Friday, November 14, 2014

Know Your Rights Academy at Brownsville Community Justice Center

Here, at the Justice Center, our young people are often facing circumstances that force them to interact with the justice system in challenging ways. Many young people are still learning what to do or what not to do when they encounter law enforcement. We wanted to provide our young people with the opportunity to give voice to their stories, learn what their rights are, and be empowered to make productive community change. Changing the narrative, and improving the relationship between community residents and the justice system is what motivated the Justice Center to develop a relationship with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and bring the “Know Your Rights Academy” (KYRA) to the Brownsville Community Justice Center.

We have heard and seen in the news about the numerous unfortunate incidents involving police officers happening around the U.S. these past few months. Many of them have involved young African American and Latino men and women and some of those incidents have ended with many persons on the wrong end of police harassment, feeling like victims who have received little or no justice. For some residents who live in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments, traveling home or having visitors has meant being unlawfully stopped or arrested.

Reports of wrongful arrests have occurred frequently in public housing properties around the city, especially those with a majority of black and brown occupants. Individuals have been stopped by police officers for trespassing on NYCHA grounds or loitering in building lobbies although they may have simply been waiting for a friend or relative that resides in the area. Davis vs. City of New York is a lawsuit that was filed to challenge the practice of illegally stopping and arresting public housing residents and their guests for the purported crime of trespass.
KYRA provides NYCHA residents with an opportunity to learn about their rights, train other NYCHA residents to know their rights and continue to prevent the unfair acts of the NYPD and NYCHA.

The initial Brownsville KYRA meeting. Participants had the opportunity to meet one another and conduct a simple role play exercise as police officers and civilians.

The purpose of KYRA is to educate, organize, and empower NYCHA residents to play an active role in their communities. In addition, youth participants are learning valuable leadership skills, community organizing techniques and best practices in meeting facilitation.

Key Practices as a facilitator:

● Meaningful interactions with individuals by asking thoughtful and engaging questions.

● Inviting guest speakers with subject matter experience, who have faced similar experiences and a willingness to make real changes.

● Building a fictional government to allow participants to better understand how laws and policy impact society.

● Different topic discussions about the power of sharing stories; the
importance of being physically aware and paying attention to language; and how to assert your rights in different situations.

Participants created and organized their own fictional governments by setting laws and fair resource distribution amongst their peers.


Participants listen as a guest speaker informs them on how to properly facilitate a KYRA meeting; from invitations to introductions and appropriately closing out.

Participants practiced in groups and pairs on how to ask questions and properly inform their guests about their rights as civilians.

“The Know Your Rights Academy is an opportunity to educate the youth on how to protect themselves from an irrelevant police encounter. In others words a purposeless stop, questioning and search.”

The Know Your Rights Academy provides facilitators with the opportunity to inspire the community, share valuable information, and create safe spaces for NYCHA residents to exercise their constitutional rights and lead their own efforts in decreasing police harassment.

Participant, Quindell, with singer, actor, and social activist Harry Belafonte at the GULD conference in NYC.

Quindell with a spoken word artist and presenter from the GULD conference.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Brownsville celebrates Its My Park Day and plays football for a cure in Betsy Head Park

On 10/25 the Brownsville Community Justice Center staff and youth came together with Partnership for Parks, the Parks Department and Friends of Betsy Head Park to celebrate Its My Park Day. We also teamed up with the Mo Better Jaguars for a women's flag football game fundraiser for breast cancer. It was a fun-filled day in which the community truly came together to support one another, honor those who had lost the fight to cancer, and cheer the survivors. After the rough and tumble flag football game that was decided by an overthown pass into the endzone on fourth and goal in overtime, the Mo Better Jags took the field in a scrimmage to show off the toughness and resiliency that has made them Pop Warner champs for years running, making their community proud wherever they go to play.

Pre-Game Team photo

Mo Better Jags embrace a breast cancer survivor being honored for her fight

Ms. Cheryl Wray, President of the Mo Better Jaguars who organized the amazing day. 

Justice Center staff wearing pink jerseys for a cause.

