Past Events

Community Comes Together for Joyful Peace Games

On Friday afternoon, June 27th, S.O.S. held its third annual Peace Games event in Brower Park.

At least 200 young people, from 3 years old to young adults, attended and participated, as well as over 70 adults. Two basketball games, one for teens and young adults and one for preteens and teens involved at least 50 youth. 

Younger kids also had a great time, drawing in chalk, jumping rope, and completing a peace mural with markers. Face painting was a huge hit, operating at the event for 4 hours straight. Kids of all ages had their faces painted as tigers, pirates, superheroes, and more. Neighborhood residents also enjoyed food and giveaways, and were able to get legal information from the Legal aid Society, who tabled with information in the park. Overall, it was a wonderful start to a weekend with the community coming together for a fun and safe event. See all the photos from this year's Peace Games here.

This year's Kingston Avenue Festival, on Saturday, May 17th, brought over 500 people from the community of all ages together for a sunny day on two blocks of Kingston Avenue. The streets between Bergen Street and Pacific Street were lined with over 35 tables of activities and community resources.

Young people and audience members had a great time with a donut eating contest.

Performers spread the S.O.S. anti-violence message.

Children made shirts,


 learned to play guitar and drums,

played, soccer, volleyball, and basketball,

and so much more.

Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets ran facepainting and a quiz about their work where people could win T-shirts. Throughout the afternoon, festival-goers decorated a communal anti-violence mural. Local DJs Ahmad Julian, Dj Ushka, Dj Beto, and Dj Ripley from iBomba and the Dutty Artz collective provided music to the block. Over 70 volunteers from high school students to adults helped out during the day.

Arts to End Violence Gallery Opening

On Thursday, May 22nd, the Ron Taylor gallery on St. Johns Place opened its doors for an evening to celebrate community, creativity, and the message of anti-violence. Over 50 works of art by youth and professional artists were submitted to the annual Arts to End Violence contest and displayed at the gallery.

In addition to the gallery, Greater Restoration Baptist Church, next door, was open, and Pastor Kenneth Bogan of the church performed songs outside with his jazz band. 

Program Coordinator for YO S.O.S. Ruby-Beth Buitekant spoke about the work of S.O.S. and the importance of having the community at an event like this. A young performer from the organization Girl Be Heard performed a song that she wrote about how gun violence has affected her life.


The gallery remains open for the community to view on May 28th - May 30th, from 2 pm to 6 pm, and from June 2nd - June 4th, from 2 pm to 6 pm.

Third Annual "Stop Shooting, Start Living" Talent Show

On Saturday, March 22nd, the auditorium at P.S. 289 was filled with people of all ages to watch the performers in the Third Annual Stop Shooting Start Living Talent Show. The show featured 24 acts performing a variety of talents - singing, rapping, dancing, spoken word, and more. As audience members arrived, they were able to listen to a performance from the jazz band of local middle school KIPP AMP. 

The KIPP AMP jazz band

Outreach Workers Derick Scott and Lavon Walker led the crowd through the rest of the show, which contained praise dances, a drum line, break dancing, poetry, step, singing, and many other performances. Throughout the afternoon, anti-violence messages spread throughout the event, which was free and open to the community. Audience members were led in chants of "Guns down, peace up!" and waved orange towels that said on them "Stop Shooting, Start Living."

Throughout the night, audience members won raffle prizes generously donated from Bend and Bloom Yoga, Fine Fare, Nimba Cafe, Dr. Margaret Rose DeCruz, SoulKofa Catering, Veggies Natural Juice Bar, Crowd Goes Wild (FOX Sports 1), Chavela’s, Barboncino, Cobble Hill Cinemas, National September 11 Memorial & Museum, PX Legrand Sales and Marketing, and LeFrak Lakefront at Prospect Park.

The show was coordinated by Anthony Newerls and co-sponsored by the Brooklyn Blizzards youth organization. The show would not have been possible without support from the beautiful Crown Heights community. Thank you to P.S. 289, photographer Andrew Hinderaker, our S.O.S. volunteers, and to everyone who came out and enjoyed the show!

