Tuesday, March 12, 2013

First Arts to End Violence Workshop a Success

Arla Herron-Nurse, Art Therapist
Among a table full of pastels, markers and multi-colored paper, community members gathered last Wednesday for the first Arts to End Violence workshop of 2013. Taught by Arla Herron-Nurse, a licensed Art Therapist with a degree in special education, and also a Save Our Streets Crown Heights volunteer, the event discussed the use of arts and crafts to open up conversations with children about traumatic experiences.

Arla told the group that “children need to express their emotions so they can learn,” and that she’d been employed by several schools to help children whose emotional issues were blocking their progress and causing them to act out.

One fifth-grade student had come into school acting very withdrawn, and would not talk about what was wrong. When Arla told her to draw what she felt the student produced a picture that helped her express the traumatic experiences she had endured, including the murder of her aunt and the recent hospitalization of her father. “Children don’t have the same kind of reticence about drawing as adults do,” Arla said. “If you give them a piece of paper and pen, they’ll draw what they feel.”

Art expression has also been a useful therapeutic tool in hospitals, prisons, and various other settings, Arla said. At this Arts to End Violence workshop Arla instructed the attendees, a group of local teachers, artists and activists, to draw a picture that illustrated their emotions. Though some were initially hesitant to draw after years without practice, the drawings produced were beautiful images that the group later analyzed and discussed. Through this process, Arla explained, the adults could better empathize with a child in the same position, and also gain tools for engaging children in conversation about their art.

As the first Arts to End Violence workshop drew to a close, attendees expressed excitement about the upcoming Arts to End Violence events. They agreed that there is much inspiration and motivation to be gained from events that join activism with the arts.

Monday, March 11, 2013

YO S.O.S. in the News!

Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets was profiled by Metro News today in an article featured on the front page of their website and in a paper version distributed around New York City. The article detailed the dedication of teens to ending gun violence, and quoted youth organizers who spoke about the way the program has changed their lives. To learn more about YO SOS click here, to learn more about the Arts to End Violence festival that the youth organizers are helping put together this year, click here. For the Arts to End Violence tumblr, click here.

YO S.O.S.: Brooklyn teens ready to holster gun violence


By Published: 

On any given Monday or Wednesday afternoon, in a third-floor room in a church on Kingston Avenue, a group of 14- to 17-year-olds are gearing up for important work: tackling the issue of gun violence in their community.

These teens are part of a group in Crown Heights called YO S.O.S. (Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets), and they all went through an application process to join a program that many of them say hits very close to home.

Mariama Barry, a ninth-grader at Wingate, a school nearby on Kingston, lives in Bed-Stuy and said she was motivated to join YO S.O.S. because of the shootings in her neighborhood.

“I’ve heard the gunshots and it’s really disturbing,” Mariama explained. “I wouldn’t want something like that to affect any of my family members.”

Click here to read more.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

First-Ever Monday Movies Event

The CHCMC opened its doors to Crown Heights for our first free “Monday Movies” night this week. Over 20 community members and staff gathered in the Center for a viewing of the classic film, “The Wiz.” The first in the  Monday Movies series, “The Wiz” provided a space for community members to spend quality time together and learn more about the essence of the African-American experience. Complete with refreshments and a movie theatre atmosphere, community members were given the opportunity to unwind, laugh and be inspired by a movie with strong connections to their neighborhood. The event was a great success, and the CHCMC is looking forward to our next Monday Movies event, featuring the Spike Lee film “Crooklyn.” We will be showing the movie at the CHCMC on March 25th at 5pm. All are welcome to enjoy this free movie and community evening!

Monday, March 4, 2013

Columbia University Welcomes Youth Organizers

S.O.S. Crown Heights was honored as the beneficiary and guest of honor at the annual Naach Nation performance and fundraiser on Saturday, March 2, at Columbia University. Naach Nation, now in its eleventh year, is a cultural show organized by Columbia's South Asian classical dance fusion troupe, Columbia Taal. This year's show featured dance and musical performances by eight groups from a number of universities. It included a cello quartet, an a capella group, and dance troupes from Tufts University, MIT, Drexel University, and the University of Massachusetts. 

The event organizers selected S.O.S. to be the recipient of the funds raised by the show. They praised S.O.S. for its work making New York City safer and invited outreach members to speak at the event. Hospital Responder Kenneth Edwards and Youth Organizer Bernadette Benjamin spoke to the audience gathered in Columbia's Roone Arledge Auditorium to explain their work, why the anti-violence movement is critical in so many parts of the world, and why they personally were motivated to join S.O.S. and YO S.O.S. They received a warm reaction from the diverse audience.

