Friday, December 28, 2012

S.O.S. Violence Interrupter Rudy Suggs was profiled in the New York Times on Christmas Day. We are proud of Rudy and of the entire S.O.S. team. Thank you for your continued support to make gun violence in Crown Heights a problem of the past. 

DECEMBER 25, 2012, 11:00 AM

A Onetime Drug Dealer, Now Working to Combat a Plague of Gun Violence

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays from 
the Crown Heights Community
 Mediation Center
To learn more about what the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center accomplished this year, click here.To view a digital copy of our community resource directory, click here.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Most Rewarding and Uplifting Experience

"In the 45 years that I have been involved in community organizing, S.O.S. is the most rewarding and uplifting experience. In the two years that I have been involved we’ve seen how much S.O.S. has improved the community. This is a program about everybody, but this program is particularly giving the young people the knowledge to run this neighborhood. The young people will be able to do this because of the tremendous job of the foot soldiers, the Violence Interrupters and Outreach Workers who are making the neighborhood safer. I thank them every day."
– Willard Hawkins, S.O.S. Volunteer 

Dear supporters of C.H.C.M.C.,

We are mourning the loss of the children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. As we grieve for them, we also hold close in our hearts the victims of gun violence here in Brooklyn.  We feel so thankful for your support and are approaching our work with more vigor and urgency. As we have said at every one of the community rallies we have held this year, “Enough is enough. The time to act is now. 

We’ve accomplished much this year, but as always we have much more to do. Here are a few highlights from 2012.         
  • Save Our Street Crown Heights (S.O.S.) Violence Interrupters and Outreach Workers mediated 110 conflicts. Each of those conflicts could have escalated into an incident in which someone might have been seriously hurt or killed. Violence Interrupters use their street savviness, their training, and their relationships to intervene and prevent conflict escalation. As Violence Interrupter Larry Holland puts it, “Sometimes we just have to pump their brakes a little bit.”
  • As part of our effort to foster relationships among neighbors, highlight the talents of neighborhood residents, and encourage community participation in the fight against gun violence, we organized over twenty events involving over 1,000 people, including two block parties (photos), two film nights, a talent show (photos), a community march, a YO S.O.S. flash mob (photos) and an art showcase (photos). None of these events would have been possible without our highly dedicated and active group of volunteers who keep the work going and inspire the staff daily.
  • We launched Make It Happen!, a unique, groundbreaking program that serves young men of color who have experienced violence, a population long ignored by traditional victim services providers. I’m extremely proud of the work we’re doing here. MIH! is not only bringing much needed services to a population in need, but it is also changing a fundamental paradigm—both within the culture of the people it works with and within victim services institutions.
  • We launched the S.O.S. Clergy Action Network (C.A.N.), bringing together more than 130 local clergy members to support Save Our Streets Crown Heights and work for non-violence in their communities. In 2013 we plan to publish a book about some of our C.A.N. members and their efforts to end the culture of violence among their congregations.
  • Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S.), the youth mobilization arm of S.O.S., prepares teens to be community organizers, effective messengers, and problem solvers in the movement against urban gun violence. In 2012, YO S.O.S. completed its inaugural year and launched a second, bigger program for the 2012-13 school year. Twenty-one youths graduated from the program in the spring, and 35 new organizers joined this fall. In 2013, youth organizers will spread the message of non-violence and take over our annual Arts to End Violence contest and showcase. We’re excited to see the results!
  • Our neighbor services program served over 700 walk-in clients with job searches, resume assistance, housing help, health-care screenings, immigration help, and access to services across the community. This year we also created a community resource directory focusing on Crown Heights. The directory is available both digitally and in hard copy for those who have limited computer access.

Of course, the work we do is never done, and we have already started on our plans to make Crown Heights safer and healthier in 2013. Perhaps our most exciting new venture for 2013 is our new Hospital Responder program. Launched in partnership with Kings County Hospital’s Emergency Department, this initiative allows Center staff to work directly with shooting victims, their friends, and their family members at the hospital; first responders will intervene to try to prevent retaliation and disrupt the cycle of violence before it escalates.