March Community Conversations

On Wednesday, March 12th, following a community rally against Monday's shooting, 10 residents gathered for a conversation about neighborhood safety and important community issues. The evening opened with each person sharing their personal highlights and challenges from the week.

We moved on to checking in together on what people have been noticing in the neighborhood, sharing both positive events and joys as well as persistent problems and issues to work on. The conversation then opened up to discussing opportunities and challenges for youth, including a report back to the group about ongoing work on a youth carpentry apprenticeship that grew out of Community Conversations.

We closed by highlighting a number of local organizations that need volunteer involvement, encouraging participants to spread the word to increase involvement in the community. All are welcome at Community Conversations. The next meeting will take place in April.

Listening to Youth at "Power Filled Me"

At Union United Methodist Church on Wednesday, October 23rd, over 50 community members gathered to listen to a panel of young people discuss their lives.

The audience consisted mainly of adults. The primary rule of the evening, enforced by Reverend Kevin Jones, Clergy Liaison of the S.O.S. Clergy Action Network, was that the adults couldn't speak during the event. The night was specifically about listening in order to learn from the young people on the panel.

Panelists respond to questions
The panel consisted of about 15 young men in their teens and early twenties. While the audience listened, some taking notes, the young men answered questions asked by the youth facilitators. The questions were divided into three sections: the first focused on the general experience of being a teenager today, the second on the young people's priorities, and the third on ways that adults can act as allies to help young people succeed.

 The young people spoke honestly about their experiences of growing up, and what they feel they need from the adults around them. They all had unique experiences, successes, and challenges to share. Some were attending high school and others were not. Others had experienced the arrest of themselves or friends, or parents' divorce. Some strategies that the young men used to stay positive were rapping, playing ball, and hanging out with friends.

Some panelists said that they enjoyed going to school, while others felt stressed out by it. One young man, who had graduated, expressed that felt he was "doing everything by myself. No one taught me what to do after high school. I don't know what I'm doing." Another offered his desire to see "adults... actually work with you - instead of telling you what you're supposed to do, actually walk through it with you." Some ways that panelists felt that adults could help them reach their goals included creating more community spaces, sharing their own mistakes from their youth, and asking their children questions.

Throughout the night, S.O.S. staff and audience members posted quotes and responses from the panel on Twitter. Some of them are below:

The night ended with Reverend Jones thanking the panel for speaking for almost two hours. He encouraged the adults in the room to attend a follow-up session the next Wednesday, where they would be able to discuss, but not judge, what they had heard over the course of the evening. 

Audience members at Power Filled Me

Community Conversation Brings Together Neighbors to Discuss Violence
October 17, 2013 
 Last night at the Launch Charter School at P.S. 243, S.O.S. held the first in a series of dialogues about neighborhood violence. Over 20 community members of all ages gathered to discuss the issues. The evening began with introductions, each person sharing their reasons for joining the conversation. Some people wanted to learn more about the issue, while others, having lived in the community for many years, wanted to discuss their experience with the rest of the group.

The conversation moved on to how violence affects our community. In addition to the direct effects of violence, we also discussed what the more indirect consequences of are. Some that came up were feelings of fear and a lack of safety, as well as barriers to businesses and jobs moving to the community.  In addition to gun violence, other types of violence such as domestic violence, verbal abuse, and systemic violence were surfaced.

The discussion then turned to causes and origins of violence. Many ideas came up amongst the group as to ways that the cycle of violence can be perpetuated. Everybody brought different ideas to the circle, all of which were recorded by staff.

Staff closed the evening by asking the attendees to first write down what they would like to see at future conversations, and then to share one word about how they were feeling. Words that came up included "inspired," "surprised," "angry," and "hopeful." Many people expressed anticipation for future conversations.

The next Community Conversation will be on November 21st, where we will begin to discuss strategies to combat violence as a community. All are welcome to attend, including those who weren't in attendance at the first Conversation.

