In June of 2019, Neighbors in Action relocated its youth services to the NIA Youth Center, a three-floor townhouse at 1644 St Johns Place, near the intersection of Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, and Brownsville. The space features a workshop and games room, a media arts lab, staff workstations, and two rooms for coaching sessions and breakout group work. At the NIA Youth Center, staff are continuing to provide programming focused on youth leadership development and community organizing; coaching services to promote social-emotional growth and wellbeing; work readiness initiatives; support for youth pursuing educational pathways; and a variety of arts and media projects.

This summer, we welcomed a group of 32 youth for a six-week summer employment program focused on project-based learning, soft skills development, and arts and media creation. The summer cohort was comprised of young people from the Justice Community Plus Program as well as the Anti-Gun Violence Youth Employment Program. This was a unique opportunity for staff and youth to collaboratively create a Youth Center that is welcoming and comfortable for young people as well as representative of the core values of our organization. 

In the first few weeks of the summer program, participants researched activists of color, discussed various social justice movements, and practiced their own leadership public speaking skills. Each room in the Youth Center is named after a social justice movement or activist, such as the Black Panther Party, Audre Lorde, Nina Simone, and Paolo Friere. Youth created collages to accompany each room’s namesake and also collaborated with a teaching artist on a series of murals for the building which were based on the themes of Safety, Healing, Leadership, and Placemaking.

Throughout the summer, youth participated in workshops from guest presenters such as Teens PACT, which focused on topics such as body image, healthy relationships, consent, and peer pressure, and NYC Action Medical which focused on ways that every day residents can engage in life saving interventions when someone is the victim of a shooting, stabbing, or other injury.  The youth were able to expand their knowledge and foster skills for self- exploration, safety, and community building.

Participants also completed a series of workshops with Building Beats and NIA’s own staff, to learn the art of music production and dj-ing. They challenged themselves by stepping out of their comfort zones and learning new technology and digital literacy.

Summer youth participants worked throughout the six week program to create an original ‘zine, showcasing local community stories and talent. They canvassed the community, interviewing local business owners and community members to gather an understanding of how people view their community and to gather insight into what people are doing to help one another and promote safety and belonging.  With this information, the youth created their own publication featuring the information obtained through the interviews, as well as stories, poems and photographs written and taken by the youth themselves. Click here to view a digital version of the magazine.

The summer program also included gender based programming. Female participants met for a group focused on young women’s empowerment and also took part in a series of self defense classes with the Center for Anti-Violence Education. Male participants participated in a the Beyond Boxing program at Brotherhood Boxing Club, which focused on fitness, mentoring, and healthy decision making. 

As part of the summer program’s focus on work readiness, youth took part in a series of financial literacy workshops, were given the opportunity to open bank accounts with a credit union, and participated in two days of Job Shadowing during which they worked with professionals in a variety of careers. Job sites included local restaurants, a community court, physical therapy offices, a fitness center, a local high school, a food bank, urgent care centers, an elected official’s office, and a photography studio.

The hard work and growth of each youth was displayed at two culminating block parties at the end of the summer. On August 15th, the NIA Youth Center joined with St Johns Place Family Center and other local organizations to host a community block party and resource fair. At this event, the youth from NIA ran stations for facepainting, nailpainting, jump rope and games, and a resource and information table. Additionally, they prepared the NIA Youth Center building for an open house and throughout the day, gave tours to local residents, dj-ed, passed out their newly published magazine, showed the final results of the mural project, and encouraged local young people to become more involved in the programming offered at the Center. 

On August 17th, youth helped staff the Save Our Streets Crown Heights Back to School Block Party. At this event they served food, distributed backpacks with school supplies, painted faces and nails, led game stations, and passed out copies of their magazine.