Neighbors in Action Youth Recommendations for a Safer City
Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S.) is a program of Neighbors in Action (NIA) and the Center for Court Innovation. YO S.O.S. gathers young people from Central Brooklyn who have been impacted by community violence, and trains them to address issues of gun violence and healing in their neighborhoods and schools. The program focuses on leadership development and amplifying youth voice in the anti-violence movement.
In the wake of the Parkland school shooting on February 13, 2018, YO S.O.S. began hearing from an increased number of community members, reporters, and local politicians, asking what young people wanted to see happen here in New York City to reduce gun violence and increase safety and well-being. In response, YO S.O.S. convened to explore young people’s ideas for a safer city, focusing on school and community based changes. Staff spoke with youth in groups, collected survey responses, and gathered participants to debate, discuss, and determine the recommendations that are outlined below. In the fall of 2018, the NIA Youth Advisory Council was formed, comprised of alumni from YO S.O.S. and other NIA youth-serving programs. This group revisited the document to contribute new ideas and review the existing ones.
In this document, NIA youth propose preventative measures to increase safety by addressing the economic, social, cultural, and environmental factors that contribute to gun violence. There are many groups that focus on the issue of easy access to guns. We have chosen to tackle some of the interrelated underlying factors that impact communities with high rates of violence. We believe that policy leaders can assist in creating the conditions that lead to safer and healthier neighborhoods by advancing these proposals. Please help us spread the word by sharing this post and by downloading our visuals and sharing them on your social media with these hashtags: #youthdemand #stopshootingstartliving #freedometothrive and #parkland . Download images here.
School Based Recommendations
Create Trauma Informed Schools
1. Create safe spaces in all NYC schools for youth to freely express themselves. This may include funding more school based therapy groups and having more guidance counselors and social workers on-site to provide meaningful curriculum for advisory periods; increasing non-profit collaborations; and/or designating rooms in the school focused on health and wellness.
2. Train school employees at all levels to understand how exposure to community violence and other traumas can affect young people’s learning and emotional well-being so they can respond appropriately and support students.
3. Create pipelines for people of color and people from neighborhoods hit hardest by violence and poverty to attain teaching degrees and return to these communities as educators and mentors.
“We need teachers who can relate to us. Students feel like they are alone and have no one to talk to, but someone that can relate to them at school could make them more comfortable with themselves and around others.” – Jennifer, 16
“I believe that having crossing guards trained in de-escalation would help them control fights that break out after school. Also, having officers from similar communities to the ones they work in would help police and community members feel safer.” – Joseph, 18
Educate the Whole Child
1. Expand school curricula to include subjects impacting young people’s lives and communities. This content may focus on such topics as community violence, trauma and self-care, conflict de-escalation, mental health and wellness, understanding and expressing emotions, anti-oppression practices, community organizing, and advocacy. This can be incorporated through electives, advisory activities, core classes, and/or after school programs.
2. Organize Parent Coordinators to share resources and information across schools and to communicate effectively with families to share relevant opportunities such as youth programs and parenting support services.
“If high schools had extended day with programs coming in and leading workshops on things like self confidence, trauma and mental health, and how to handle conflict, you could get credit for it and you’d be able to learn things that really help in life. By having it in the school, it’s right there, in your home base. Parents don’t always know how to find programs for their children – if schools had more on site, it would help everyone.” – Migel, 19
Expand Restorative Justice Initiatives
1. Implement restorative justice practices in all NYC schools. This can increase community building and promote problem solving skills while decreasing school detentions and suspensions. Examples include guidance counselor interventions, harm circles, and mediations, which can address challenging student behavior, bullying, and brewing conflicts.
“Instead of automatic suspensions, schools should have mediation sessions to de-escalate the issue or assign mandatory community service hours allowing students to work together and solve their problems.” – Tashanna, 18
Community Based Recommendations
Fund Successful Youth Engagement Programs
1. Increase free and affordable arts and recreation programs for middle and high school aged youth and increase outreach efforts to make these opportunities known to disengaged young people and their families. Train program staff to be trauma informed and culturally-competent so they can serve as mentors in addition to their roles as recreational specialists.
