Thursday, May 31, 2012

Melissa Scott, Organizer of YO S.O.S., Explains Why She Joined S.O.S.

Melissa Scott was inspired to join Youth Organizing to Save Out Streets after hearing the March to End Gun Violence chants from her aunt's home. Melissa is an artist and has submitted a piece to the S.O.S. Arts to End Violence Initiative. She is graduating from YO S.O.S. this June. Here is her story:

Melissa Scott welcoming guests to the
Arts to End Violence Gallery Opening on May 23, 2012

"It was around late October when I saw them. I was coming home from school and had stopped by my aunt's day care. I remember clearly the conversation we were having before I heard the resonating chants from outside.

We were discussing, as we always did, the obligations I had to myself to be strong and to power through what I thought was a life crisis. The previous summer, I had moved to brooklyn under circumstances that no one could of predicted. I had come here under the false assumption that our move was temporary, and yet a month later, days before the end of the summer, I was still here. The move had taken an emotional toll on me, and the world I knew and was used to had collapsed around me. I hadn't noticed until the damage was irreversible. At one point, it was three weeks into the semester and I still hadn't been enrolled in school. When I finally was enrolled, I was way behind. In the most important year of my high school career, my grades were of standards that I refused to except. I was frustrated and anxious, and it didn't help that I had low morale and felt completely lost and without a purpose. I remember sitting there that day saying I had given up on school and on my self. My aunt sat there listening to me and I knew that even though she was open minded, she wouldn't understand. My environment didn't have the richness it used to have; a week of school would pass and I would feel like I hadn't learned anything and I had no drive to persuade myself to make the effort.

Melissa Scott's submission to Arts to End Violence
 entitled "Result"

Then the phone rang, and I sat there waiting for my aunt to get off the phone. I tuned my self out of the world and simply stared off into space. At first it came in incoherent waves of noise, loud and fuzzy. As the source of the noise came closer, the words became clearer and subconsciously I became aware of them. I got up and exited the day care. When I stepped out, I was immediately lost into a massive crowd of people. The next thing I know, someone had handed me a flyer. I didn't look at it as I was still trying to tune into the words on the megaphone. I edged through the crowd telling my aunt I wouldn't go far, but soon I was lost within the sea of black and white. I found myself chanting the words before I realized what I was saying: "You save my child, I'll save yours. You watch my back, I'll watch yours". I looked around at everyone and relished what I was truly in the middle of. Here and there, I saw anti-gun posters, shirts that depicted the faces of deceased ones, a poster with a child saying "Don't shoot I wanna grow up". I followed them as they marched, my feet moving in sync with those around me. I didn't know where they were going, but I knew that I would follow. I had never in my life seen a group of people come together in such a large mass and voice there beliefs so loudly. Even though I was lost in a sea of unknown faces, I felt my heart swell with joy, my body humming, my soul uplifted for the first time in months.

The marchers turned into a small park that I assumed was blocks away from my house. People began speaking while others handed out balloons and markers which we were told to use to write messages on the balloons. I found myself shuffling around, helping to distribute the balloons and markers, and fearlessly socializing with the members of the organization known as S.O.S., trying to find out how exactly they worked. Even with the brief summary the members provided, I still couldn't wrap my mind around what it was they did and how they did it. I phoned my aunt reassuring her that I could find my way back home, and when I hung up the phone and looked around for someone who I could approach to get directions, I heard her. A women with a strong booming voice that as she continued to talk could only be described as passionate and caring, yet assertive and demanding. She spoke strongly of her views on the issue of violence and the power within community. Her name was Ife, and her words contained the power to empower me to step up. At that very moment I acknowledged myself as a member of that community; at that very moment I developed a voice. She was calling out to the crowd, telling us that we could have an impact, that we could make a change. I had found something to be passionate about; I believed every word of it. 

When she was finished I was left stunned as all around me balloons were released into the air, a perfect addition to the moment. I had simply wrote on my ballon "peace, love, and community". I looked at the letters for one last time before releasing it into the air.

