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.