S.O.S. Appreciates Our Volunteers, Receives Appreciation in Return
S.O.S. staff and volunteers gathered at the Mediation Center on Wednesday night to celebrate volunteers' service and dedication to our work and our community. Over 30 volunteers, some of whom have worked with the Mediation Center since its inception, and others who this year became integrally involved in our work, shared in the food, drinks and warm atmosphere of the evening.

Volunteer coordinator Ariana Siegel thanked volunteers for the vital role they play in S.O.S. operations, often acting as the face of our events as they greet guests, hand out food, or run activities. "Every day brings a reason to thank volunteers," she said, "whether it's an old friend coming by to stay in touch, a new volunteer offering his or her expertise, a volunteer photographer documenting our events, or a youth volunteer bringing enthusiasm to an internship. We appreciate you every day, and today we get a chance to say it."
YO S.O.S. Youth Organizer Victoria Renna Speaks to the volunteers

Several Mediation Center and community leaders spoke to the volunteers to share their gratitude. Mediation Center director Amy Ellenbogen quoted Richard Green of the Crown Heights Youth Collective, who said, "Spiders united can tie up an elephant." She added, "I really believe that the folks in this room can be the spiders that tie up the violence that is plaguing the community and replace it with a caring compassionate community."

S.O.S. Program manager Allen James told the volunteers that their efforts to improve the community distinguished them. "It's actually the most natural thing in the world to volunteer" he said, "but you wouldn't know it because so few people do. You are the people that do."

After watching a slideshow depicting the work they did this year, volunteers Willard Hawkins, Antoinette Brice, Tiffany Murray and Victoria Renna shared thoughts on their experiences. Willard, who has volunteered with the Mediation Center for many years, as well as worked with labor organizing and other endeavors, said that this was "the most meaningful and rewarding experience" he's had as an activist. Antoinette spoke of the son she lost to gun violence, and how she now works with S.O.S. to tell young black and latino men that they are "men of purpose and men of destiny," whose lives are meaningful and not worth wasting on gun violence.

Volunteer Antoinette Brice admires her new volunteer shirt
Tiffany Murray, who began volunteering this year and ultimately hosted and planned an event, spoke of the many communities she has lived in, and how she particularly wanted to be involved in this one because it is, "one of the most vibrant and empowering communities I've ever encountered." Our Mediation Center intern and YO S.O.S. Youth Organizer Victoria Renna said that her experience here taught her how to speak to people and be an activist. "People here actually like coming to work every day," she said, admiring the S.O.S. team and Mediation Center staff for their hard work to help the community.

Finally, the S.O.S. team came out to thank the volunteers for their support. Outreach Worker Supervisor Lavon Walker explained how important it was for the team, who risk their lives in their work to reduce gun violence in the streets, to feel that people in the community appreciated and supported their work. Before heading home volunteers received t-shirts and certificates of merit, and promised to join us for our "100 Man March to End Gun Violence" next Sunday, June 27th.

To get involved with the S.O.S. as a volunteer, email Ariana Siegel at, or contact the Mediation Center at 718-773-6886, or visit us at 256 Kingston Avenue.

Peace Games 2013
June 27, 2013

On Thursday, June 27th children of all ages descended upon Brower Park for the 2013 S.O.S. Peace Games. To celebrate the end of the school term and advocate for a safe summer vacation, the S.O.S. team organized a friendly, competitive and peaceful summer afternoon event. Brower Park was filled with parents, children, volunteers, laughter and community bonding.

Volunteers came to help with set up and administration of the activities and games, adding to the warm and fun atmosphere of the day. Activities included a basketball tournament, a volleyball game, a chess challenge with Outreach Worker David Grant, and face painting by Tracia Gill and Abigail Ryan. There could not have been nearly as many wonderful games and activities without the help and support we received from community members.

“Peace games were very energetic and positive,” Hospital Interrupter Kenneth Edwards said. “The family-oriented day was great for the community, because it showed that we can come together in a positive way, instead of resorting to violence to solve our issues.”