Supporters like you are instrumental in our campaign to end gun violence and in making Crown Heights safer for all residents. We’re very proud to count so many people throughout New York City as our friends, and we very much hope that you’ll continue to support our work—in whatever way you can. Please follow our progress on our blog,Twitter, and Facebook, please refer people to our programs, come volunteer, or, best of all, come to our events!

If you can make a financial contribution, checks can be made out to our parent organization, the Fund for the City of New York, and mailed to the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center at 256 Kingston Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11213. Or you can donate online by clicking this link and selecting "Crown Heights Mediation Center" in the program designation dropdown menu. 

Thank you, again, for your continued support. We couldn’t do it without you.
Best wishes for a happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year.

In peace,

Amy Ellenbogen and the rest of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center Staff


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On Dealing with Gun Violence

Our hearts go out to the town of Newtown, CT and to the families of those who were killed and injured in the horrific incident last Friday. We are grieving with them and grieving for all the victims of gun violence everywhere for whom this most recent tragedy resonates with a particularly deep sadness, frustration and, in some cases, anger.The staff and volunteers of S.O.S. grapple daily with how to put an end to the epidemic of gun violence. We consider gun violence a disease which has infected our society and is continuing to spread. We work for the day that gun violence is eradicated and a problem of the past.

S.O.S. staff work to prevent the spread of this disease by interrupting potential incidents of violence. We also try to change the beliefs that make gun violence possible in our neighborhood. Too many people in Crown Heights believe that it is acceptable to use guns at the slightest sign of conflict or disrespect.  On too many corners, getting shot is seen as a rite of passage that confers status on the streets.  And too many kids grow up not expecting to live past 20.

Newtown, Connecticut and Crown Heights, Brooklyn are worlds apart in some respects but at the end of the day, the pain that mothers, fathers, siblings and friends experience in the aftermath of violence is the same. One mother whose son was killed by gun violence in Crown Heights said that the parents of Newtown, “have no idea what grief is yet, have no idea of the darkness.”
Unfortunately, in our neighborhood, when there is a shooting, the signs of outrage are brief and often muted.  Newspapers tend not to devote A1 stories to the chronic drip of violence in Crown Heights.  There is always another crisis to attend to, another more urgent problem to solve.  And so the violence continues.  Is it any surprise that some in Crown Heights wonder aloud whether the life of a person in this neighborhood is truly valued by those outside of the community?  
Here in Crown Heights, our work to stop gun violence is not only hampered by the reality that guns are easy to obtain, but also by fractured and overtaxed systems -- schools, health care, and housing, to name a few.  As a student once asked us at a barren, prison-like Suspension Center, “What am I supposed to think when I’m sent to a school that has no books?” We have learned the hard way that a person who does not consider his or her life precious or important can easily become dangerous.
As we try to make meaning of the massacre in Newtown, we hope that you will join us in some of the work we plan to do in 2013:
1) Hold the victims here in our neighborhood in our hearts and prayers. This time of year is particularly hard for those who have lost loved ones.
2) Work closely with perpetrators of gun violence and potential perpetrators of gun violence to help them think and behave differently. Help them make safer choices for themselves and our neighborhood.
3) Create meaningful opportunities for neighbors to come together for positive experiences and to strengthen the fabric of the neighborhood, such as Arts to End Violence, the S.O.S. Talent Show, and the many block parties we organize.
4) Try to understand some of the root causes of the gun violence and what can be done about it. Think about the many institutions that touch or fail touch our young people and what we can do to help them succeed.
5) Learn and practice peaceful conflict resolution so that we can model for our children, friends and family healthy ways of responding to conflict.
6) Express outrage by attending a shooting response if there are any more shootings in Crown Heights.
7) Attend community meetings. Join your block association. Talk to your neighbors. Strengthen your own commitment to be a part of the movement to end gun violence.
In Peace,
Amy Ellenbogen, Crown Heights Community Mediation Center

Monday, December 17, 2012

Talking to Children About Violence

From The Center for School Mental Health.

Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers

High profile acts of violence, particularly in schools, can confuse and frighten children who may feel in danger or worry that their friends or loved-ones are at risk. They will look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Parents and school personnel can help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and security and talking with them about their fears.

1. Reassure children that they are safe. Emphasize that schools are very safe. Validate their feelings. Explain that all feelings are okay when a tragedy occurs. Let children talk about their feelings, help put them into perspective, and assist them in expressing these feelings appropriately.

2. Make time to talk. Let their questions be your guide as to how much information to provide. Be patient. Children and youth do not always talk about their feelings readily. Watch for clues that they may want to talk, such as hovering around while you do the dishes or yard work. Some children prefer writing, playing music, or doing an art project as an outlet. Young children may need concrete activities (such as drawing, looking at picture books, or imaginative play) to help them identify and express their feelings.

3. Keep your explanations developmentally appropriate.
* Early elementary school children need brief, simple information that should be balanced with reassurances that their school and homes are safe and that adults are there to protect them. Give simple examples of school safety like reminding children about exterior doors being locked, child monitoring efforts on the playground, and emergency drills practiced during the school day.

* Upper elementary and early middle school children will be more vocal in asking questions about whether they truly are safe and what is being done at their school. They may need assistance separating reality from fantasy. Discuss efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools.

* Upper middle school and high school students will have strong and varying opinions about the causes of violence in schools and society. They will share concrete suggestions about how to make school safer and how to prevent tragedies in society. Emphasize the role that students have in maintaining safe schools by following school safety guidelines (e.g. not providing building access to strangers, reporting strangers on campus, reporting threats to the school safety made by students or community members, etc.), communicating any personal safety concerns to
school administrators, and accessing support for emotional needs.

4. Review safety procedures. This should include procedures and safeguards at school and at home. Help children identify at least one adult at school and in the community to whom they go if they feel threatened or at risk.

5. Observe children's emotional state. Some children may not express their concerns verbally. Changes in behavior, appetite, and sleep patterns can indicate a child's level of anxiety or discomfort. In most children, these symptoms will ease with reassurance and time. However, some children may be at risk for more intense reactions. Children who have had a past traumatic experience or personal loss, suffer from depression or other mental illness, or with special needs may be at greater risk for severe reactions than others. Seek the help of mental health professional if you are at all concerned.

6. Limit television viewing of these events. Limit television viewing and be aware if the television is on in common areas. Developmentally inappropriate information can cause anxiety or confusion, particularly in young children. Adults also need to be mindful of the content of conversations that they have with each other in front of children,
even teenagers, and limit their exposure to vengeful, hateful, and angry comments that might be misunderstood.

7. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a regular schedule can be reassuring and promote physical health. Ensure that children get plenty of sleep, regular meals, and exercise. Encourage them to keep up with their schoolwork and extracurricular activities but don't push them if they seem overwhelmed.

Suggested Points to Emphasize When Talking to Children

* Schools are safe places. School staff work with parents and public safety providers (local police and fire departments, emergency responders, hospitals, etc.) to keep you safe.

* The school building is safe because ... (cite specific school procedures).

* We all play a role in the school safety. Be observant and let an adult know if you see or hear something that makes you feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened.

* There is a difference between reporting, tattling or gossiping. You can provide important information that may prevent harm either directly or anonymously by telling a trusted adult what you know or hear.

* Don't dwell on the worst possibilities. Although there is no absolute guarantee that something bad will never happen, it is important to understand the difference between the possibility of something happening and the probability that it will affect our school.

* Senseless violence is hard for everyone to understand. Doing things that you enjoy, sticking to your normal routine, and being with friends and family help make us feel better and keep us from worrying about the event.

* Sometimes people do bad things that hurt others. They may be unable to handle their anger, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or suffering from mental illness. Adults (parents, teachers, police officers, doctors, faith leaders) work very hard to get those people help and keep them from hurting others. It is important for all of us to know how to get help if we feel really upset or angry and to stay away from drugs and alcohol.

