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"
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
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.
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
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