Yesterday I met with nine of our Juvenile Accountability Court participants in a classroom at the Bronx School of Law Government and Justice for a facilitated discussion about the meaning of community service.
For the past several weeks we've been gathering with this group of teenagers each Saturday in the morning to do a variety of community service projects together. We visited Worldvision, where we learned about their mission to provide teaching supplies and other material to schools here in the United States and aid missions in the developing world, then helped sort donated clothing. We painted over graffiti (see the before and after pictures). We've also conducted a few facilitated workshops about the meaning of community service, asking the participants to think about how the idea of community service relates to them, growing up in the Bronx, as they become young adults.
This morning we met in the Mock Courtroom. We gathered around a big semi-circular table in the "well" of the courtroom, between the audience area and the judge's bench. Keith looked at the empty judge's chair and remarked that he'd like to sit in that chair sometime and be able to say "remand" - placing a youth into detention. He remarked that he himself came home from detention three days before Christmas this year.
We discussed the community service we'd done so far. Was it worth our while to paint over graffiti? We talked about the impact of graffiti and we also asked whether the Bronx was changing. The JAC participants joked that in many areas there were "more white people." They thought that it was "a good thing" that many areas were much safer than they used to be, but they were unsure what racial changes meant for the Bronx. They also talked about the always shifting concepts of neighborhood territory and turf. Tysheem pointed out that he and Cintron were both from neighborhoods that had similar racial make-ups, but still, "people from his area and my area don't like each other."
I thought it was an interesting discussion. After we took a break, we distributed posterboard, glue, tape, markers, scissors, magazines and newspapers. We wanted the participants to describe some of the changes and issues that they saw in their neighborhood, although, being teenagers, they really preferred to look for pictures of attractive girls or clothes. By then, we decided that we'd covered enough for the day, but finished by reminding them that their judges and probation officers would be interested to hear from them at their graduation ceremony about that they had done and learned!
I thought about some of the things we discussed yesterday as I read this piece today by Nelson George about racial changes and gentrification in his part of Fort Greene: "Strangers on His Street".
I thought this article, "Longtime Harlem Fixture Now Sells CD's on Street," from fall 2008 also captured something important about the changes that have been happening in New York.
This article (view here), detailing complaints about quality-of-life crime in a Harlem park following a particularly brazen murder, provides a snapshot of perceptions of safety and also makes the connection to class and gentrification