* Stay away from guns and other weapons. Tell an adult if you know someone has a gun. Access to guns is one of the leading risk factors for deadly violence.

* Violence is never a solution to personal problems. Students can be part of the positive solution by participating in anti-violence programs at school, learning conflict mediation skills, and seeking help from an adult if they or a peer is struggling with anger, depression, or other emotions they cannot control.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

A Community Response to Shooting

On Tuesday, December 4th at 6:30pm, a group of 34 people including Crown Heights residents, local clergy members and S.O.S. and CHCMC staff, participated in a community rally at the corner of Troy Avenue and Dean Street. The rally was in response to a December 1st shooting incident that took place at a party in Weeksville Houses. The rally was also attended by the father of the shooting victim and at least two other parents who have lost their sons to street gun violence. These rallies are intended to mark each shooting incident as an outrage and an insult to the community and to make it clear that there is a stong and growing body of neighborhood residents who refuse to tolerate it. 

The video above is a clip of the words that Reverend Jones, our S.O.S. Clergy liason, shared with the community. We thank everyone who came to stand with us.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Appreciation for Sharon "Ife" Charles

On November 28th, the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center  held a special appreciation ceremony to honor Sharon "Ife" Charles, the former Deputy Director of the Mediation Center.  Ife has been promoted to work as the Citywide Anti-Violence Coordinator for the Center for Court Innovation where she is helping to start the S.O.S. South Bronx project and the Brownsville Ceasefire program.  Ms. Charles dedicated 13 years to the mediation center, during which time she uplifted the Crown Heights community and touched countless lives.

Evidence of her impact could be seen in the large number of people who came to pay tribute to her on Wednesday. As they enjoyed hearty food and wine, guests shared personal stories of their relationships with Ife and wrote notes to her on paper leaves that were appended to a tree blooming with gratitude.

Among the evening's guests were ten youth organizers from our “Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets” program. The Youth Organizers helped run the event, greeting guests, making sure everything ran smoothly, and creating the leaves upon which people wrote notes to Ife. Their positive energy lifted the crowd.

During the formal ceremony Ms. Charles was awarded proclamations of merit issued by the New York City Council Members Christine Quinn, Jumaane Williams and Leticia James, as well as New York State Senator Eric Adams and State Assemblyman Karim Camara for her contributions to the community. Ms. Audre Andrews from the Lincoln Place block association also presented her with a special acknowledgement of her contribution. 

Marlon Peterson, deputy director of the Mediation Center, welcomed guests to the event and recalled the support and nurturing that Ife provided him in the years that he has worked here. Amy Ellenbogen, director of the Mediation Center, shared a story about a time when Ife stopped in the street to intervene in a conflict between youth, putting her own life in danger. When the youth asked aggressively, “who are you?” Ife pointed to each youth in turn and said, “I’m your mother, and I’m your mother and I’m your mother.”

Indeed, when Ife accepted her awards and called out each of the people who had shown up to support her, she epitomized the way we at the Mediation Center think of her, as the mother of Crown Heights. She will be truly missed at the mediation center, but we congratulate her on continuing on the path of her life’s work.

To read a write up of the event by Greg Berman, Executive Director of the Center for Court Innovation, click here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Resources for Families of Gun Violence Victims

Sadly, people from all over New York City have lost family members to gun violence. When a life is lost, families want to ensure that their loved one’s name is not forgotten. Many of them stop by our office to find out how they can honor the lives lost; some do so by connecting to others in similar situations and some even start their own foundations. In the fall of 2012 the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center decided to create a record of all of the resources that support families’ grieving and rebuilding process.

The list is organized into several sections to categorize organizations, and includes:
  •         Organizations supporting family members of homicide victims
  •         Organizations founded by family members of homicide victims
  •         Support for Starting a Non-Profit
  •         Resources and support in the grieving process
Click here to view the list online.

