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In September 2013, the New York Probation Office published “Free Verse,” the first issue of a poetry journal that emerged from the thoughts of those waiting in the probation office at the Bronx Neighborhood Opportunity Network (NeON), a collaborative of community organizations, government agencies, local businesses, and community residents focused on connecting probation clients who live in the neighborhood with opportunities, resources and services.
As described in its opening pages,
Free Verse is a journal of poetry, prose, and song that promotes turning waiting time into creative time. Headquartered in the heart of the waiting room of the new South Bronx NeOn – where probation clients check-in with their probation officers – FreeVerse solicits new writing created while people wait.
As described in Gwen McClure’s article on the Juvenile Justice Exchange, “Free Verse” was the brainchild of Loni Tanner, Chief Change Officer for the NYC Department of Design and Construction and Executive Director of See ChangeNYC, as well as Dave Johnson, the Poet-in-Residence at South Bronx NeOn. Tanner informally named the program, in its existence since April 2013, “Not School”—an acknowledgment that learning for young people does not need to only be confined within classroom walls. Instead, learning opportunities exist in the most unexpected places. For Johnson, the program was a movement with a larger purpose than literacy and learning. As he explains,
This is a lot more than poetry; this is an opportunity to be welcomed back into society.
Thankfully, this innovative program has continued, recently releasing its Winter 2014 edition . Below are a few of my favorites from the collection:
in justice for all,
though no one opens a door.
though the best ones don’t reach me.
in freedom, in equality,
but mostly I believe
The Good Fight
One day I will not have to fight you,
the partner I was given in this lottery of life
that looked so promising until the drawing
as each number was pulled, it was clear, it was not a winner,
just another one to go with the other ones
in a pile of must forget yesterdays.
One day I will not have to fight the voices in my head
of people’s words placed wrongly in my spirit,
the words that should have rolled off my back,
but somehow, were deposited in my future.
One day I will not have to fight the urge to write about the sorrows
that have been my tomorrows, before tomorrow has even gotten here.
One day I will fight the good fight of keeping
the roaring laughter from my belly, fighting to make it out like a raging lion.
One day I will fight to open the cocoon, to let the butterflies I protected, go free.
You’ll never know the pressure I endured, to be cut, into the diamond you see.
I’m a life.
I’m not just passing by.
In the next few weeks, we’ll be rolling out digital publications produced by first group of YMEJ grad students, culminating in a digital anthology — all of the pieces were shared as part of an exhibition called “Let’s Start Something: Reframing Perspectives on Youth, Justice, and Education” and early this autumn we’ll publish the complete anthology online.
As a preview, here are a few pieces from the collection:
1. “anak ng new york” — by Alexandra Thomas
Click on panels to reveal more layers of information, context, facts, and resources
From the author:
Anak ng New York is a project designed to give alternate views on care and young people in the Foster Care System in New York City. “Anak ng” means “children of,” or colloquially, “son or daughter of” in Tagalog. The homepage of this website provides a single, and perhaps the most stark, view of foster care in NYC. There is a tick mark for each of the 13,000 young people currently in the system. However, behind each panel is another view. There are resources, narratives, poetry, and artwork, which exemplify the diverse and complicated ways in which we can understand foster care and the lives of the young people within the system.
1a. Click on the 4th panel on the 1st row for a compilation of responses from adults who work at various points along the foster care landscape in support and in service of foster youth: “Top Ten Questions And Answers for Future Involvement with Foster Care Youth” — produced by David Gajer.
2. Those Unspoken Truths — by Sonja Cherry-Paul and Ellen Chan
From the authors:
Those Unspoken Truths is a collaborative project that merges poetry and photography and explores ways youth would like to be known. We see the exploration of photography, the asking of the question “who am I?”, as well as the responses, as initial steps toward creating a platform for discussion and inquiry around the ways we come to know youth and the ways in which youth let themselves be known.
Last year, the broader public got an in-depth and disturbing glimpse into the actions and behaviors of the network of law enforcement individuals involved with enforcing Stop and Frisk practices in New York City when a young man named Alvin recorded what he described as one of the countless times he was stopped in the vicinity of his own neighborhood — his recording captures his second stop in the same day.
Ross Tuttle, a contributor to The Nation, expanded Alvin’s courageous and revealing audio into 13 minute short film called “The Hunted and the Hated: An Inside Look at the NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy” in which he surrounds Alvin’s audio recording with interviews of current and former NYPD officers, legal experts, and, perhaps most effecting, Alvin and other young people themselves for whom this is not merely a policy but an everyday fact of life.
Tuttle’s film opens with a general shot of a street in Harlem, and a few seconds later settles into this image in which he sets up the film:
This short film, innumerable personal accounts and protestation across a variety of media platforms of this policy, the ongoing battle between law enforcement brass who support this policy and the communities they serve (for whom safety is paramount, but whether this policy actually helps to achieve it remains questionable)… all of these factors have also been brought into the harsh light of everyday conversation with the ongoing trial that brings into direct question the NYPD’s commitment to stop and frisk as a way of policing.
Watch the full film here:
Just today, Judge Shira A. Scheindlin found that the city “adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling by targeting racially defined groups for stops based on local crime suspect data.”
The article in the NYTimes goes on to note:
Noting that the Supreme Court had long ago ruled that stop-and-frisks were constitutionally permissible under certain conditions, the judge stressed that she was “not ordering an end to the practice of stop-and-frisk. The purpose of the remedies addressed in this opinion is to ensure that the practice is carried out in a manner that protects the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection.”
