Monday, October 22, 2012

Justice Community Works With Artists to Restore Community Mural on US Post Office

We began our collaboration with Ralph Perez and Xmental when they were contracted by the Department of Probation to install a mural here at our shared offices in the Brooklyn NeON.  Two of our members, Sean and Pedro, who have a particular interest in art, collaborated with Ralph and his crew to help select some of the imagery and do some of the painting.

Next we collaborated on a big mural restoration in Betsy Head Park.  As part of Probation week we brought out several dozen volunteers -- Probation and Center for Court Innovation staff, probationers, YMI participants and staff (including East New York Justice Community), and restored a substantial community mural and concrete bleachers next to the baseball field and track at the center of this major community park. 

Many of our members took this as an ongoing weekly project as well, returning to complete the entire site (below).

Finally, our partnership culminated in the restoration of two mural panels on the front of the United States Post Office for 11212 on Bristol Street.  At this location, two murals were over twenty years old and chipped and faded almost beyond recognition, which originally depicted images honoring the community's graduates and seniors respectively.  The District Manager of Community Board 16 brought us together with the U.S. Postal Service to collaborate on restoring these panels.  Through discussions together, we decided to install new murals depicting an updated version of the imagery of graduates on one side and a variety of images depicting an intergenerational Brownsville on the other side.

Our members cleaned up the weeds and trash around the building, and scraped, sanded, and primed the panels (below).   At the same time members took pictures of things that symbolized daily life in Brownsville to them, which were collected and used by Ralph to help select images for the new murals. 

Then, Xmental brought a crew of five amazing urban artists to install the new artwork.  Two of our members, Dexter and Jayquan came out to help with the set up and painting for the art installation.

To me, our collaboration with Xmental together with another one of my other favorite collaborations this year with Groundswell to install a monumental art piece on the side of a building next to a community garden that invites conversation with all the viewers in this prominent location regarding the past, present, and future of their identity (below) represents the true justice reinvestment that I hope the Mayor's Young Men's Initiative delivers. 

Our members are engaging in incredible service learning while making real, tangible community beneifts.  And through art, they are engaging with the community and giving a voice and a stake to young people in the revitalization of the neighborhood. 

-Benjamin Smith

Justice Community
Program Coordinator

Friday, October 12, 2012


The Brownsville Youth Court Application has been extended to Monday, October 15, 2012 by 5 PM. If you have any questions, please contact BYC staff via email at or via phone at 347-277-1375.

The application can be completed by:

1. Downloading the application Here
2. Completing the application online Here

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Justice Community Members Complete Their Program

This past Thursday, October 9, 2012, at the Brownsville Justice Community program we gathered to honor 11 of our program members who were completing their participation.  These young people, approximately half being referrals from Probation and half being court-involved community members who applied as walk-in's or signed up at a youth enrollment fair, aged 16-24 and nearly all residing in Community Board 16, have each excelled in the program and were ready to complete their participation and enter their aftercare period.

Each of them are accomplishing personal goals such as high school attendance, high school graduation, continuing their job search, receiving scholarship funding to participate in a mediation training apprenticeship program, and beginning a year-long term of AmeriCorps service.  From the Justice Community program each of the members will receive final stipend payments, portfolios, work attire from Career Gear, and Brownsville Recreation Center memberships if interested.

Congratulations to Jayquan, Andre, Yaritza, Quidill, Tjuan, Jaydell, Dante, Kenroy, Ashley, Shaniqua, and Sean!  And finally, thank you to to all of the members this year for helping us to shape and create this new program together.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Brownsville's Anti-Violence Project Receives Federal Funding

On Tuesday, September 25, 2012, at a press conference attended by community leaders, local officials, and representatives from several federal agencies, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance, through its Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program, awarded $600,000 in grant funding to the Brownsville Community Justice Center to support Brownsville’s Anti-Violence Project.  The press conference was held in the Heritage Room at the Stone Avenue branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. 

