By Tandy Lau
Results are in. This past Tuesday, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg revealed the 10 winners of his $20,000 youth gun violence prevention award announced earlier this summer.
The money goes to nonprofits Urban Youth Alliance/BronxConnect, The Children’s Village, The Community Initiatives, Emergent Works, Exodus Transitional Community, Grand Street Settlement, Henry Street Settlement, SCAN-Harbor, Street Corner Resources and Uptown Grand Central.
Funds go toward paying at-risk youngsters stipends for participating in gun violence prevention programs or beautifying shooting “hotspots.” The money comes from Bragg’s Criminal Justice Investment Initiative, a modern-day Robinhood enterprise funded by the millions seized from major banks during the Manhattan D.A. Office’s investigations.
“It’s good to see groups from the Lower East Side, Harlem and other places throughout the borough who are all doing similarly impactful work together in one space,” said Bragg. “You saw on display the leadership and the love and the patience [from] all of our folks doing this work: the counselors, the clergy, the mentors.”
So what are the winners proposing? Janet Cohen, program director of The Community Initiatives of New York says it’s essential to listen to the youth. She’s seen well-funded programs remain empty because they focused on the decision-making adults rather than their children.
“What we realized is before we can start bringing forth programs that’s going to benefit these youth in the communities, we have to hear from them—we got to hear their stories, we got to share with them empathy and compassion,” said Cohen. “So our motto was always ‘meet the kids where they are and elevate them to where we know that they’re destined to be.’”
Cohen’s Central Harlem nonprofit offers T.A.G. Nights, where local youth meet every Thursday to chat about life at home, in school and through the community. The acronym doubles for “Teaching a Generation” and “Teens Against Guns.”
Street Corner Resources founder Lesha Sekou says the ability to employ youngsters will be lifesaving. Her Harlem organization is famed locally for providing youth work and offering rapid response support for victims and their families. Roughly two weeks ago, she sat bedside next to a teenager, comatose from a gunshot wound.
“This is a 14-year-old kid laying in a hospital, bullet in the head, his mother doesn’t even know he’s shot—this could have been prevented with greater resources,” she said. “This grant allows us to employ more young people. It gives us an opportunity to pull in some young people that, if we didn’t have a job, may not even want to talk to us.”
Sekou also credited Bragg for his work with youth gun violence prevention even before he became district attorney and said local youth are thrilled to hear he’s also from Harlem.
As for Bragg himself, he says he knows the importance of such a fund. He recalls talking to an at-risk youth his office was paying an unrelated stipend. The youngster talked about the support he received from his mom, and the district attorney, wearing his “parent hat,” recommended he convey to her his gratitude. But thanks to his stipend, the young man was already ahead of the father of two.
“He said to me, ‘You know, I took her out to dinner last week,’ and one of the other people in my office was like ‘you got your stipend last week’ and he [said] ‘yeah,’” said Bragg. “It’s not this programming, but the notion that summer stipend would allow someone doing a positive impact…so they can do something like this, express [their] gratitude to the people who helped them get there this far.”
Tandy Lau is a Report for America corps member and writes about public safety for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w