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Teen Task Force Develps Plan to Stop Youth Violence

By Jeff Mays | November 11, 2011 11:47am
East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa-Mark Viverito unveiled recomendations from the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force Thursday.
East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa-Mark Viverito unveiled recomendations from the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — Sixteen-year-old Naia Roberts-Jackson's life has been touched by deadly violence twice over the last several months.

First, a teenage friend was shot to death in front of Roberts-Jackson's building earlier this year. Then during the summer another of Roberts-Jackson's friends was shot as the pair were making their way home from church.

"On any day anyone in this neighborhood can be shot or involved in violence," said Roberts-Jackson, who is still shaken by the experience. "I want to continue to be involved because the work we are doing is important."

"Kids don't have much to do. They don't have much to keep them occupied and they get drawn to violence," she added.

She wants to change that. Through her membership in the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force, she is helping to come up with ideas on to develop a plan to stem the tide of violence among young people. Some of the ideas that Roberts-Jackson helped develop as part of her work on the task force include providing kids with extracurricular activities and reaching out to the youth most at risk for committing violence.

Organized by East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito after a spike in violence last year, the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force brought together more than 200 young people over the course of a year. They unveiled their recommendations at the James Weldon Johnson Houses Thursday.

Mark-Viverito said young people are often not consulted when adults gather and brainstorm ways to stop violence.

"We highlighted what we heard from young people and then came up with possible solutions," said Mark-Viverito. "This is about young voices being heard."

The task force came up with seven key recommendations. Among them were using the violence interrupter model to disrupt violence before it occurs, improving the relationship between police and the community and helping parents become better parents.

Each recommendation also comes with suggestions to help accomplish that goal. When it comes to helping parents, the task force recommended investing in adult education, offering services to improve parenting skills and increasing efforts to make sure parents are active at their child's school.

'We had direct input from young people saying that there parents were not involved or need help. If we are ever going to solve this problem we have to get at the root of the problem," Mark-Viverito said.

Sage Lopez, 14, who was also on the task force, agreed.

"Some kids do what they do because all the parents have gone away," he said.

Just because the task force issued a report doesn't mean their work is over, said Mark-Viverito. Now comes the hard part of getting money to fund some of the initiatives.

Rev. Vernon Williams of Perfect Peace Ministries said officials know the programs that work and need to provide the money to fund them.

"Mr. Mayor, Mr. Governor we need you to direct monies from the budget. We need those resources here," said Williams.

Mark-Viverito said she has already had conversations with the New York City Housing Authority about recruiting private donors to help implement some programs. Tapping into Mayor Micheal Bloomberg's Young Men's Initiative aimed at  Black and Latino men is also an option, she said.

Councilman Jumaane Williams said although violence is a city-wide issue, it is often focused in Black and Latino communities. He called for an end to police policies like stop and frisk while communities continue to find ways to end violence.

"Nobody wants crime down more in the Black and Latino community than Blacks and Latinos," he said.

At the same time, those tackling the problem must be creative, said Mark-Viverito. Using social media to promote anti-violence and connect kids with resources is one method the group is exploring