Melissa and the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force kicked off a series of community discussions yesterday afternoon with a meeting at JHS 99 (410 E. 100th Street) in East Harlem. Yesterday’s meeting provided an opportunity for community leaders to hear directly from young people, as we confront a rise in violence in East Harlem and to brainstorm collectively about ways to address it. About 100 young people and adults attended the community discussion.
Following an open mic section, attendees went into breakout groups for solution-oriented discussions on particular topics that provided opportunities for youth to take ownership over efforts to curb violence in the community. In order to tailor the discussion to specific parts of El Barrio/East Harlem, yesterday’s community discussion focused in on 96th to 106th Streets (from 5th Avenue to the East River). Subsequent meetings, to be scheduled in the coming months, will cover 107th to 116th Streets and 117th to 128th Streets.
Melissa and Task Force members made clear that this is only the beginning, and that the ideas gathered in these community discussions will inform concrete next steps in the continued effort to curb violence in the neighborhood.
“As we all collectively experience the rise in violence among our community’s youth, we thought it was critical to provide a space for young people and other local residents to come together to begin addressing this complex problem,” said Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito. “It is not enough to simply call for more policing; we must engage directly with our young people to formulate positive alternatives to violence and provide them with the opportunity to take ownership over the development of those alternatives.”
The El Barrio/East Harlem community has witnessed a serious increase in violence, particularly among youth, with the homicide rate in the neighborhood tripling last year, and shootings at public housing in East Harlem and Harlem increasing two-fold. In response to these trends, Council Member Viverito formed the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force, which aims to directly involve young people in the development of positive alternatives that will counter the increase in violence among youth.
The community discussion series is only the latest in a series of meetings organized by the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force. The Task Force previously met with youth at several NYCHA developments to learn about the unique challenges facing young people in each of those individual developments. The Council Member also brokered a meeting between NYCHA officials and young residents of James Weldon Johnson Houses regarding the Johnson Community Center, a project that has been stalled for over 10 years, and that will provide recreational space and programming for youth in the development.