Thursday, February 6, 2014

Brownsville Youth Court: Alumni Reflections

Tynesia Fields
Pitkin Avenue, Brownsville, Brooklyn N.Y, USA- The neighborhood in which I have grown since birth is associated with negative stereotypes in the media and the residents too often live up to them. This is the same city that has raised me - that I love- but it is known for its murders, robbery, gangs, high incarceration rates and teenage pregnancy. Through my community and my experiences I have learned that a reputation can either be a self-fulfilling prophecy, or encourage one to do better than what is expected. Thus, I am not a product of my surroundings, but a servant for my community. I come into daily contact with youth who have fallen into these stereotypes and I try to help empower them through peer mentoring. Involvement with the Brownsville Youth Court has allowed me to continue fulfilling my passion for service such as advocating for children’s and racial/ ethnic justice and cultural rights as well as gain more knowledge in other interests, including criminalization and homelessness. 
For more than a year, I have volunteered with the Brownsville Youth Court. Two days a week from 4 to 6pm after school, Brownsville Youth Court is a peer led court for teens that have committed low level offenses and are in need of help and prevention mechanisms. This constructive atmosphere has inspired me to pursue a career in law and to become a youth advocate. Unlike a family court judge, we do not determine guilt or innocence, but focus on the cause of the crime and what we, as peers, can do or say to help prevent them from making those wrong decisions again. Together, we devise a plan of how we can promote change in that individual and help them create short and long-term goals. Rather than going to jail, the respondents were able to close their cases once their sanction to repair harm done to the community was completed, including community service work, workshops, essays, apologies, etc. Unlike the crab in a barrel mentality, this system allows peers, all trying to avoid the limited expectations of the community, to help one another claw their way out of the barrel. In personally interacting with the respondents through interviews, I learned about the circumstances of youth of my society and their purposes for being in those predicaments—abusive fathers, absent mothers, drug addictions in the home, etc. If more people were made aware of these occurrences and the lack of resources for youth, they would be passionate about advocating for those whose voices have been eradicated by policing strategies. This led to my interest in the cycle of homeless youth that are criminalized for their methods of survival. 
                I am eager to tackle the challenges that children face in poverty-stricken communities by representing them in the court of law through legal advocacy. I have made a conscious choice to appreciate my community, taking pride in the values and guiding principles it has taught me and have used this drive to participate in multiple service opportunities for my peers. My experiences in the first semester of college have also illuminated my aspirations. I took an Urban Studies class called Crime and the City that has exposed me to different perspectives of urban cities and crime through lessons as well as hands on activities. I participated in a winter homeless count in Providence to ensure that homeless shelters had adequate space for homeless people, including youth in Rhode Island. I also learned more about policing strategies in various cities and the formation of these urban neighborhoods. These recent teachings and my experience with the Brownsville Youth Court have inspired me to work towards opening more Youth Courts in urban neighborhoods to help inner city youth return to paths of success after making mistakes. I will continue to strive to achieve these goals for the public interest.

Tynesia Fields served on the Youth Court between 2011 and 2013. Tynesia is currently enrolled at Brown University on a full scholarship. 

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