The credible messengers: Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 10.11.33 PMBy Pilar Belendez-Desha, YouthToday.org

NEW YORK — The step at the bottom of the ladder was titled calm and the step at the top was titled — in big red letters — RAGE.

“How can you go from calm to rage?” said Heather Day. “We’re going to think at each level how you’re feeling.”

“Peaceful,” a young woman started off the conversation.

“Chill,” said another.

Day took notes at each step and etched her red pen up the ladder as emotions intensified.

“It’d start to get weird,” said a young man.

“Weird? Why weird?” replied Day.

“Cuz, I’m used to crazy things happening.”

“I don’t like people screaming at me,” one youth said.

The group went on like this for 45 minutes on a Tuesday in December. Twenty-two young people from the Crown Heights area were at a biweekly after-school program that’s part of a growing anti-gun violence movement called Save Our Streets.

The youth version of the program is called YO S.O.S. — or Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets. Begun in

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Paper Tigers to premiere at Seattle International Film Festival

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Paper Tigers will  premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) at 7 PM Thursday, May 28, 2015, at the SIFF Cinema Uptown in Seattle, WA. SIFF is the largest and most highly attended festival in the U.S.

Paper Tigers follows a year in the life of an alternative high school in Walla Walla, WA, that has radically changed its approach to disciplining its students, and in the process has become a promising model for how to break the cycles of poverty, violence and disease that affect families. A story about the school was published on this site in 2012: Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA, tries new approach to school discipline; suspensions drop 85%

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An additional screening will take place at 12:30 PM on Saturday, May 30 at the same location. For ticket information and other details: http://www.siff.net/festival-2015/paper-tigers

The documentary was directed by James Redford. Its executive producer is Karen Pritzker. To view a trailer of the movie, go to PaperTigersMovie.com.

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What is worth fighting for: Reclaiming youth in trouble

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When black and brown girls are videotaped beating each other down, the blame game quickly starts. It happened when video of a fight at a Brooklyn McDonald’s went viral. Everyone joins in to accuse and shame: What’s wrong with these girls? Where are their parents? It’s all the Hip Hop and Atlanta housewives foolishness. Vile words condemn their character and culture, and they are ridiculed as beasts and something less than human. Some take a hands-off “those are not my kids” approach, while others gear up to sound alarms, alarms that have been ringing for too long.

When black and brown boys are frisked, kneed, bruised and bloodied by the police, you hear the same refrain: They were probably dealing or smoking or stealing. They should have known better. Didn’t anybody tell them you can’t win against the cops? “Why did they run?” some ask, most recently in the case of Freddie Gray, who dies in police custody in Baltimore.

The blame game is a lose-lose conversation. Black and brown children and young men and women are seen as not children, not whole, not deserving of help but as riotous, unfit for sympathy and unworthy of justice. Often they are not seen as fit to have a say in how they live their lives. They are acted upon instead of given the space to be active in their healing, so they can be the ones to restore their communities and organize for justice.

For two decades, The Brotherhood/Sister Sol (Bro/Sis) has been in the business of ensuring that black and brown youth of New York City not only

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ACEs-informed ‘freckles’ spreading across Midwest

SaintA human services agency

SaintA human services agency ________________________________________

Organizations across the Midwest that are integrating trauma-informed practices based on adverse childhood experiences research are like freckles amassing into a suntan, says Elena Quintana.

“It’s spreading,” says the executive director of the Institute of Public Safety and Social Justice at Adler University in Chicago, who estimates that about 100 organizations have integrated trauma-informed and resilience-building practices based on research in adverse childhood experiences. “You want there to be total coverage within practice and policy. We’re not there yet, but those spots are getting bigger.“

Restraints and seclusion

One of those spots is SaintA in West Allis, WI, that provides foster care, education and mental health services for children and families. The organization serves about 5,000 people daily across a wide array of services, the largest of which is child welfare case management in Milwaukee County, where SaintA serves about 1,400 children daily.

Ann Leinfelder Grove, executive vice president and a 25-year veteran of SaintA, says her organization began moving toward trauma-informed care about eight years ago.

Ann Leinfelder Grove, SaintA executive vice president

Ann Leinfelder Grove, SaintA executive vice president

“We were looking at the question of how to reduce the use of physical restraints within one of our programs,” she says. The State of Wisconsin had encouraged a change in the use of physical intervention and seclusion to manage troubled youth, which SaintA does through its residential treatment program, which serves 40 children at any one time, as well as supervised visitation family services programming.

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Documentary captures how a high school in a San Francisco jail heals and reduces recidivism

Believe it or not, although 70 percent of the adults incarcerated in our nation’s county jails lack a high school diploma, only one jail – San Francisco County Jail #5 in San Bruno, CA – offers inmates the opportunity to earn a high school diploma inside jail. Now a new feature-length documentary, The Corridor, wants to change that situation by capturing in detail how student inmates, teachers, and law enforcement staff prepare for graduation day and navigate a new paradigm of criminal justice.

Since the Five Keys Charter school opened in 2003 in San Francisco County Jail #5 with the support of former San Francisco County Sheriff Michael Hennessy, it’s helped cut the recidivism rate of prisoners nearly in half. Designed to prepare people in jail and their communities for their release, it offers inmates the opportunity to create alternatives to the revolving door of incarceration. So far, 800 inmates have graduated from the program.

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Children need caring adults, a chance to make mistakes to succeed in life

By Jill Roche, Youth Today

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For the better part of the last decade, I’ve worked as an education advocate in Hunts Point, an isolated community in the south Bronx. As many New Yorkers know, Hunts Point is consistently cited as the most at-risk neighborhood for children in the city based on low education attainment, record joblessness, housing conditions, health outcomes and other factors. Over 59 percent of the children in the community live in poverty.

Despite the difficult environment, we work with students to prepare them for success in high school, in college and beyond. Recently, a colleague wondered aloud: What is the difference for students who are able to move beyond the neighborhood legacy of low high school graduation rates and poverty?

I believe that the primary difference is the connection to people like him — youth development professionals, teachers, parents, caregivers and grandparents. The difference is a relationship with a supportive adult. Research stretching back close to 20 years has identified the support of a caring adult as a strong protective factor contributing to resilience in at-risk students. As youth advocates have always known: Every child needs a champion.

The presence of a caring adult in any child’s life is often pivotal: the undivided attention they offer, the experiences they share, the reassurance they can give as a child becomes a teenager and begins to explore the larger world. Becoming an adult requires that we take risks and make mistakes. It is only by making mistakes that we learn to assume responsibility for our actions, to ask forgiveness and begin to understand our relationship to others.

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Creating a culture of compassion in schools — Cherokee Point Elementary, San Diego, CA

In 2013, I posted a story about Cherokee Point Elementary School in the City Heights district of San Diego, CA. It was transitioning to becoming a trauma-informed school. Here’s a video that was posted this month about the school.