Chris Legree, Head Coach of Mo Better (far right) with the team.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


October 7th, 2014 marked the kick off of Brownsville's very first incentive based fashion program: Brownsville Project Runway! Starting small with five total participants, the program teaches youth the basics of sewing garments such as shirts, pants, and other accessories. The program is set to last a little more than two months. By the end of the program we hope to conduct a small fashion show as well as present a portfolio for each graduating member. To kick off the week the participants got familiar with their machines, learning to work the needle on lined paper. A little impatient with not being able to sew on fabric right away, the participants quickly realized why starting off slow was the best way to do things! 

Each participant received their very own sewing machine and binder to get started with a portfolio of what they will be crafting during their time in the program. The idea first came in place about one year ago during a staff meeting. The Brownsville Justice Center already has programs focused around community cleanups, music, and art. We needed something different and engaging that would bring about new interest and perspective. The youth in Brownsville are always up to date on the latest sneakers, snap-backs, and bomber jackets, so why not incorporate that in a stipend based program? Although there were a few delays in our launch, we are happy to say that with the help of NYC's Materials for the Arts we were able to get things started. Materials for the arts is an organization that collects unneeded items from businesses and individuals, and make donations available for free to its recipients: non profit organizations with arts programs, government agencies, and public schools. Some items we were able to receive from Materials for the Arts were: fabrics, threads, needles, buttons, zippers, and manikins.  
Project Runway Teacher/Instructor teaches participants Elijah Scarboro and Brian Colon how to work their needles. 

Participant Tynara Moyd focuses while handling needle. 

Participants Lakia Parks and Savannah Burgess work diligently with a little help from Ms. Jackson.

 The most interesting way to end the first week of Brownsville Project Runway was of course with a field trip! The members first trip was to a fall/winter 15 V.I.P. Event hosted by GQ and Glamour Magazine. The event was held Friday October 10th, 2014 at Simon's Roosevelt Field Mall located in Garden City, NY. 
The event called: Look Book Live featured the hottest and latest looks from Bloomingdale's. All five participants were front and center as they gazed on the trendy looks and latest craze RIP THE RUNWAY!

In attendance were well known fashion bloggers, magazine editors, stylists, fashion designers, and much more. Everyone who attended received gift bags, swag bags, and complimentary finger foods with drinks.
Participants sit front and center with their free gift bags waiting for the show to begin. 

Participant Brian Colon, Instructor Shakira Jackson, Participant Elijah Scarboro

Project Runway Participants and Brownsville Justice Center staff Lisa Bernard

Some of the looks that were featured were the slim fit suits, the stylish ankle boot, leather jackets, and of course the trendy fitted blazer for men! Each participant received shirts, journals, perfumes by Cartier, and so much more! We can truly say our first week was a great success! The participants are having a wonderful learning experience and are increasingly engaged as they get closer to the finish line! We hope to see you at Brownsville Project Runway's main event The Fashion Show. 
Glamour Magazine Model 

GQ and Glamour Magazine Style experts and hosts. 

Glamour Magazine Model

Glamour Magazine Model
GQ Magazine Model

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Justice Community Celebrates the Culmination of Two New Groundswell Murals in Brownsville

It was an exciting summer for the Brownsville Justice Community Program! One of the highlights was the installation of two new beautiful murals in Brownsville. On August 28, 2014 and September 2, 2014, Groundswell revealed the two murals that were constructed over a six week period with help from young men and women of Brownsville and the Brownsville Justice Community Program.

The Junius St. Mural
Seven participants started their internship journey with Groundswell in June when they participated in the Groundswell interview process. Each Justice Community participant earned their internship stipend for participating in the construction of each of these murals.When asked why they wanted to be a part of this internship, many stated that they wanted to be a part of something that helps to bring a permanent change to their community. 

Justice Community Participant, Shinear Lowe, points to his name displayed on the mural
The first mural, located on the wall of the Food Bazaar located on Junius St.(between Dumont Ave and Livonia Ave) addresses the issue of mass incarceration among youth in the community. Entitled "P.I.C.T.U.R.E.S. Prison Industrial Complex: Tyranny Undermining Rights, Education, and Society", the construction of this mural gave participants the opportunity to express their opinions and views on this topic. They spent the first few weeks doing vigorous research on the topic to assist with the construction of their design. 

