The El Barrio/East Harlem community has seen yet another victim of gun violence on our streets. On Sunday, October 3rd, 2010, Cheyenne Baez, a 17 year old young woman was a victim of a fatal drive-by shooting in the East Harlem neighborhood. The Cheyenne Baez Memorial Fund will support the Baez family through these extremely trying times. The goal of the memorial fund is to raise the $3,000 necessary to defray the cost of homegoing services scheduled for Tuesday, October 12th, 2010. We encourage everyone who can to donate to this fund, as 100% of donations go directly to Cheyenne’s family. To donate, visit http://cheyennebaezmemorialfund.com/.
Sadly, these violent incidents involving youth have recently been on the rise in our community. For this reason, Melissa has launched the East Harlem/El Barrio Youth Violence Task Force. Below is a message about the work of the task force from our Direct of Youth Services, Elsie Encarnación:
Melissa, as a hands-on elected official, had the vision to create the East Harlem/ El Barrio Youth Violence Task Force in response to the increase in violence among youth. The task force has been meeting for over a month and I hope you all will join in and be a part of this movement going forward. Only through working together will this issue be at the forefront of our community’s priorities. Below is some information on our task force. If you are interested in being on our listserv, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add you immediately.
The East Harlem/ El Barrio Youth Violence Task Force
Who we are: The task force is comprised of numerous Community Based Organizations (CBO’s) from East Harlem, the District 8 Youth Council, community leaders and most importantly youth from East Harlem. We are looking to reach out to religious leaders and other interested parties.
What we have done: During the few first meetings the task force decided the only way to come up with real solutions to this issue was to first engage and listen to our young people. We needed to provide a safe space for them to express their ideas, fears, frustrations and dreams. With this in mind we set out to speak to the young people from NYCHA developments and other housing developments and started with the one closest to us, Johnson Houses. We have met with the young people there twice. In our conversations the young people really opened up and discussed how they view the issue, what they think causes the issue and how we can help them achieve a solution. We have also consulted with groups that are working on this issue in Brooklyn, Harlem and the Lower East Side.As part of the task force they have been able to lend us their experiences with struggles and successes and have helped in shaping some progressive ideas of engaging youth.
Where we plan to go: Our goals are set in stages as we have lots of work to do. Short term goals consist of reaching out to youth groups in the NYCHA houses, the next one being Taft, as well as other housing developments. We are giving them the opportunity to come up with their own ideas on how to combat the violence in their immediate community. As a task force our job is to support the ideas that come out of their conversations and help make them a reality. As an example, in a meeting Melissa attended where youth from Taino Towers spoke about what they need, a young man spoke about the need for a skate park in the neighborhood so instead of being harassed for skating on the sidewalk he can have a place to go. From that meeting Melissa has been able to articulate that need to the parks department and will work on making that a reality. Engaging, listening, responding and supporting their ideas can happen!
Another goal is to set up a meeting with NYCHA officials and the youth of Johnson so that they can address the issues with the new youth center of Johnson Houses. Throughout our conversations the delay in the opening of the center kept arising as a big problem for the young people and so facilitating this meeting for them is a great next step. Long term goals consist of holding a vigil and reclaiming the spaces where our youth have lost their lives, and to reclaim them as “safe spaces” (as mentioned by Melissa).
We are also working towards having a huge “Youth Summit” where young people from all over East Harlem can come together and partake in workshops, trainings and speak outs. Plans for the summit are very fluid because we want the youth to shape what it will look like and what programs are provided.
How to get involved: I have a listserv of people who get updates on what the task force is doing along with meeting dates and times. If you are interested in being on the list serve just send an email to email@example.com. I am also looking to build partnerships with people who can gather large groups of youth together. The task force would like to meet with as many young people as possible so if you know of or can gather youth together for a meeting please let me know.
There is so much more that is involved in this initiative, above is a quick snapshot of what we aim to do. The violence that we are seeing unfold has been brewing for a long time, therefore there is no one solution or any overnight quick fixes. We must work hard to create a consciousness within this community that nurtures and supports our young people.
Thanks to all of you for being a part of this wonderful circle…let’s move forward together !