Sunday, February 13, 2022

TBS New Directions Bold New Approach to Reducing Youth Violence in the Bronx

For many years, I have been telling anyone willing to listen that the worst thing that ever happened to the young people of the Bronx, and New York City, was the closing of the night centers that were fixtures in New York City Public Schools until they were shut down during the fiscal crisis of the mid-1970's. I grew up in a tough Brooklyn neighborhood going to those centers, which were open 7-9 PM 5 nights a week, and person after person I interviewed for the Bronx African American History Project, which I founded 20 years ago, mentioned their profound impact on their lives and futures No one I interviewed spoke more eloquently about this subject than Howie Evans, a legendary coach, educator and former sports editor of the Amsterdam News, whose described how a night center director named Vincent Tibbs saved his life during a gang conflict in the mid 1950's. This short article I wrote in 2013 describes his experience. ( I find it devastating that young people growing up today in the Bronx have fewer opportunities to find relief from challenging street and family situations, and find mentors to guide and support them, than Mr Evans and I had more than 60 years ago. Well yesterday, I had an opportunity to spend time with five individuals from a remarkable organization called TBS New Directions who not only knew exactly what I was talking about, but had a plan to adapt my plan to special challenges facing Bronx Youth Today. These remarkable men, former members of a legendary gang called the Black Spades, work tirelessly to try to reach young people in the Bronx caught up in devastating cycles of violence, and they see opening gymnasiums in local schools and churches as a key element in making Bronx communities safer for all their members But in our conversations on this subject, they emphasized over and over again that opening gyms and community centers were not enough. Communities needed to make sure that young people felt safe going to and from such facilities, especially if they were located on a different block or in a different housing project, than the one they lived in. Why? Because according to members of TBS New Directions, who have an intimate knowledge of gang life because they lived it themselves, the Bronx today is minutely divided between different gangs and crews that make it unsafe for young people, from early adolescence on, to leave their apartment houses, their blocks, even the schools they attend, if it means walking through areas controlled by a different group. What TBS New Directions suggests is that when gyms and centers are re-opened, communities hire auxiliary police, or security guards, to stand on street corners and other locations during the hours the centers are open, so young people feel safe to attend them. Otherwise, they warn, the centers and gyms will be empty even if they offer programs and mentorship young people need, and actually crave When listening to these individuals talk, especially Marion "Tiny" Frampton, leader of TBS New Directions, I felt that for the first time, there was an actual organization, working with Bronx youth today, that was determined to implement changes that people like Howie Evans had been calling for years, and to adapt them to current conditions. Not only were they in regular conversations with young people in the Bronx, both those involved in gangs and crews and those who weren't, they were working closely with educators and religious leaders like Sheikh Musa Drammeh who were trying to bring some measure of safety and security to residents of hard pressed Bronx communities. I urge everyone who loves the Bronx, and everyone who believes in the potential of young people in New York City to support TBS New Directions in their efforts, financially, politically, and, if possible, to their outreach to young people in schools and streets If we want to have safe communities for essential workers and their children, for senior citizens, for immigrants, for everyone who use public transportation and whose children attend public schools, we need to open all the gyms and community centers whose doors are currently shut and make sure young people can safely walk to them when they do open This is a matter of the highest priority for the future of our city. Please support TBS New Directions in any way you can to help them in this noble cause

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