Despite the fact that yesterday was a school and court holiday, more than one hundred Brooklyn teens, AmeriCorps members and Center for Court Innovation staff came together in Red Hook for Martin Luther King Day of Service to make the holiday a “day on, not a day off.” In observance of what would been Dr. King’s 83rd birthday, members of the New York Juvenile Justice Corps were joined by teens from the Red Hook Youth Court, Brownsville Youth Court, Greenpoint Youth Court, Crown Heights Community Mediation Center’s YO SOS and Red Hook Community Justice Center’s Youth ECHO for an event entitled “We Have a Dream too, A Dream for a Better Brooklyn.”
To kick off yesterday’s program, Juvenile Justice Corps members facilitated break-out groups on topics such as discrimination, police brutality, segregation, civil disobedience, peace and non-violence, civil rights and freedom and discussed how many of the injustices Dr. King fought still affect our communities today. Teens reporting back to the whole group one thing they learned or took away from each discussion, including reflections on how New York City is still segregated in many ways, and on how remarkable it was that our group was so diverse with people from all backgrounds. Additionally, in preparation for the event, all of the teens read Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and wrote their own speeches and poems “for a better Brooklyn.” During the event, twenty-two teens shared their original pieces interspersed with selections from Dr. King’s speech. The readings were poignant, powerful, and beautifully written. A few excerpts from the pieces shared and pictures are below.
The take home message from the day was that Dr. King’s legacy lives on in all of us and we are all responsible to promote his dream for a more equitable and just world. It was inspiring to be in a room filled with young people who are already embodying Dr. King's dream as leaders in their communities, schools and workplaces. Through serving on Youth Courts, doing community organizing through ECHO or YO SOS, or giving a year of service through AmeriCorps, they have already committed to working toward justice, to standing alongside the most vulnerable among us, and to finding positive solutions to problems in our communities.
Corps members lead teens in a discussion about civil rights
Excerpts from some of yesterdays speeches:
“I have a dream that one day the neighborhoods of Brooklyn will unite. That the children of the future will not be afraid to dream big while they gaze our there windows. Whether those windows are out of public housing, shelters, brownstones or even the 6th floor of apartment somewhere in Brownsville. I have a dream that one day they will refuse to look for the love of the streets because they will find all the love they ever needed and more in the trust of the system. They will find comfort in education and choose the community as their backbone, believing Brooklyn can be the wind beneath their wings instead of the invisible force and environment that hinders. A dream that all my beautiful sisters will rise with high self-esteem and ambition, striving to be better than their best. That they will no longer let the media degrade them or let them feel they are not beautiful in their own ebony skin. I have a dream that my beautiful brothers will break the hidden cycles. They will turn away those life endangering orange jumpsuits and embrace black ties with white collars leaving the streets behind.“
Teens from the Brownsville, Greenpoint and Red Hook Youth Courts discuss segregation under Jim Crow laws
“I had a dream. This dream showed me what I wanted my better Brooklyn to be. I dreamed that everyone will refuse to be another black statistic. And in the future I do not want to wear a barcode across our chest, to let a certain clothing line define us. I dream that Brooklyn will be better. I dream for our children to always have fathers. I refuse to grow up carrying the generational curse. I refuse to let my people be viewed as temporary. And I feel it is my job and the job of the next generation to continue on this path. Because we should all refuse to be another black statistic.”
Corps members facilitate a dialogue on the history of discrimination in the US
“My Dad and I walked up the street. It was cold outside, so we wore hoodies to protect our faces against the cold. I spotted a white couple approaching us as we walked. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have really cared to notice the complexion of the persons that I encounter as I walk from one place to another, until they crossed the street to a deserted area littered with broken bottles, cigarette butts, and animal dung. No one ever walks on that side of the street, so immediately I found it strange. You could see the look of fear in the woman’s eyes moved from me to my father. Instinctively, the woman grabbed the collar of her coat in attempt to mask the warning nudge she gave to her partner…I often observe silent social segregation in my neighborhood. That white couple seemed to confirm my theory. As my father and I walked with our sweatshirt hoods covering our heads, walking in rhythm, minding our business, they surveyed us as no-good thugs…But allow me to bring your attention to this: Red Hook – where I live – is literally cut in half by an overpass that acts as a border. Before the border is a predominantly white neighborhood. After the border the neighborhood is predominantly black. It epitomizes de facto segregation which irks me given the history of this country. So my dream for Red Hook, Brooklyn, and for America, is to transcend these divisions. There should be a sense of togetherness not tied to color, but to humanity.”
Teens share their own "dreams for a better Brooklyn"
"I have a dream that one day everyone in Brooklyn will be able to live affordably. That the powers that govern our state and federal government will be cleansed of all corruption and the top one percent will share their wealth.
I have a dream that all sick people from infants to senior citizens will not be denied health care no matter how much money they make. That people will rise together and unify the communities instead of tearing them a part with violence.
There will be that one day when we will not see any homeless people in the subway station. That one day when the price of food will be affordable to every family. White, Black, or poor, a dream where people will not have to cling to their assets in case the economic system fails and that everyone will be guaranteed a safe place to live.
I have a dream where bills do not take up the majority of your pay check. A dream where people are not taken advantage of and forced to make the bare minimum. A dream where people are truly free. Let’s remember that a dream can only be made into a reality if everyone does their part. A dream that is ideal for all the future generations, a dream that everyone deserves."
After the program everyone gathered for moment of silence in honor of Dr. King