This list is a work in progress, so please contact Ariana Siegel at or call 718-773-6886 if you know of additional organizations that should be included.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

S.O.S. Volunteer Meeting TODAY

Hurricane Sandy Recovery Resources (continued)

SNAP/ Food Stamp Reimbursement 

(reposted from Team Tish blog)

Individuals who receive SNAP (food stamps) will be reimbursed on their EBT card, for 50% of their monthly allotment to help purchase food lost due to the storm. People who receive SNAP and lost more than 50% of their food for the month because of the storm, may be able to get reimbursed for more of their lost food by completing and submitting this form.

People who receive SNAP will be able to temporarily purchase hot/prepared food from retailers licensed by the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA, using their SNAP benefits until November 30th.

People who lost food but not on food stamps, MAY be eligible for a reimbursement to cover the cost of spoiled food due to power outages from ConEdison. The application for that program is attached and available by following the link here

Resources from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) 

The US Small Business Administration offers two types of disaster-relief loans to businesses:
  • The Business Physical Disaster Loan helps replace or restore damaged property.
  • The Economic Injury Disaster Loan addresses economic damage (e.g. lost revenue). 
Application Filing Deadlines:
  • Physical Damage: December 31, 2012  
  • Economic Injury: July 31, 2013
For more information, call (800) 659-2955, email, or visit Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals may call (800) 877-8339.

Resources from NYC's Economic Development Corp. and Dept. of Small Business Services

Emergency loans are available for businesses that experienced an interruption in business. Loans will be capped at $25,000. Visit or call 311 and ask for NYC Business Emergency Loan.

Federal Disaster Assistance (FEMA)

Anyone affected by Sandy – homeowners, renters, and businesses – can apply for federal disaster assistance. They can register at or by calling 1-800-621-3362.

Unemployment Assistance

Anyone unemployed due to Hurricane Sandy is immediately eligible for unemployment benefits or disaster unemployment assistance and can submit a claim to the Department of Labor. You can apply by calling 1-888-209-8124. Application deadline is December 3, 2012. 


Those with questions about insurance / filing insurance claims should call the NYS Department of Financial Services emergency hotline. Call 1-800-339-1759 to speak to an expert. Hours of operation are 8AM to 8PM weekdays, 9AM to 4PM weekends.

Legal Assistance

Several services are offering free legal assistance to those affected by Hurricane Sandy. Types of assistance typically include help with insurance claims, preparing powers of attorney, help with guardianships, and preparing new wills and other lost legal documents.
For more information, please visit, or

The New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) has mobilized a legal aid disaster relief program to help victims of the storm deal with a range of legal issues, including: FEMA claims, consumer matters, accessing public benefits, housnig, family law matters, replacing lost documentation/identification, and other issues. NYLAG is setting up legal access points throughout the areas most affected by the storm; please visit for updates on locations. To organize for NYLAG attorneys and/or the Mobile Legal Help Center to visit your agency, email Individuals seeking assistance with legal issues can call NYLAG's hotline at 212-584-3365 or email

US IRS Tax Relief

Extended deadlines apply to New York taxpayers, tax professionals, and relief workers directly affected by Hurricane Sandy. The New York State Department of Tax and Finance has extended tax deadlines to November 14, 2012. The IRS is also postponing various tax filing and payment deadlines starting in late October, giving affected taxpayers until Feb. 1, 2013, to file these returns and pay any taxes due. This tax relief is automatic for affected taxpayers whose address of record is in the federally-declared disaster area. All other affected taxpayers must self-identify for disaster relief by contacting the IRS at 1-866-562-5227

For more information about this assistance, please visit or a local Taxpayer Assistance Center at (212) 719-6631

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

S.O.S. Volunteer Meeting RESCHEDULED

Due to the storm conditions, we have decided to reschedule tonight's S.O.S. Volunteer meeting for next Wednesday, November 14th, from 6-7:30 PM. We apologize for any inconvenience, and hope to meet everyone and share ideas next week.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Election day is TODAY!