Launched in August, the Anti-Violence Project seeks to improve public safety in Brownsville and enhance local perceptions of justice.  The project will pursue these goals through two major efforts.  First, monthly “call-in” forums where parolees returning to the neighborhood meet with law enforcement, social service providers, and ex-offenders who have put their lives back on track.  Participants at these meetings receive a targeted, three-pronged message: that future violent behavior will be rigorously prosecuted at the state and federal levels; that many ex-offenders have successfully and positively re-entered the community; and that individuals seeking help will receive the community and service providers’ support.  The second major effort involves a public education campaign to promote non-violence and promote cooperation between residents and local law enforcement. 

Many of the project’s community and government partners addressed the crowd gathered at the press conference.  U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Loretta Lynch observed that the gun violence in Brownsville was something that “we can’t prosecute our way out of… but we will prosecute [those who participate in violence].”  Her remarks were echoed by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes who focused on the Anti-Violence Project’s commitment to re-entry services for parolees returning to the community.  New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly emphasized the drastic drop in crime rates around the city while acknowledging the need for greater strides in communities like Brownsville.  Commissioner Kelly expressed the Department’s enthusiastic commitment to the Anti-Violence Project saying, “[The NYPD] is open to any good ideas for reducing crime.”

One of the stars of the conference was Mark Tanis of the Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District, who passionately described his life-long ties to Brownsville and expressed the desire to see the neighborhood’s streets returned to the safer thoroughfares he fondly remembered from his youth. On behalf of the community he conveyed the hope that this grant funding would be put to good use.  He finished by saying, “the more shoulders, the lighter the load.”  Denise O’Donnell, Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance, remarked that while the library was a beautiful and incredible asset to the neighborhood, “one of the greatest assets is clearly community members [like Mark Tanis].”

Many community members in attendance had questions about the program, specifically seeking information about how funds will be distributed and the selection process for hiring the Anti-Violence Project Coordinator.  James Brodick, Project Director for the Brownsville Community Justice Center, responded, saying, “We’re committed to hiring locally – and we already have team members [at the Justice Center]… .”  from the community, many of  whom were present at the event.  Brodick went on to explain that the grant called for a six-month planning process during which time input would be solicited from community stakeholders to help determine how the project’s funds would be expended to maximize the grant’s impact.

Tuesday was a great day for Brownsville.  With the help of local partners, community leaders and the federal funding, the prospects for Brownsville’s future are growing brighter every day.

For information about the new initiative contact James Brodick, Project Director, Brownsville Community Justice Center, at 347-404-9580.

For further details including links to other press coverage and audio excerpts from the event visit the website of the Center For Court Innovation website, here

Conflict Resolution and Mediation Training in Brownsville

Conflict.  As we seek both to reduce nieghborhood conflicts (especially those that lead to gun violence) while also working with our the members of our Justice Community program to help them achieve their educational, job readiness, and pro-social potential, we realized early that helping people acquire new skills and approaches for dealing with interpersonal and group conflict was very important.

We're proud to say that on August 29, 2012, twenty members of our Justice Community program took part in a day long Conflict Resolution workshop led by the expert staff from the New York Peace Institute.  In the training, our members discussed the types of conflicts they typically encounter, the types of responses they use, how those responses do or don't work for them, then learned and tried out a wider array of responses, in the process becoming cognizent that no one approach is necessarily better, but that we have a choice from among an array of different styles that we can use and each may lead to different results.

Following the training, two members who expressed interest in learning more were able to go on to participate in a five day mediation training, together with professionals from around the City, also lead by the New York Peace Institute, and one of those members will also continue, starting this week, in their apprenticeship program which may lead to formal approval as a trained mediator.

In the future, other members of the program will take the mediation training and may be eligible for the apprenticeship program as well.  The goal is to develop the abilities of young people in the neighborhood to respond to conflict creatively.  We hope that these young people will inform, inspire, and teach others!