The research included attending art galleries, interviewing experts in the field of social reform and brainstorming as a group on design concepts. After the design was complete, the group presented the design concept to all partners to get approval. 

Once they received approval, the painting began! Over 3 weeks, participants painted the final concept of the mural, each day moving progressively closer to completion. On June 24th, they held a community paint day where the community was invited to help paint a part of the mural and were given a chance to hear more about the mural's construction. After six weeks the mural was complete and ready to be officially presented to the community.
Justice Community Participant, Nicholas Sutton, speaks about his experience during his Groundswell internship.
On August 28th, the community at large came out to show their support for all the hard work that was done. Participants expressed their gratitude for having the chance to be a part of something that would contribute to the positive changes happening in the Brownsville community.
Participants received a certificate of participation and celebrate their accomplishments with Groundswell, Justice Community staff and residents of the community

The second mural is entitled, "It's Not A Dream If You Will It" As part of the Transform/Restore: Brownsville Initiative through the National Endowment for the Arts and partnership with the Pitkin Ave. BID and New York City Department of Probation, this mural is the third of a series of five that will be done in the Brownsville Community over the next two years.
Justice Community participant, Tameel Marshall standing in front of the Pitkin Ave. Mural after receiving his certificate and recognitions.  
Using the words 'hero' and 'role model' as their focus during brainstorming, along with inspiration from the famous quote of Thomas Herzl, "If you will it, it is no dream", the young participants for this mural came up with a design that works to encourage community and aspirational thinking as the foundation to progressive action.  

Participants worked on creating this massive work of art and was able to present it to the community on September 2nd at their revealing.
Pitkin Ave. Mural "It's Not A Dream If You Will It"

We are proud of all the participants that were a part of the Groundswell internship this summer and all of the hard work they did to make both murals a success. We look forward to seeing more murals in the Brownsville community for years to come!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Punting Passing and Kicking for a Stronger Brownsville

On July 26th, the Brownsville Community Justice Center helped sponsor an NFL Punt Pass & Kick Skills Competition put on by our partner, the Mo Better Jaguars youth football program in Betsy Head Park. PP&K (as it's known) is an initiative of the NFL to engage young people in football fundamentals. Although it's a supportive environment, competition is fierce- the highest scorers from Saturday advance to a regional competition and those winners will compete during the Super Bowl!

The Mo Better Jaguars are part of the North Jersey Pop Warner conference which features some of the region's powerhouse programs. They are the only Pop Warner football program in New York City and have been playing in Brownsville for more than 17 years.  Aside from winning regional and national titles, they have produced stars such as Jaiquawn Jarrett, now a safety for the New York Jets, and Kevin Ogletree, now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer wideout. Mo Better used to play its home games in the heart of Brownsville at Betsy Head Park but a few years ago officials deemed the field unfit for competition. Now Mo Better must travel outside of the neigborhood for home games. Even though Mo Better can't play games at Betsy Head, they continue to practice there because Brownsville is there home and so their families can watch them play.

The Village Voice has recently covered the program with a series of articles that highlight Mo Better's successes and challenges especially when alumni of the program get caught up in the criminal justice system and life on the streets. Just last month, two of the program's alum were killed by gun violence.

The Justice Center supports events like this as a part of "Brownsville Stronger Together" it's campaign to combat gun and gang violence in the neighborhood. The campaign's strategy is threefold:
1) Spreading positive messaging that highlights Brownsville's strengths, promotes neighborhood pride and strengthens community ties;
2) Creating opportunities for youth to develop skills, build self-worth and be agents of change in their community;
3) Activating public spaces and organizing place-based activities that create visible change in the physical environment.

The Mo Better Jaguars were not deterred by the poor condition on Betsy Head field. In fact, Coach Legree has instilled in them that overcoming adversity is fundamental to the game of football and has surely been critical to their great success as a program. Watching the crowd of young football stars drilling, cheering each other on, and bringing life to the often desolate park gets to heart of what "Brownsville Stronger Together" represents. We were proud to partner with Mo Better on this event and wish them the best this coming season!  