In the spirit of non-competition, all Peace Games participants were given “goodie bags,” and everyone left Brower Park with a smile.

CHCMC in the Community
June 2, 2013

The CHCMC has been out and about, getting involved in local events and encouraging community growth and empowerment. Here is some of what we've been up to:

Friends of St. John’s Rec Center Community Awareness Day Event

The Crown Heights Mediation Center was represented at the Community Awareness Day Event at St. John’s Rec Center on Saturday, June 1st, which hosted as many as 300 people for a day of resource sharing, games, and community. At least 40 community members came to hear about S.O.S. and spread the word about our mission of S.O.S. and commitment to the Crown Heights community. The Rec Center was full of children who were delighted to receive S.O.S. dog tags, pens, bags, and smiles.

Eddie Butch Smith Baseball Game

Forty kids and their families arrived at St. Johns ball field on Saturday morning for a day of sports through Eddie Butch Smith (EBS) entertainment. Decked in EBS shirts and hats, the families enjoyed a free barbeque and prepared to play a tournament between the little Dodgers, little Yankees, and the little Mets. Before the first pitch was thrown, our S.O.S. team stepped up to the plate and spoke about the need to end gun violence in the community. Outreach worker Derick Scott encouraged kids to continue listening to their mentors, and to keep engaging with safe, productive activities, as modeled by programs like EBS. The teams later heard more words of encouragement and advice from borough President Marty Markowitz, Edwin Vargas from the Parks and Recreation department, and others.

71st Precinct Family Day Picnic
The 71st Precinct organized a family day picnicon Sunday, June 2nd a day of community outreach and fun in the sun. The picnic featured a stage, rock climbing, arts and crafts, and many other activities for kids. CHCMC staff joined the fun, giving out balloons and various SOS goods. With some 500 people in attendance, the event successfully brought community together and joy to local children.

Community Feels Pride at Arts to End Violence Gallery Opening
May 23, 2013
Youth artist Dylan Quow with artist Ron Taylor, who donated use of his gallery for
Arts to End Violence. Photo by Andrew Hinderaker.

Over 150 proud people enjoyed 52 pieces of art that were displayed at the third annual Arts to End Violence festival at the Ron Taylor Gallery on St. Johns Place between Kingston and Albany. Community residents, guests and artists mingled in the gallery, on the sidewalk, and in the Greater Restoration Baptist Church, where anti-violence advocate Pastor Ken Bogan sang with his jazz band.  Youth Organizers from our YO S.O.S. program, who helped promote and solicit art for the contest, welcomed guests at the gallery.
The art on display was a selection of the 102 pieces of art that were submitted to the Mediation Center by young people, adults, professionals, and novices for the contest. Youth art was judged by distinguished
Youth Organizers & YO S.O.S. Staff Photo by Isamar Valette
community leaders based on creativity and aesthetics, messaging, and personal statements. The winners will be announced by June 3rd, 2013, via Facebook and Twitter. All are encouraged to visit the gallery during the open hours through June 7th (see below). After the exhibit closes, some pieces will be hung in local businesses, such as barber shops, nail salons, and laundromats in order to keep the conversation about ending violence flowing.
Youth artist Kassandra DeJesus with her painting               

Arts to End Violence is an initiative of the Mediation Center and includes multiple events designed to use the arts to engage artists in the growing anti-violence movement in Central Brooklyn. The events are designed to create fun and creative opportunities for young people to express themselves and to use art to stimulate meaningful conversations about the impact of violence in the neighborhood, the causes of the violence, and the appreciation residents have for the positive aspects of the neighborhood. The next Arts to End Violence event will be a spoken word event, “Speak Your Peace,” held on June 5th at the Greater Restoration Baptist Church, 1156 St. Johns Place, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.

Mediation Center Director Amy Ellenbogen with youth
artist Armando Rodriguez. Photo by Isamar Valette
Mediation Center Director Amy Ellenbogen said, "It was a real pleasure to see the faces of pride and happiness that the guests and artists had during the gallery opening. There is so much talent here in the neighborhood that needs to get more attention. As we work with our neighbors to bring attention to the shootings and killings, we also shine the light on the abundant talent and gifts of the residents."