Election day is TODAY, November 6th! To find out where your polling place is, click this link, or text the word "WHERE" to NYCVOTES at the number 877-877. Please note that some polling locations have been changed due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

Las elecciones son HOY, el 6 de Noviembre! Para localizar su centro de votacion visite a este sitio, o manda un mensaje de texto con la palabra "DONDE" a 877-877. Les avisamos que algunos centros de votacion han cambiado debido al hurac├ín.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Recovery Resources

We hope that everyone in our neighborhood and beyond is staying safe in the days following Hurricane Sandy. Our thoughts and prayers are with those whose health or homes were harmed by the storm. We at the CHCMC want to make available any resources we can offer in the rebuilding process. Below you will find information about transportation, reporting damage, assistance for those harmed by the storm, and volunteering opportunities. The city continues to provide updates on school closings, transportation, emergency shelters and food, and more here.


For all the latest updates on transit service check
For bus service schedules check
For an updated subway map, click here. 


President Obama has pledged that the federal government will support New York City and other devastated areas in the wake of Sandy. Disaster Assistance can cover rent for temporary housing, grants for home repair, grants to meet medical and other disaster-related needs, unemployment payments, and more. 

  • To apply for Disaster Assistance: Call FEMA at 800-621-3362 (TTY for the Deaf: 800-462-7585) The toll-free telephone numbers are available from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (local time) Monday through Sunday until further notice. Or apply online at Smartphone users can visit:
  • You can report damage to your home or business sustained from Sandy here. Be prepared to answer questions about the extent of your property's damage.
  • Many people will qualify for emergency food stamps under the "Disaster" program. Please call 718-557-1339 for more information.

To report non-emergencies like fallen trees: call 311, text 311-692, or report online here

To report downed wires: call ConEd at (800) 75-CONED


The Mayor's Office is instructing New Yorkers who want to volunteer to email your name and borough to

The Occupy movement has also created a site to mobilize volunteers called "Occupy Sandy Relief," click here to register to volunteer with them.

We will have a collection box in front of our office TODAY, Friday 11/2, to collect supplies for donation to the Red Hook Initiative, helping the recovery process in the damaged neighborhood.


Thursday, November 1, 2012

S.O.S. Wishes you a Happy Halloween!

Amidst the devastation that Hurricane Sandy brought to our friends and families across the New York and New Jersey areas, we at the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center wanted to spread some Halloween love to our young Crown Heights trick-or-treaters. We had two 'pop up' community candy tablings sponsored by S.O.S and YO S.O.S. 

The outreach workers, youth organizers, and mediation center staff hit the streets with candy, facepaint, and S.O.S. material to talk to people about gun violence. We were able to give out over 200 bags of candy and SOS “Don't Shoot I Want to Grow Up” palm cards to children and their guardians. It was a much needed event in the wake of the hurricane.

We understand the importance of humility in sharing our smiles from yesterday's Halloween community tabling, as well as the equal importance of bringing good news amid all of the tragedy the Sandy brought and left.

We hope everyone in our community and those surrounding us can stay safe and find ways to smile as we work towards stability in the days ahead.

Friday, October 26, 2012

CHCMC Event Update

October has been a busy month for the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center! We completed our rennovations and are preparing to open our doors to clients again this coming Monday, October 29th. This past weekend we had two events to help organize and beautify our neighborhood-- read more about it in our reports below.

S.O.S. C.A.N. "Clergy Breakfast"

The Clergy Action Network is back in action!

Last Saturday, October 20th, 30 members of the Save Our Streets Clergy Action Network (S.O.S. C.A.N.) met at the Bethany United Methodist church over a continental breakfast and an agenda that included sections on “connecting,” “learning,” and “doing.” S.O.S. clergy liaison Reverend Kevin Jones (pictured below) thanked the attendees for their work thus far, and then called for further action.

“Pastors, our neighborhood youth need us!” he said. “There is a tremendous need for faith-based leaders to join forces to Save Our Streets. You’ve shown your good faith by showing up at this breakfast, now come stand beside us on our clergy walks, pray with us at our shooting responses, speak to your young people about peaceful living, sit with us and think of ways that you and your congregation can help prevent gun violence.”