So where is the line of reconciliation? That is, where is the meeting ground between complete repeal of the policy and its continuation in its present state? This presumes of course that the desire on behalf of law enforcement is to protect communities from a persistent influx of weapons and violence, which is purportedly the intention behind what has become an increasingly polarizing law enforcement policy. Tuttle’s film and Alvin’s recording, however, make it difficult to believe that serving and protecting is at the root of the way that the policy is carried out everyday. Young people (too many of whom live their everyday lives under “suspicion” before the sun has even risen) and the communities in which they live shouldn’t exist in a constant state of fear.
This is the simple point poignantly presented by Kasiem Walters, a high school senior in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in another short film called, “Stop-and-Frisk: The High School Senior,” part of the #whereiamgoing campaign. What comes through most evocatively in Walters’ narrative is the psychic weight he and his friends carry with them constantly, being stopped, having his possessions tossed on the ground, his pockets searched by grown adults — he notes that one wouldn’t understand this if it happens one time or as an isolated but rationalizable experience. No, one needs to experience being stopped, questioned, violated, treated in dehumanizing ways 6, 7, 10, a dozen, more than twenty times. For Kasiem, this experience began at the age of 13.
I have seen this same weight press down hard on the shoulders of many of young people we work with through this project and the Reimagining Futures Project at local alternative to incarceration and detention programs. It is the weight of suspicion that saturates their interactions, how they move, who they speak with — these considerations and more are movingly brought to life in young Kasiem’s story. Watch him here:
Finally, read Linda Sankat, another NYC teen, detail her #stopandfrisk experience in a piece written for Youth Communication/YC Teen. In it, she wonders:
But what is “reasonable suspicion?” The NYPD has interpreted it broadly. CCR tallied the NYPD’s own records and found that 685,724 people were stopped in 2011—the vast majority of whom were black and Latino. Nearly nine out of 10 of those subjected to stop-and-frisk were not arrested.
Although Mayor Michael Bloomberg credits the policy with lowering crime and keeping guns off the streets, it has a detrimental effect on innocent people who feel targeted because of their race, class, religion, sexual orientation, gender, identity, or housing status. Critics say many stops are unlawful because they are too often based on stereotypes rather than real suspicion or evidence of wrongdoing.
Sankat also mentions young Alvin’s recording and offers some of her analysis of what he captured and what his recording sparked, not only amongst teens who know this experience all too well, but also among those for whom such practices remained largely hidden until recently. Just before concluding her piece with a call to arms to her fellow teens to speak out against this policy, Linda Sankat states plainly: “The job of the police should be to protect the public—not harass innocent people.”
What could be more true?
These are three of a vast sea of stories, encounters, and experience. Follow us on twitter (@YMediaJustice) where we’ll continue to share more young people’s stories in an effort to interrupt injustice and to educate beyond mere actions of agreement or disagreement. The issues wrapped up with #stopandfrisk are far too complicated for simple solutions. One step in the right direction, we believe, is to take the stories of youth seriously.
Follow @txtconnectNYC on Twitter — and read more about their work in engaging youth to report instances of #stopandfrisk
Follow #whereamigoing on Twitter
Learn more about the movement here: http://www.whereiamgoing.org/
Follow @changetheNYPD on Twitter
If you’ve read a bit about us, you know that we are engaged in a project with a lot of moving parts, one of which involves a collaborative mentoring approach that we have been developing over the past year. There will be lots more on this to come… but for now, I wanted to tell you about another great mentoring effort happening in Harlem — a joint effort between Harlem CARES Mentoring Movement and Total Equity Now (TEN) (read what we wrote last week about the great work that TEN is involved in).
Next Tuesday, August 13th, 6:30-8:30pm — Harlem CARES and TEN are sponsoring a mentoring fair at the Minisink Townhouse (at Lenox Avenue and 142nd Street). From an article published in DNAInfo New York:
“More than 3 million children are being mentored in the United States today but another 15 million are waiting to be mentored. Many grassroots organizations simply don’t have the resources to recruit enough adults.”
“The fair hopes to eliminate the disconnect between adults who might be interested in mentoring young people and the many organizations that facilitate such relationships by putting them together in the same room.”
In our work with court-involved youth over the past two decades, we’re learned that not every young person will want a mentor, some won’t want to participate if the experience is called mentoring, and some may not realize that a mentor is exactly what they need in their corner. But one thing is certain: young people need caring adults in their lives. Young people flourish in unexpected ways when they know they have someone (and hopefully a few someones) in their corner. And it is here where we see the richness of mentoring to exist and it is in the liminal spaces of a caring ethos that unimagined possibilities may begin to thrive.
These aren’t mere platitudes. They are words written by someone who has been fortunate to have had mentors throughout her life; for their wisdom, gentle guidance, occasional admonishments, and constant strength, I will be forever grateful.
So, if you’re a “committed adult” who can imagine “building another positive, strong relationship with someone who can mirror to young people what is possible in their lives,” then head on over to the Mentoring Fair on August 13th.
Celebrating the 5-year anniversary of Total Equity Now (TEN), held last night at the very fabulous Astor Row Cafe in Harlem. TEN was founded by Joe Rogers, Jr. and has as its mission, “Empowering Harlemites as active participants and decision makers in advancing educational excellence and equity across our village.”
A few photos** below — but first, don’t forget to:
- #rockthosereads – it’s the 1st of the month! Click here to know more about the “Literacy Across Harlem” initiative.
- Check out and “like” TEN on facebook.
- Follow TEN on twitter (@TotalEquityNow).
** sorry for the grainy pics — didn’t want to use the flash in people’s faces.