Melissa Scott standing with her piece entitled
"Result" at the Arts to End Violence
Gallery Opening on May 23, 2012
Fast forward a week later, I met a violence interrupter of S.O.S., a friend of my aunt's, for the first time. He was very charismatic and was delighted to help me. When I asked him to join S.O.S., he chuckled and asked me how old I was. I replied and he directed me to YO S.O.S. I was nervous at first to join a program filled with youth my age who were more familiar with the area then me. I was scared to venture out socially and acquaint myself with them. But that I did. And here I am now, it's the last weeks of april and I have been thoroughly involved in YO S.O.S. I have a stable environment filled with individuals who are passionate about many things, who influenced me to care to choose the right path, and most importantly, who helped me believe in myself, my environment, and my voice. "

Please visit to learn more about Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets

Friday, May 25, 2012

S.O.S. Wraps Up Arts to End Violence, Looks Forward to S.O.S. Week

Thank you to everyone who came to our Arts to End Violence Festival; it was a huge success with over 600 people attending all of our events.

On Wednesday night, 150 neighborhood residents attended the gallery opening held at Ron Taylor's gallery and the Greater Restoration Baptist Church on St Johns Place. You can see our full photo album on facebook.

Guests and judges filled the gallery to look at paintings, drawings, photographs and textile art submitted by local youth, professional, and emerging artists.

After looking at the art, guests shared their comments and reactions on large Post-It notes, which they placed on the window of the gallery. There were also opportunities for attendees to create their own inspiring messages of peace by making their own peace signs for our upcoming Peace March on June 7th. 

Next door at Greater Restoration Baptist Church, the film submissions screened at the back of the room, while refreshments were served up front.

Pastor Ken Bogan and his Jazz Quartet

Pastor Ken Bogan of Greater Restoration Baptist Church performed on the sidewalk outside of the church, singing two sets backed by his jazz quartet.

Last night the Arts to End Violence Festival came to a close with a Film Night featuring several of our film submissions, followed by the documentary Player Hating: A Love Story, a documentary about hip-hop artist Half-a-Mil from the Albany Housing Projects. The Arts to End Violence kicked off last weekend with our Block Party on Saturday, where families enjoyed over ten different arts and crafts stations, a barbecue, and dance performances, and a smaller exhibit of the Arts to End Violence submissions. 

We hope to see you all at Save Our Streets Week, June 2nd-10th!You can register for the Peace March on June 7th here.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

TONIGHT: Arts to End Violence Film Night

Tonight, as part of the 2nd Annual Arts to End Violence Festival, S.O.S. Crown Heights is having a Film Night with the Kings County Cinema Society. The event will start with a selection of  locally-produced music videos, documentaries and youth media submitted to the Arts to End Violence Festival. The videos will be screened at 7pm, followed by a discussion with the local artists as well as community activists.

Then at 8pm, Kings County Cinema Society will present a special screening of director Maggie Hadleigh-West’s recent documentary PLAYER HATING: A LOVE STORY (2010, 95min). Filmed in the Albany Projects in Crown Heights, Player Hating follows rapper Half-a-Mill and his Brooklyn crew, The Godfia Criminals, as they struggle to launch Milion, in an effort to attain money, success and recognition through music. Player Hating delves intimately into the lives of young “thugs”, and takes the viewer into an underground world of poverty, alienation, gangs, violence and music that most audience members have an inkling of, but few rarely see—unless they’ve lived it. You can watch a trailer at the KCCS site -  the film's site is here.

Thursday May 24th 2012. 7pm Arts to End Violence films, 8pm feature film.
At Brooklyn LaunchPad, 721 Franklin Ave btw/ Park & Sterling. 2/3/4/5 to Franklin Ave.
FREE, free popcorn will be provided.

