This summer, YO S.O.S. hosted a summer leadership intensive, comprised of 24 young people. One of the projects they designed and led was an intercultural exchange titled “Unity Heals.” This project culminated in a community event which took place at Repair the World on Monday, August 14th . This event was developed by 13 of the youth interns as a result of their brainstorming about ways to improve the Crown Heights community. They sought to cultivate an experience that had the potential to unite the Black and Jewish communities of Crown Heights—two culturally rich and complex communities that have historically experienced conflict because in their own words, “it is better to work together than apart.” The youth worked hard to plan the event: From creating a kosher menu, to developing an original play, and facilitating a workshop that they felt spoke to the heart of YO S.O.S. The title they chose was “Unity Heals,” which speaks to one of our other Mediation Center mantras, “We heal together.”
The event was attended by approximately thirty community members, Mediation Center staff members, YO S.O.S participants, alums and their family and friends. There were also several community leaders in attendance including local activists, local rabbis, and the director of the Mediation Center, Amy Ellenbogen. The event commenced with the youth hosts for the evening introducing themselves and sharing a slideshow for the beautiful new mural they helped to create for the Mediation Center. Youth intern, Kia Varnes, asked the audience to share one thing they liked about Crown Heights and one thing they wanted to change. The audience was then asked to create a poem about Crown Heights and share it with the people sitting around them. This was one of the main highlights of the evening as it allowed for community members to interact with one another and share in each other’s similarities and struggles.
Another highlight was and activity led by youth intern, Allya John, in which she facilitated what she called an “Equality Walk.” “Take one step forward if you have been to Brower Park,” she instructed. “Take on step back if housing is an issue in your neighborhood.” This activity allowed for the community to celebrate common interests and notice common struggles rather than get stuck on the idea of perceived differences.
Throughout the evening, there was lively discussion and lots of audience participation on a very difficult but important topic. The youth facilitators showed their strength as leaders in their ability to navigate such a sensitive topic and manage to have the community open up about it. The youth leaders were able to facilitate an event that was hopeful, community oriented, and that reminded everyone that in order to move forward as a community and reduce all forms of violence, we must first get to know one another, try to heal from past wounds of misunderstanding, and more than anything we must remember that “Love is louder.”