By Julia Stern
On April 28, Community Board 7’s Youth, Education and Libraries Committee met to discuss providing more accessible afterschool programming for teenagers on the Upper West Side.
The committee invited Keith Harris, a community organizer, educator, and candidate for City Council who has lived on the Upper West Side for over 30 years, to speak about his vision for teen programming.
Harris recalled his own enriching experiences as a teenager growing up in the neighborhood in the 1990s. He described the multitude of free or low-cost community programs he attended every day, including carpentry classes, technical plumbing classes, a career readiness program, and a self-defense program, at venues such as the the Frederick Douglass Community Center.
“There are young people that don’t have positive direction,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to have those opportunities and [they were] one of the cornerstones to my development as a young man.”
A Link to Public Safety
Community board members recognized that these programs could improve public safety. Board members addressed the recent report of teenagers with knives seen at the Bloomingdale Playground near PS 145, saying they hoped afterschool programs would prevent similar situations from occurring.
Before the meeting, Mr. Harris spoke to Deputy Inspector Naoki Yaguchi, Officer Eric Rosado, and Detective Ruiz of the 24th Precinct, who were also in attendence, about restoring the Police Athletic League (PAL) on the Upper West Side. Mr. Harris said the program fostered “an open line of communication and a better relationship between law enforcement and the community.”
The police representatives of the precinct then had the floor. Detective Ruiz said police are currently trying to find a location for programming, including sports, cooking and computer classes, to occupy teenagers. Officer Rosado said he wanted the programming “to bridge the gap between youth and police.”
Mr. Harris suggested contacting local venues and organizations and brainstorming creative ways to attract local teenagers. The officers asked boardmembers to think of possible places within the 24th precinct, and clarified that police do not have the capacity to operate programs, only to help with logistics. The exact timeline and amount of money that will be allocated to these programs is still uncertain.
In an interview after the meeting, Mr. Harris said that providing programs for teenagers whose families would otherwise not be able to afford them will help the Upper West Side build community.
“Lack of inclusion leads to resentment,” he said. “If you disregard a young individual now, the paths they take in the future may directly affect you and your neighborhood. We have to care about each and every member of our community to have a fully functional environment.”