Monday, May 21, 2012

500 Residents Attend S.O.S. Arts To End Violence Block Party

On Saturday, S.O.S. kicked off its Arts to End Violence festival with a block party to celebrate all the over 40 pieces of art we have collected from young people and professional artists in our neighborhood and beyond. Over 500 people came out to see the art, participate in ten arts stations including silk-screening, collaging, photography, gardening and chalking, and enjoy a barbecue led by the S.O.S. Outreach Workers.

The Arts to End Violence block party followed a successful Clergy Action Network breakfast attended by over twenty clergy from Crown Heights. The clergy are preparing for their "Nonviolence Worship Weekends" to begin and end Save Our Streets Week coming up on June 2nd.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Arts to End Violence Block Party this Saturday at 1 PM a part of Kingston Super Saturday Activities

The Arts to End Violence Festival will kick off this Saturday with a block party on Kingston Avenue between Dean and Bergen at 1 PM. There will be ten different arts and crafts tables, music, food, and a display some of the work submitted to the Arts to End Violence initiative by young people and professionals.

There will be a number of other events this Saturday as part of Kingston Avenue Super Saturday, including Brower Park's "It's My Park Day" featuring live birds and animals, and the St. Marks block clean up at 10 AM.

Please join your neighbors and friends in celebrating and giving back to our neighborhood.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Second Annual Arts to End Violence Festival to Kick Off May 19

The S.O.S. Arts to End Violence Festival will kick off in on Saturday, May 19th, with a block party on Kingston Avenue between Dean and Bergen. There will be food, music, art activities, and of course, an exhbition of the submissions we've received from young people and artists.

Please join us for the Arts to End Violence Gallery Party on May 23rd at Ron Taylor Gallery and Greater Restoration Baptist Church 1160 & 1156 St. Johns between Kingston and Albany. Join your neighbors and peers to appreciate and think about the art that has been produced for this initiative. There will be food, refreshments, live music, and it will be a great opportunity to engage with the many artists (young and old, novice and professional) who are part of this initiatve.

Here is a sneak peak at some of the work that you will see at the Festival; please visit the Arts to End Violence Tumblr to see more, and see the complete schedule of events below.

“What Now?” By Jamel Shabazz

“The photograph is entitled ” What now ?” and it represents 2 warring gang members seated at a chess table with pieces that are both black, making it impossible to play the game, this image is my way of saying to gang members that Black on Black violence must end.”

“Stop the Violence” by Janet Griffith

I created a quilt (machine-quilted) that combines photos from the march on October 20, 2011, with memorabilia from the shootings of two young men on my block of Hampton Place. It is dedicated in the memory of those two young men, who came from good families and lived on a good block but their lives were stolen by gun violence

“Walk the Road Don’t Stop” by Jose Cedillo, age 17

I grew up around gangs all life. I have family members that are in different kinds of gangs yet we get along. But there always will be a slight struggle since they are different. It don’t matter, family still be family even if your living different lives. I’m trying to say is if my family gets along well with no trouble why is it that brothers and sisters streets don’t get along. At the end of the day we are all the same don’t matter if you’re black, white, or brown or If you’re Crip, Blood, or Latino king. I have seen through my eyes suffering between gangs. And I’m proud to say that I have cried because I seen mothers, little brothers all kinds of people cry over their fallen relatives. Heck I’ve seen my friends die in front of my eyes. I’m just wondering what is it that makes us different at the end of the day, we are all humans. There is no scientific definition of race, so why discriminate. I just have to say that every one of us have a road to walk. If you stop walking you’ll never make it big. If you stay back you’ll be influenced with the temptations of people ideas. That includes gangs. So why can we just shake hands? and walk the road together and not look behind. it would be hard not to look back but if you want to move on with your life just try to forget. Forget about the bad influence will have gave you but don’t forget where you truly came from. Don’t forget the struggles because that will be your motivation in life. So let’s shake hands and walk

Second Annual Save Our Streets Arts To End Violence Festival 

May 19th -24th in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, NY.
Everyone is welcome.

