Melrose and Mott Haven parents and teenagers gathered recently for a different style of team competition. Their challenge: to figure out what drives youth violence and how to divert teens into productive activity instead.
For two hours, in a sort of Mad Lib-style, 30 participants divided into teams clustered around tables in the cafeteria of PS 140X to fill out a questionnaire about how they deal with adversity. That was followed by a group-wide discussion.
The Feb. 6 gathering was organized by the anti-violence group Save Our Streets (SOS) in the aftermath of a brutal Christmas Eve attack on Third Avenue in Melrose that ended with a 15- and 18-year-old being charged with the murder of a 60-year-old man.
While tempers occasionally flared, the causes and solutions were no secret to the participants. The consensus: If young men and women in their Bronx communities had well-structured and supported after-school programs, there would be less violence on the streets.
Vanessa Gibson, a coordinator with Save our Streets, believes that events like this can help prevent further senseless violence like the Christmas Eve attack.
“The main objective is to hear what are the needs from the community,” Gibson said. “We want to give young people tools to change their mindset on violence.”
Poverty and isolation were both brought up as central causes for why a young person might consider committing violent crimes.
“We live in one of the poorest Congressional districts in the country – and my students know it,” said Paul Cannon, principal of PS 140x. “If a child is experiencing trauma, and can visualize it, we have to find some way to deal with that.”
Many of the young people agreed with Cannon and expressed the difficulty of seeing their friends resort to violence and crime.
“You know, sometimes I just feel like – Damn, I really don’t have anybody around anymore,” said Aaron Rivera, a senior at Mott Haven Village Prep, who says he is more focused on doing well in school and going to college for veterinary science.
Parents concerned about isolation brought up after-school activities as a way of keeping students engaged in their community, and out of trouble.
Caroline Williams whose 11-year-old son Jayden has autism, is concerned about a lack of accessible after-school options.
“There’s nothing really here for him to challenge him educationally.” Williams said. “I came tonight because my voice has to be heard.”
Throughout the event, parents discussed ways of keeping their kids engaged in the community, like creating new opportunities for music and dance extracurricular programs.
Despite a limited number of options, organizations like Save Our Streets are still working to provide community programming like mentorship programs for teenagers and young adults, and a monthly bingo game.
Held on the second Monday of each month, the SOS bingo games are held at their south Bronx community office at 601 E. 163rd Street in Melrose.