The exhibit will be open through the end of next week. All are invited to come see it during the following times:

Thursday, May 30: 2-6 p.m.
Friday, May 31: 2-6 p.m.
Saturday, June 1: Closed
Sunday, June 2: 1-5 p.m.
Monday, June 3: 4-8 p.m.
Tuesday, June 4: 4-8 p.m.
Wednesday, June 5: 2-6 p.m.
Thursday, June 6: 2-6 p.m.
Friday, June 7: 2-6 p.m.

If you would like to be involved in Arts to End Violence 2014, email us at

For more pictures of the event, see our facebook page!

Neighbors Brave Rain to Celebrate and Play
May 18, 2013
Photo by Molly Cichy
Photo by Molly Cichy
Music. Barbeque. Dance. Dog shows. Puppet-making. Stilt-walking. Life-sized chess. Glitter and paint and bubbles galore. Over 500 community members were greeted by these exciting activities, and many more, at the Kingston Avenue Festival last Saturday. The day celebrated and brought together a neighborhood has now gone 83 days without a shooting. Despite the gray-skies, the festival-goers, including neighborhood residents, service-oriented organizations, youth groups, all engaged with the many activities and resources at the block party.

Activities and resources at the fair included over 15 arts & crafts interactive tables, over 40 resource agencies, several workshops, a free manicure station, and 25 performances. Jason Das, a Crown Heights artist, painted a live mural of the space, which had people on the street lining up for portraits. Lines also formed by the barbeque, where the S.O.S. team and volunteers grilled and distributed over 300 burgers and hotdogs to hungry festival-goers.

Photo by Andrew Hinderaker
Photo by Andrew Hinderaker

The soundtrack to the festival included steel pan from the Pan Sonatas, a drum circle led by Sam Bathrick, R&B performances from young, local talent like Tayahna Walcott who rapped, “Stop Bullying,” and DJing from BBox Radio. S.O.S. Outreach Worker Derick Scott emceed the event, saying into the loudspeaker, “Let’s put the neighbor back into the hood.”

Hosted in partnership with The Kingston Avenue Merchants Association (KAMA), the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, and the NYC Department of Transportation, this initiative illustrated the multiple, continued efforts to create and nurture safe spaces within Crown Heights. Joyce Robinson, owner of Better Choice Funding, and head of KAMA, stated, “We want people to see how merchants care for the community and its safety.”

As smiling and slightly soggy festival goers prepared to return home that evening, the BBox Radio DJ played closing songs like, “Cha Cha slide” and “Cupid Shuffle,” and a dance party broke out in the street. Marlon Peterson, associate director of the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center surveyed the scene and said, “This event highlighted the goodness of this neighborhood. It brought everyone together, the merchants, young people, and showed how positive people here can be. It really brought a great vibe to these streets.”

This wonderful event would not have been possible without the cooperation of so many organizations, merchants, and volunteers. We owe many thanks to our partners in this event, and want to express our sincere gratitude to the volunteers who helped set up and clean up the event, take photos, hand out food, make arts and crafts, and everyone who contributed such a positive atmosphere.

To view more pictures from the festival, click here!

First Community Conversation Reveals Neighbors' Insights and Commitment to End Violence
April 10, 2013

On Wednesday, April 10th, Over 30 local residents and activists came to talk about how gun violence affects our lives and our neighborhood. The crowd at S.O.S.’s first Community Conversation overflowed the Mediation Center’s conference room.

S.O.S. Program Manager Allen James invited participants to share their reasons for taking part in the discussions about neighborhood violence – particularly gun violence. In attendance were many people interested in supporting peacemaking efforts and improving life in the neighborhood: experienced community organizers, teachers, parents, service providers, the wife of an unjustly incarcerated man, and young men who spoke of their involvement in street violence.