Rev. Jones reported on last week’s clergy rally at a neighborhood corner plagued by a spike in gun violence. He also spoke about clergy participation in a recent F.A.I.T.H. (Fathers Alive In The Hood) organized march of black men standing together as community role models. These efforts are an important way to show the community that the clergy do not just “preach to four walls,” he said, but rather that they, and God, care about the realities of the streets.

The C.A.N. members then heard from other powerful community organizers; Pastor Matthew Godwin spoke of his experiences in the biweekly clergy walks, and two young men appealed to the clergy to conduct evening programs that would make churches a safe haven for neighborhood youth. Later, Pastor Carolyn Frasier (pictured, left) shared the way God has influenced her to extend her pastoring beyond Sunday worship. Rev. Frasier recently turned that intention into action when Bible Faith hosted a prayer response to stand against the increased gun violence in their area along with 10 other pastors and their congregations. 

More inspiring community organizing experiences were exchanged as Rev. David Brawley spoke of his leadership in East Brooklyn Congregations, which organizes local citizens to hold the government and police accountable to the community. Finally, Dr. Cheryl Anthony led the group in a closing prayer, thanking God for giving us the power to help our community move away from gun violence and toward a better future.
To follow up on their intentions to better the community, several members signed up to be trained in conflict resolution and mediation techniques. Marlon Peterson, the associate director at CHCMC, agreed to lead a workshop at a date and time TBA. Several others signed up to covenant with S.O.S. C.A.N. in prayer and all expressed sincere interest in making a change in our neighborhood. 

"It's My Park Day" 2012

CHCMC's new Americorps members, Toluwalashe Davies and Pete Martin report back after spending a Saturday afternoon at Brower Park for this year's "It's My Park Day:" 

Brower Park is a true community park, as we found out when we turned out for "It’s My Park Day" this past Saturday, October 20. The event, organized by Friends of Brower Park, brought community members together to clean up the park, plant grass and flowers, and get to know each other. The beautiful weather enabled us to get a lot of raking and planting done, and there was a strong, shared sense of belonging. Everyone was friendly with each other, and there were a lot of positive interactions and teamwork. Since it was our first time at the event we didn’t know what to expect, but we enjoyed ourselves immensely as we got our hands dirty raking leaves, planting daffodils, and learning how to best use a shovel to dig the earth. Nobody had warned us that our muscles would be sore afterwards, but we were happy anyway to have put all our might into our duties for the day!

While there, we met many people who came out to help beautify their park just because they wanted to. We met nine-year-olds who wanted to help plant daffodils, a young girl who likes to sing and loves the earth and its worms, a lawyer who lives near the park and likes to give back to the community, an older lady who thought one of us looked a lot like a cousin of hers, and Phil, who is in charge of Friends of Brower Park. There were about 30 high school students, all helping with the clean-up and the flower planting, and they made the day fun, playing with each other while getting the work done. There were also a lot of adults there, leading by example, and showing the youth that activism does not end at a certain age. Crown Heights is indeed an amazing community of people who trying to make their neighborhood a better place, one daffodil at a time.

Shooting Response TODAY!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Meet Make It Happen! and its founder, Brandon Gibson

Interview with Brandon Gibson
Avodah Americorps Member Ariana Siegel sat down with Brandon Gibson to talk about Make It Happen! an OVC (Office of Victims of Crime) funded program run in partnership with the Center for Court Innovation's Domestic Violence department. 

AS: So, tell us about “Make It Happen!”
BG: Make it happen is a program geared towards helping young men of color between the ages of 16 and 24 overcome experiences with violence, and succeed in spite of those experiences.
The program consists of two main components: individual sessions and group meetings. The individual sessions occur before the group first meets. In the individual sessions I work on forming a trusting relationship with the participant, and from there we talk about their past, my past, what their goals are, how they want to go about obtaining those goals. Then when the group gets together, we meet specifically to talk about issues relating to manhood, identity, community, gender equality and other relevant social issues.

