1512736_893905637324626_2520849636835426362_nYouth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S.) is a leadership development program for high school students who want to take a stand against violence. The 2016 cohort meets on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4-6pm in Crown Heights.

Thus far, the youth organizers have been trained to develop deeper understanding of concepts of social justice, violence, conflict, trauma, and self-care. Some of the questions we discuss in our workshops are, “Where does violence come from?” “How does a conflict escalate and what can  someone do to deescalate it?” “How can growing up around violence impact an individual and how can they heal from traumatic experiences?” “Who has power in society?” “What role does the media play in influencing the way people think and act?” “How can we make marginalized voices heard on a bigger scale?” and, “How can we spread our message to more teenagers in Central Brooklyn?”

What Are We Up To?

After completing our initial curriculum training, the Youth Organizers transitioned into developing their own anti-violence awareness raising initiatives. In December, YO S.O.S. carried out our annual “Kingston Winter Windows” campaign.
12375322_893410270707496_7644413515484913755_oThe Winter Windows project requires the Youth Organizers to connect with local business owners and produce holiday and peace inspired art installations on storefront windows alongKingston Ave. The youth take the lead on this project
from pitching it to merchants, to developing design ideas, to implementation. This year we decorated a total of 15 windows – more than ever before!

We spent the first half of January preparing for our first Youth Exchange event of the year, which took place on 1/20. The youth practiced public speaking and facilitation skills and then delivered a 30 minute presentation to staff and visiting youth guests from Project SAFE. Their presentation involved a skit about conflict, a presentation on how a conflict can escalate and be deescalated, and a presentation on the connections between community violence, trauma, and self-care.

20160120_170813As regents week descends on New York City, we have spent our last two workshops of the month watching the acclaimed film, “The Interrupters,” which documents the first ever Cure Violence site, originating in Chicago. During the film, youth were able step aside and have one-on-one wellness check-ins with staff. As the month comes to a close youth organizers also completed a career assessment (a version of the Strong Interest Inventory) to begin preparing for the college and career readiness activities on the horizon for the spring.

What’s next?

Starting in February, YO S.O.S. will begin a new component of the program called Media Externship Projects. We will split into three smaller groups and each group will work with a partner organization skilled in media making. The youth will create multi-media anti-violence campaign materials to be used in presentations, workshops, and additional outreach for years to come. The campaign is in collaboration with Urban Word, Urban Arts Partnership, and Urban Art Beat. 12487242_1737146506519128_3629514980121390521_oFinal media products will include a spoken word video and online magazine, a multimedia photo essay edited with Adobe, and an original hip-hop song and accompanying music video. The Youth Organizers will debut their campaign materials on April 20th, so mark your calendars!

Additionally, on February 17 and 18th, YO S.O.S. will take part in an overnight retreat to Princeton Blairstown Center focused on team building, leadership development, problem solving, and self-care. We are excited to get a chance to leave the city and experience something new as a group!

For more updates on YO S.O.S., visit our page on the website or email yosos@crownheights.org.