Before the show, the members of the CHCMC who traveled to Columbia for the event were treated to a campus tour by members of Respecting Ourselves and Others Through Education (ROOTEd), a student group at Columbia dedicated to open and honest discussions of power, privilege, and identity. The student guides aimed their tour especially at the youth organizers, since they will be going to college in a couple of years. CHCMC Director Amy Ellenbogen, who attended the show and tour, was able to contribute as a guide as well, since she was an undergraduate at Columbia and founded ROOTEd when she was a social work student at Columbia University School of Social Work.

All who went had a great time at Columbia and Naach Nation, and S.O.S. Crown Heights is very grateful to Columbia Taal for their generosity and support.

CHCMC Event Update

Visionary Organizing: Lessons from Detroit

Last week the CHCMC hosted special guest Matt Birkhold at our staff meeting, a community organizer from Michigan, now living in Brooklyn and working toward a PhD from SUNY. Growing up in a small Michigan town, Birkhold lost many friends to bullets or the penitentiary, and only narrowly escaped a similar fate—mostly, he said, because he is white. His grief and anger at these losses and their connection to a system of white supremacy galvanized Birkhold to become an activist, but also caused him to feel numb to the pain of the situation. The organizer said his efforts around issues like affordable housing and police brutality “weren’t very effective,” because he was numb to their real-world effects. It wasn’t until he learned to open up to emotions, learned to build relationships and organize around community that he began to see results.

Birkhold, who is currently writing a dissertation on community organizing in Detroit, believes that the creation of meaningful jobs is the key to uplifting a community. He described the way that the current economic system barred access to African Americans, causing them to feel purposeless and fall into self- or communally-destructive behavior. Finding jobs that helped youth work not only to make money, but contribute to their communities, would remedy social ills like drug addiction, domestic abuse and even gun violence. Birkhold described programs in Detroit like a bicycle shop and local bakery that empower employees to help their community while also generating financial capital. Such initiatives, he said, could also help uplift Brooklyn and urban communities all over the US.

S.O.S. Presents at Brooklyn Institute for Liberal Arts

S.O.S. Hospital Interrupter Kenneth Edwards and CHCMC staff member Ariana Siegel visited the Brooklyn Institute for Liberal Arts on the Wingate campus on Wednesday. The pair visited three classrooms, where Kenneth presented a powerful testimony on his experience in S.O.S., and the violence in his former life that led him there. Demonstrating the importance of anti-gun violence work, Kenneth asked the students to raise their hands if they'd ever heard gun shots. In each classroom almost all of the students raised their hands.

Afterwards Ariana told the youth about ways that they could be empowered to help end gun violence, presenting the Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets program and the CHCMC’s Arts to End Violence festival. The students were again asked to raise their hands if they had any artistic talent, whether in visual arts, performing, poetry, or otherwise, and again almost all of the students raised their hands. To practice using creativity around gun violence, Kenneth asked the students to "come up with their own slogans" for talking about gun violence, and the students impromptu suggestions were creative and catchy; our favorite was "Silence the Violence," though there were many great ideas. Teacher Elizabeth Giancola generously volunteered to open up her classroom to students once a week after school so that they could work on Arts to End Violence submissions.

After the presentations, Kenneth and Ariana met with Principal Ann-Marie Henry-Stephens, who was enthusiastic about S.O.S. and invited them to present the S.O.S. anti-violence work to the other principles on the Wingate campus. Together, we will discuss the ways that schools can partner in the battle against gun violence, and spread the message to Stop Shooting, Start Living.

Free Accupuncture Brings Relaxation to Crown Heights
Crown Heights found peace and relaxation on Wednesday evening with acupuncturist Timothy Mckeon of Brooklyn Open Accupuncture, who provided free acupuncture services as a gift to the community. The event took place at the local Grace Tabernacle church on Pacific Avenue, the church of S.O.S. Clergy Action Network member Reverend David Wright.

Participants in the group acupuncture session sat in a circle of chairs in the dining area. As guests trickled in, McKeon discussed the mysteries and effectiveness of acupuncture with CHCMC staff. One staff member was eager to start right away, and within minutes grew so relaxed that he dozed off. Some local residents who arrived were new to acupuncture and hesitant to try it, but when the coordinator of Grace Tabernacle finally conceded he fell asleep instantly, saying afterward that this had helped him realize how stressed he had been. He insisted that he would visit Mckeon’s acupuncture office soon after his experience, and convinced several other church members to join in the activity. The event was so successful that it ran overtime, but after our acupuncture session no one felt stressed about the change of plans.