Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets), and they all went through an application process to join a program that many of them say hits very close to home.

Mariama Barry, a ninth-grader at Wingate, a school nearby on Kingston, lives in Bed-Stuy and said she was motivated to join YO S.O.S. because of the shootings in her neighborhood.

“I’ve heard the gunshots and it’s really disturbing,” Mariama explained. “I wouldn’t want something like that to affect any of my family members.”

Click here to read more.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

YO SOS Searches for Summer Opportunities

After the youth in YO S.O.S. graduate from the program, they spend their summers working, interning, or attending camps where they can continue to build on the skills they developed in YO S.O.S. In preparation for this coming summer, the staff and youth organizers of YO S.O.S. have begun searching for summer employment opportunities for program participants.

Both staff and youth organizers are on the lookout for promising jobs and internships. Over the next few months, staff will work with the youth organizers to find and identify organizations and activities the youth organizers would like to be a part of over the summer. YO S.O.S. will support the youth organizers as they apply and interview for these jobs and internships. The youths will then set out over the summer on experiences that will help them keep developing into effective messengers, advocates, and activists.

In the past community members and supporters of YO S.O.S. have helped in a variety of ways.

  • YO S.O.S. supporters have donated money to fund a Youth Organizer's unpaid internship
  • Local business owners have agreed to interview Youth Organizers for positions in their stores
  • Youth programs with summer jobs components have opened their doors to YO S.O.S.
  • Programs and companies have hired Youth Organizers!
  • Supervisors have written letters on behalf of Youth Organizers to encourage others to hire from YO S.O.S.

To reach this goal, YO S.O.S. is searching for opportunities far and wide. If you know of any organizations interested in bringing on talented and motivated high schools students over the summer, please be in touch with YO S.O.S. at 718-679-9414 or rbuitekant@crownheights.organd

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

YO SOS Retreat!

Last weekend, YO S.O.S. went on its first ever retreat, which was dedicated to strengthening bonds in the group and preparing for the community organizing the youth organizers will do in the spring. The group did activities focus on unity and relationship building.  In addition,  they strategized and planned their spring community organizing project, Arts To End Violence.

20 youth organizers and 4 staff members traveled by bus to Camp Vacamas in New Jersey for group activities.  On the first night of the retreat every teen shared a personal object that was important to them.  Some people shared pictures or drawings other shared things connected with family members living and those that passed.  This activity allowed the Youth Organizers a chance to share aspects of their identity and history. It was a time for each person to understand more about each others similarities and differences. Afterwards we went outside in the freezing temperatures to sing some silly camp songs around a fire.

The next day consisted of an outdoor challenge course, a facilitation and organizing training to get them ready for Arts to End Violence, and games in which they shared facts about themselves to get to know each other better. The youth organizers practiced their communication and teamwork skills in big group games, including team skipping rope, a tire zip line, and obstacle courses.

At the end of the weekend, many organizers said they felt closer to each other, had built trust within the group, and were able to open themselves up and make new friends.  Helen Dupree, Youth Organizer, said, "The retreat gave me a chance to get to know everyone and build a stronger relationship while planing what we will be doing for Yosos in these next few months. Knowing that I have supporting & determine peers is a wonderful feeling. I'm looking forward to these next few month."

The Youth Organizers challenged themselves to step out of their comfort zones. It was a heartwarming and amazing experience for the staff to be a part of, and many of the youth organizers are still sharing stories in person (and on facebook) about what it meant to them. YOUTH POWER!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Meet Pete, YO S.O.S. Program Associate

I'm Pete, an AmeriCorps member working as the YO S.O.S. Program Associate for the 2012-2013 year. I'm excited to be a part of YO S.O.S and the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center!

I came to Crown Heights and CHCMC after living for almost two years in Bogotá, Colombia, where I worked as a freelance editor, writer, and English teacher. In Colombia I found my way in a completely new environment. Bogotá is a city the size of New York, with much greater poverty and inequality, poor infrastructure, significant tears in the social fabric, and crime levels far above those of New York and most American cities. As a young person and an outsider there, I found myself both resilient in the face of many challenges and severely shaken by all that I saw and experienced.

I joined the YO S.O.S. and CHCMC teams in October, and in the short time since then I've been able to experience so much here. YO S.O.S. has grown into a huge program, filling the YOasis (our workshop space) to capacity. The youth organizers have begun their community outreach. S.O.S. has held several community events. CHCMC has assisted many neighborhood residents. And, unfortunately, we’ve had several shooting responses.

As a Crown Heights resident, the missions of CHCMC and S.O.S. are my missions too. The work that we do at the Mediation Center is work that I try to continue even when I'm outside my professional role. I walk from my home to my job, and the streets I pass aren't just the sites of my work; they're also, more importantly, my neighborhood, and the people with me on the streets are my neighbors. For me, poverty and violence in Crown Heights are problems to work to end in both my professional and my personal lives.

I was raised in communities that taught me the values of kindness, compassion, understanding, equality, and citizenship. Now, I'm honored to be part of YO S.O.S. and CHCMC, because they embody those values and many more. Every day my colleagues and the youth organizers I work with inspire me to renew my commitment to what I believe in, and to improving Crown Heights. I'm thrilled to work with and on behalf of such great people, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together.