Head Coach of the Mo Better Jaguars Chris Legree reminds his kids of the principles they play by and live by.

Coach Legree give the Mo Better Jaguars a pep talk.

James Brodick of the Justice Center, tells the kids how their drilling, practicing and playing makes Brownsville stronger.

Let the competition begin!




                                                                 and kicking 



 for a Stronger Brownsville!






Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Brownsville goes to Broadway!

On July 10th, the Brownsville Community Justice Center and NYPD's Juvenile Robbbery Intervention Program (JRIP) ventured uptown to dinner and a Broadway show. The evening started at Carmine's fabled family-style Italian restaurant where we feasted on giant plates of chicken parm, penne a la vodka and ravioli with marinara sauce. For dessert the group of youth, police officers and program staff, shared not one but two gigantic delicacies known as "the Titanic" and well-deserving of the name.

Following dinner, the group walked through Times Square to the Palace Theater to see "Holler if Ya Hear Me," the new musical starring slam poet Saul Williams and featuring the music and poetry of Tupac Shakur. The energy in the show was incredible and brought Tupac's classic songs -including "Changes," "Me Against the World," "Keep Ya Head Up" and "California Love"- to life on the stage. It was a story about friendship, love, loyalty,  and redemption on the streets of New York City. After coming home from a long bid in prison, the protagonist's best friend is killed by a rival crew and his old crew is looking to him at how to respond - whether to retaliate or simply mourn and try to keep the peace. 

All in all, it was a wonderful evening out in the city and there is nothing like art to remind you that the daily challenges we face every day have been confronting others for generations, that we have choices (hard as they may be), and that it is the choices we make that shape our destiny.

Thanks to the New York City Police Foundation for the generous support that made this incredible trip possible.



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lighting up Pitkin Avenue with a Movie Night to kick off Summer

On Friday, June 27 at 8:30pm, the Brownsville Community Justice Center, Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District ("the BID"), and Rooftop Films hosted a movie night on Pitkin Avenue as a part of the BID's Summer Plazas series. The movie was Pitkin Avenue’s first public event held in the evening in recent memory. The event was also a historic occasion, as it was the first movie screening on Pitkin Avenue since the closing of the Historic Loews Theatre in the late 1960s. The old theater building still stands just 2 blocks from our movie screening.

The movie ("Are We There Yet?" starring Ice Cube and Nia Long) drew a good crowd of children, teens and families who filled the streets with life hours after the last store had closed. The Justice Center frequently sponsors and supports community events as a part of it's campaign "Brownsville Stronger Together" which aims to change the narrative of Brownsville and build a stronger community by challenging norms that promote anti-social behavior.

The Brownsville Community Justice Center teamed up with the Pitkin Avenue BID to pull off this event.
Justice Center youth did face painting and other activities for youth during the Summer Plazas.

The Loew's Pitkin Theater at the corner of Pitkin Avenue and Legion Street was shuttered since the 60s and has only recently been converted to a charter school with ground floor retail.
"The successes of our Summer Plazas in recent years, leading to a more positive reflection on the neighborhood of Brownsville both from within and from outside the community has led naturally to this event as a next step in our mission to improve the neighborhood. We are now looking to extend the hours of activity on Pitkin Avenue, which is Brownsville’s Main Street, and in so doing create and maintain an expectation of safety, activity and an overall feeling of invitation on our Avenue and surrounding streets.” Daniel Murphy, Executive Director of the Pitkin Avenue Business Improvement District
Children sat up front on yoga mats while parents sat in the BID's plaza chairs.

“The Brownsville Community Justice Center is proud to help sponsor the first ever Pitkin Plaza summer movie. Summer evenings in Brownsville are beautiful but when the stores close and it starts getting dark, Pitkin can feel really desolate. In terms of public safety, there’s no substitute for other people being out. We’re just excited to be out on Pitkin at night, bring the community together and have a fun time.” Viviana Gordon, Director of Operations, Brownsville Community Justice Center

Faces of anticipation. Will Ice Cube be able to woo the woman of his dreams by taking her children on the roadtrip of a lifetime?