Participants made many insightful statements about how they understood gun violence and what motivates it. They shared observations that young people are often victimized and humiliated in home and school environments, and that they react with behaviors that sometimes include violence. Others pointed to the historical and systemic structures and policies that engender feelings of frustration and hopelessness in the community. Examining why neighbors do not collaborate to care for and interact with youth on the streets as a “village,” one person remarked, “We fear our children.”

The goal of the Community Conversations series is to broaden and deepen our understanding of violence. This first conversation was meant to examine how we experience violence in our lives and how we think about it. Wednesday’s conversation touched on the idea that we only notice extreme forms of violence, like gunfire, and tend not to notice the low level violence that happens every day, like minor insults, expressions of hostility and aggression, gossip and jokes that humiliate others. In our subsequent conversations, we will explore things that each of us can do to improve the quality of life in Crown Heights, and work against all forms of violence.

Reverend Kevin Jones, the S.O.S. Clergy liaison, closed the session with a spiritual message to inspire the crowd. "If we all remembered the golden rule in the bible, if we all treated one another the way we want to be treated, there wouldn't be gun violence," the Pastor said. “Love is what we need in this community.”

Columbia University Welcomes Youth Organizers
March 1st, 2013

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 years. CHCMC Director Amy Ellenbogen, who attended the show and tour, was able to contribute as a guide as well, since, as a Columbia undergraduate, she was a founding member of ROOTEd.

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.

Free Accupuncture Brings Relaxation to Crown Heights
February 27, 2013

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.

S.O.S. Presents at Wingate High School
February 27, 2013

S.O.S. Hospital Interrupter Kenneth Edwards and CHCMC staff member Ariana Siegel visited the Brooklyn Institute for Liberal Arts at George W. Wingate High School 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, and 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.

Visionary Organizing: Lessons from Detroit
February 26, 2013

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.

Youth and Clergy Stand Against Gun Violence
January 3rd, 2013

Devastatingly, in the late evening of New Year's Day, two 17-year-olds were shot and severely wounded while sitting in their car on the corner of Troy Avenue and Park Place. Two days later, S.O.S. stood on that same corner alongside local youth and members of the clergy to show the community that shootings will not go unnoticed or be tolerated. S.O.S. Clergy Action Network (C.A.N.leader Reverend Kevin Jones, joined by Bishop Billips and Reverend Mathew Burke, appealed for peace through the S.O.S. bullhorn. Reverend Jones recalled growing up in the neighborhood, and, looking at a dilapidated building, noted how it had changed. “This was my block. I used to shop at that supermarket,” Jones said. “I’m still here… and now together we have to work together to stop the gun violence, and make our community whole again.” 
The crowd standing against gun violence that night had a youthful energy, as it was filled with Youth Organizers, local high school students involved in our  program to generate youth leadership in the struggle against gun violence. Marlon Peterson, deputy director at the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center, gathered the youth organizers together and told them that, because in this instance of gun violence both the shooters and victims were young people, the neighborhood might come to fear and shun people of their age. "Your presence here tonight shows the community that there is another way, there is another path for young people here. Youth don't have to be the face of violence. You're showing them tonight that youth can be the face of peace." 

S.O.S. Holiday Party and Toy Giveaway
December 21st, 2013

S.O.S. spread the holiday spirit in Crown Heights on Friday, December 21st, when the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center (CHCMC) opened its doors to children and families from the community for a holiday party and toy giveaway. Children poured into the Center wearing bright holiday smiles and transformed the space into a festive party full of music, food and laughter. CHCMC and S.O.S. staff quickly adopted the mood, leading the children in interactive games, carol singing and learning activities about how to make the neighborhood a safe and friendly place. At the end of the party the children lined up excitedly to collect gift bags that the S.O.S. team was distributing. The children were delighted with their gifts, leaving the Mediation Center with hands full of new toys and hearts full of Christmas cheer. We thank the shoppers and merchants of Park Slope and the Park Slope Civic Council who generously donated the toys and gifts that made this event possible.

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.

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

On 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.

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