Ife Charles, Deputy Director of the Mediation Center was profiled in the New York Daily News today!

Read the full text on the Daily News Website, or below.

‘We are not going to sing Kumbaya’

Monday, October 13th 2008, 10:13 PM

Big Town Big Dreams: Stories about immigrant New Yorkers who make this town the great place it is

Sharon Ife Charles sees Crown Heights as a spicy serving of rice and pigeon peas with chicken or meat.

“It’s this cookup,” she says, in the storefront offices of the Crown Heights Mediation Center, where she is the deputy program director.

“Trini people call it pilau,” says Charles, 42, a Trinidadian who has lived in Brooklyn since 1977. “It’s well-seasoned and well-flavored.”

But that’s not the only local ethnic delicacy that tempts Charles.

“I got hooked on matzo ball soup,” says the community leader, who found the traditional Jewish dish to be surprisingly flavorful. “Bland food is just not in our culture.”

Charles has called Crown Heights home since she was 11, but it took her a few decades before she came in contact with the Passover appetizer.

“I always wanted to find out what matzo ball soup was,” she says. “What is this thing floating in water?”

After two unremarkable first tries, she ordered it at Mendy’s on Kingston Ave. off Eastern Parkway. The waitress was friendly. Charles started with falafel and worked her way to the soup, which she deemed well-seasoned.

It wasn’t the first time she had challenged her own preconceived notions, with positive results.

A decade ago, at the suggestion of her son’s karate teacher, Charles considered joining a three-day training session at the newly opened Crown Heights Center for Mediation, founded in 1998 – seven years after riots broke out after a Guyanese boy was struck and killed by a Hasidic driver. Today the center operates under the auspices of the Center for Court Innovation.

Charles had an administrative job at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and was reluctant to use vacation days for mediation training. Plus, she was skeptical about changes in the neighborhood.

“I was like, seriously, who are these white people moving in the neighborhood with all this mediation?”

Cheryl Goldstein, the center’s founding director, says the course was fully enrolled when she received Charles’ application.

“She had written this beautiful story about how she had to intervene in an act of violence in the neighborhood,” Goldstein says, explaining why she invited Charles to join the training, despite space limitations.

Charles reasoned that the workshop might be a good way to build on grass-roots work she was already doing.

“She gave it a shot, and it became such a big part of her future,” says Goldstein, now director of the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice in Baltimore. “She became the future of the center.”