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Justice Center coordinates massive, multi-agency clean-up in Brownsville

For as long as anyone can remember, the space behind the fence in the Langston Hughes parking lot has been a dump site. For well over a decade, a homeless man had made it his encampment and accumulated literally tons of trash and debris behind it. The site has been an eyesore and health hazard in the community. It smelled of urine and feces, children in the adjacent playground were afraid to go near it, and no one would park in the spots nearby because the man was known to vandalize cars. Even though everyone wanted it gone, there was no a quick fix. The dumping was actually on private property (behind a Belmont Avenue sneaker store), but the property owner didn't have access because NYCHA had put up a fence and he had no rear entry. The lock on the fence had long rusted over and Sanitation could not gain access. As far as NYPD jurisdiction, while the parking lot was policed by PSA 2, the dumping site was technically precinct turf. There was also great concern from all parties about how the homeless man would react if the site were cleaned which had stalled previous efforts.

The solution to this problem required a commitment from all city agencies involved to work very closely together. Luckily in Brownsville's community district 16, we have phenomenal partners committed to going above and beyond to get the job done. This project would not have been possible without NYCHA and Langston Hughes Property Management, Dept. of Sanitation BK 16, NYPD's 73rd precinct and PSA 2, Common Ground's homeless services outreach team, and Ms. Viola Greene-Walker, our Community Board 16 District Manager.

At the end of the day, the project was a success on multiple levels. Not only did it show us that no job is too big if we work together, it removed a huge symbol of blight and disinvestment from the community. Throughout the morning, dozens of Langston Hughes residents stopped by to express their excitement and relief that the site was being cleaned. One even leaned out the top floor of the 21-story development to shout, "Yay! It's finally being cleaned. Thank you!"   

The clean-up was an initiative of the Justice Center's Belmont Revitilization Project and Operation Toolkit. Operation Toolkit takes a problem-solving approach to tackling discrete neighborhood problems, particularly  hotspots and conditions of disorder that impact public safety. To learn more or to suggest an Operation Toolkit project, contact Viviana at 347-404-9940.

Before the cleanup. The dumping measured 22 feet wide, 4 feet deep and between 6-9 feet tall.
NYCHA's welder was the first to arrive at the site.
Soon after, NYCHA property management, NYPD conditions officers from the 73rd precinct, and Common Ground street outreach workers  arrived
along with the Department of Sanitation BK16 cleaning and field officers.
NYPD was effective in engaging the homeless individual to leave the site voluntarily and without incident. 
After NYPD used their bolt cutter, the welder began to dismantle the fence. 
The garbage was so compacted it did not fall with the fence.
DSNY surveyed the site as their sanitation truck arrives.
The first half of the fence comes down.
And the clean-up begins. 
First to go were the corrugated metal and wrought iron fences. 
NYCHA, NYPD, DSNY and Justice Center staff look on.
NYCHA provided two "front-loader" bobcats to assist with the clean-up.
DSNY strategize with their district superintendent.
It got a lot dirtier before it got cleaner.
Ready for the second half of the fence to come down.
NYCHA and DSNY survey the second half. 
Like the first half, it was so compact it did not fall.
NYCHA hard at work breaking up the debris. 
The NYCHA Borough Administrator for Property Management and BK16's Cleaning Officer track progress.
At one point 3 cats ran out of the site.
A few rats, and many, many roaches. 
More than 6 tons of debris were removed.
NYCHA returned after this to sweep the premises and exterminate, DSNY came through with their street sweeper and NYCHA will power wash the wall.

NYCHA will not replace the fence so the dumping problem does not recur. The Justice Center will work with the property owner to finish cleaning the site, scrape and repaint the wall, and monitor it to prevent future dumping. The Justice Center, property owner, and NYCHA will develop a project to permanently reclaim and beautify the space - possibly planter boxes of flowers and a mural. 

Stay tuned for more updates!