2. Fund programs which support young people to become positive leaders in the community and increase their civic engagement. Youth are a great resource and with the proper support and access to opportunities, can be a leading force in reducing violence and creating safer communities for everyone.
“I believe there should be more support groups and community circles in my neighborhood so folks won’t feel alone because they have others to relate to and ways to bond with community members” – Karencia, 17
Strengthen Economic Opportunities for Young People
1. Create more opportunities for youth to be productive members of society in the summer such as expanding guaranteed SYEP spots in NYCHA developments and increasing paid summer internship opportunities.
2. Create more year-round jobs and paid internships for young people to enable youth to meet financial pressures in legal ways and also grow, learn, imagine their futures, and feel supported during out of school hours. Increase job/opportunity fairs to connect disengaged young people to these resources.
“In the summer, schools could have cooking classes or gardening classes for example to contribute to a portion of school credits and give young people job skills” – Shanna, 18
Transform the Media and Increase Media Literacy
1. Encourage local news media to tell more positive stories and to portray the diversity of experiences of people of color. This can happen in many ways such as reviving and supporting local journalism networks, fostering collaborations between community based organizations and journalism students, establishing pathways to news and media based careers for people of color, and providing cultural competency training to news media staff.
2. Increase media literacy among youth and young adults so they can better interpret and question the media messaging they receive on a daily basis and can build transferable skills as emerging media makers. This can be done through public education campaigns, school electives, young adult internships, and funding for existing organizations spearheading this work.
“When children grow up only seeing the people that look like them in a negative light, they internalize that image. To break down that negative stereotype, we have to be more cautious and intentional about what we have portrayed in the media. A child of color should be able to turn on the TV and see dancers, artists, writers, and community builders that look just like them. Until then, it’s up to us, as a community, to build up our children, understanding that what they see on TV doesn’t always represent them as individuals and that it is possible to challenge what they see.” – Naomie, 18
Revise MTA Policies for Students and Low-Income New Yorkers
1. Provide all NYC high school students with unlimited metrocards in the summer months. This will allow them to take advantage of New York City’s wide array of resources and enrichment opportunities, rather than being confined to their immediate surroundings.
2. Decriminalize turnstile jumping in all boroughs. Additionally, introduce the fair fares program to provide discounted metro cards to low-income New Yorkers and CUNY students.
“Do you wanna be stuck in your neighborhood during the summer time? It’s hot, the days are longer, there’s a lot of action going on that’s not always safe. It’d be great for young people to be able to get out, go places, and expand their knowledge.” – Wasun, 19
Promote Alternatives to Incarceration and Strengthen Civic Education
1. Increase therapeutic and restorative opportunities for young people involved in the justice system. Expand community-based programs that can serve as alternatives to jail and prison time. Replicate youth courts to involve young people as leaders and decision makers in this arena. These practices hold people accountable for their actions and help communities to repair harm.
2. Provide educational resources to young people and families to help them understand and navigate the juvenile justice system, electoral politics, and other institutions impacting their lives. Create city-wide ‘know your rights’ campaigns and increase internship opportunities for youth who wish to pursue careers in the fields of law, government, and criminal justice.
3. Encourage police to collaborate with community members and neighborhood groups to build trust and understanding and to enhance safety for all. There is a role for everyone to play in reducing violence and creating thriving communities.
“Social workers can serve as first responders to enable people to get the help they need.” – Alyssa, 17
“We want to see that the police in our neighborhoods have our best interests in mind and really want to make a difference.” – James, 19
Thank you to the Funders’ Collaborative on Youth Organizing and the many youth development programs across the country who have inspired our visuals for this initiative and who are working consistently to uplift the voices of black and brown youth in the movement to end gun violence and increase community safety.
To learn more about Neighbors in Action, get involved, or submit a media inquiry, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 718-773-6886, or follow us on social media: Facebook.com/sosbrooklyn Instagram and Twitter @sos_brooklyn & @youthorganizing