AS: How was Make It Happen! created?
BG: The Crown Heights Mediation Center wanted to expand their services for young men of color. These are services that will help them get over the pain and trauma of their circumstance, whether it be physical violence, mental abuse, or socio-economic, institutional violence—which is extremely apparent in the lives of these young African-American men.
Some of the most harmful violence experienced by young men of color is institutional violence. I believe that Black men have lived in large part, and died in large part due to policies that have adversely affected our community. All of these things that sent myriad fathers, sons, nephews, cousins away to jail for minor offenses, you know: the crack epidemic, and the war on drugs. If it were not for those policies I don’t think we would be in the shape that we’re in today.
So there is a need to expose young Black men to an alternative life. Not necessarily leading them down the road to being millionaires, but just being happy. Just being at peace. Understanding who they are. Understanding the world in which they live, and how to navigate it, because it’s a very different journey for them than for people who don’t look like them.

AS: How do you go about exposing them to an alternative lifestyle? What are the steps?
BG: The first step is building relationships. You really have to look at this work as building relationships, building trust, being transparent. You have to be intentional if you want to build relationships with participants. And once you build a healthy relationship, what comes along with it by default is trust. It’s safety that one feels, a level of openness. That’s what we try to foster with MIH.

AS: How long have been doing this now?
BG: About 5 months. This is all brand new. The pilot group was 5 weeks long; we recruited 10 guys and had a group meeting once every week. [The participants] would meet with me one-on-one whenever they wanted to and we would deal with issues of trauma, not in an official therapeutic capacity, but just mentoring and setting goals. The entry point of Make It Happen, the way we grab their attention, is success. Helping them to succeed by getting jobs, job development, training, education. Helping them learn about how to have healthy relationships, how to have self-control, gender issues, all of that.

AS: How would you rate your progress so far?
BG: The pilot group went great. After only 5 weeks we have success stories. We have one guy who already got his GED after having a felony drug case. He wants to be an entrepreneur so we’re putting him into a program called “Defy Ventures” that will teach him about business and ultimately fund the business that he starts. Another young man who dropped out of college after meeting with us and being exposed, he’s enrolling back into school. He didn’t have a job but he’s employed as a nurse’s assistant because he wants to be a doctor. We have another young guy who… was shot more times than anyone in the city and survived. He has not been arrested over the past month or two, which is huge for this young man, and he’s also in a GED program. Another guy is enrolled in NYU’s high school law program.

AS: Does the program look the way you originally envisioned it would?
BG: It’s not where I imagined it yet, but that’s good because that means that we have room to grow. I want to see the participants of Make It Happen running the program, where these guys are the ones recruiting their friends on the street, they’re the ones running the workshops, they’re the ones mentoring, they’re the ones doing the community organizing. I think I should just be there in a supervisory capacity. They should be taking ownership of the program, because it’s theirs. 

AS: Have you started the recruitment process for the next cohort?
BG: Yes. We’re looking for guys who want to make it happen. Who want to succeed and don’t know how to right now, but want to. You may not know what success means for you, but you have to be open to hearing about it. Maybe it’s going to school, getting a job, not going to jail next week, tired of getting arrested every other week. And we want to help you achieve those goals. Ages 16 to 24.

AS: What drew you to this work? What motivates you to keep going?
BG: I spent some time in that finance world but I always felt kind of guilty because I was doing so well, and a lot of people who look like me, young men in particular, were not. So I felt a pull do to this work, a “calling,” if you will.
Also, I recently read Steve Jobs’ auto-biography. He grew up in a very lower-middle class home, a family that didn’t have much, and he had trouble in school. And his parents decided to save up every penny they could to move into a better neighborhood, for him to go to a better school. So they moved into a neighborhood where Steve Jobs was able to meet a major software engineer named Steve Wozniak—who created the first Apple Computer.
So I look at that story and I get angry because I ask myself the question: I wonder how many Steve Jobs there are in the projects, in the jails, on the couch doing nothing? And if they just had a chance to be exposed, what could they become? That’s one of the drives for me: the potential and the possibilities of these young men. And that’s what really drives me to do what I do.

For more information on Make It Happen! or to join or refer someone to the program, contact Brandon Gibson at or call 646-943-0074