Friday, May 1, 2015

The Path Not Taken With Marginalized Youth: Reviving the Civilian Conservation Corps

As I watch the City of Baltimore try to impose  the harshest of penalties on young people involved in the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, I think of my own work with inner city youth as a coach, league director and advocate during the peak years of the crack epidemic in New York City- 1985-1995. This involvement took three forms; coaching teams and running leagues which drew young people from Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Red Hook and Boerum Hill; working with United Community Centers of East New York on developing programs which reduced violence and empowered neighborhood youth; and working with Bronx tenant organizers and religious leaders in the Crotona neighborhood to develop an organization called "Save a Generation"

Everything we did in those groups- which ranged from creating sports leagues, to developing mentoring programs, to reaching out to drug dealers on the streets and engaging them in conversation- had some positive impact, but most of us ultimately realized that unless we provided an economic alternative to the underground economy, young peoples lives would continue to be at risk, and the law enforcement methods required to get them off the streets would impose severe collateral damage

So in the one group I participated in which had the broadest political base-- Save A Generation- we proposed reviving the Depression Era Civilian Conservation Corps- which created over half a million jobs for young people building roads and creating  and restoring national parks-  and demanded that a thousand jobs  be created serving the young people of the Bronx. .

Needless to say, this never happened. After three years of  lobbying, we managed to get 35 Americorps positions for the Crotona neighborhood, a much needed infusion of energy and hope, but the sense of urgency we felt about giving young people in the underground economy something which would put them to work, get them out of harms way, and get them back in school ( we added a GED program to the mix) and give them a sense of purpose doing something constructive never caught on in Washington, or even in Albany.

Too bad. Because at a time when so much of our infrastructure is collapsing and so many young people are still out of work and out of school and involved in the underground economy, such a program is more needed than ever.

It is time that the CCC be brought back; revived, improved, updated, bringing jobs and hope to the forgotten young people of our cities, and now to suburbs like Ferguson, Missouri, where the poor are increasingly concentrated

And if someone complains about the expense, remind them that building prisons is far more expensive


turnerj said...

America is at a pivotal point in our relationship with our youth. The policies of the past 4 decades have been rooted in a fear of the future, deeply rooted in either punitive, or you are on your own thinking. Our youth are asking us what will we do out of love for young people. They are not hampered by bigotries and the social boundaries that isolated and divided Americans. I see in " Save A Generation" a civic action campaign deeply rooted in the love of America's young people. I fully endorse this effort, please count me as an ardent supporter of your efforts.
One Man Walking To DC In The Name Of Love,

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