May 19th: Arts Festival for Children and Families
Food, face painting and entertainment.
Kingston Ave between Dean and Bergen 1:00pm - 6:00pm

May 22nd: Pop Up Art Display
Come check out the art that was submitted to the Arts To End Violence Contest.
Utica and Eastern Parkway 5:00pm

May 23rd: Art Showcase
Live music. See the art. Meet the Artists. Celebrate in your neighborhood.
Ron Taylor Gallery and Greater Restoration Baptist Church
1160 & 1156 St. Johns between Kingston and Albany 6:30pm - 9:00pm

May 24th: Film Night
Watch the films from the Arts To End Violence Contest. Event is in Partnership with the Kings County cinema Society.
LaunchPad 721 Franklin Ave 7:00pm

An initiative of Save Our Streets Crown Heights (S.O.S.), Arts to End Violence is a festival and contest that brings together some of the many artistic expressions of peace in our neighborhood and beyond in order to spread the message of nonviolence. Over 40 pieces of art, submitted by young and old, professional and novice, explore topics including the cyclical nature of violence, media and stereotyping, gang culture, and ultimately a shared vision and hope for peace in our streets. The result is a collection of art that works to unravel the dangerous web that produces and perpetuates gun violence in our neighborhood.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

YO S.O.S. Graduate and Intern Reean Charles featured in panel "Combating Youth Violence"

Reean Charles with David Kennedy, Director of The Center on Crime Prevention and Control
YOUTH @ CENTER: COMBATING YOUTH VIOLENCE: A few weeks ago, on March 21, Child Welfare Watch of the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School hosted an event, Combating Youth Violence: Concrete Solutions for New York City, featuring an address by David Kennedy, director of the John Jay Center for Crime Prevention and Control. The address was followed by a conversation with Reann Charles, a member of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YOSOS), New York City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, Kevin O’Connor, Assistant Commissioner of the NYPD Division of Community Affairs, and Iesha Sekou, Executive Director of Street Corner Resources. The conversation was moderated by Errol Louis, host of NY1’s Inside City Hall.

David Kennedy’s address focused on misunderstandings that exist on both sides, on the side of young people as they are perceived by institutions, like the court system and the NYPD, that seek to keep them out of trouble and on the side of those institutions as they are perceived by young people who doubt their fairness. During the conversation that followed, Councilmember Mark-Viverito highlighted a major theme in overcoming this antagonism: “We need to involve the voices of those that are being impacted… and that’s not happening.” Reean Charles, a young person from Crown Heights and a member of the Center for Court Innovation’s YOSOS program, responded by reminding the audience how education campaigns around smoking over the last few decades have helped many young people realize the harms of this habit. She stressed the need for similar programming to educate youths about the dangers of violence and the reasons to resist the behaviors that perpetuate it.

The complete video can be found here and is worth watching, especially the conversation at the end, which starts around 37:00.

Monday, May 7, 2012

"Increase the Peace" Talent Show

The Save Our Streets Team: Outreach Workers, Violence Interrupters and Program Manager
The Save Our Streets "Increase the Peace" community talent showcase on April 28th had 14 wonderful acts, all of them local, Crown Heights, teens. S.O.S. and the Brooklyn Blizzards organized the afternoon of talent and fun at PS 289. 

The singers and MCs displayed amazing talent and creativity, the dancers were expressive and exciting and the cultural acts showed the skill and discipline of long hours of training.  The performers were thoughtful and engaged.  They all performed with the theme of PEACE in mind. 

Some artists even incorporated the theme of "Increase the Peace" into their artistic expressions. One rapper ever wore an "I Support S.O.S. tee shirt" as he moved around the stage.  People were in awe of the stilt walkers as they skipped up and down the aisles dancing and making people gasp.  The show was spectacular. But for us, the real story, the real star of the show, was the audience. 

The 250 or so people who attended were loud and enthusiastic. They were obviously having a great time but the extraordinary thing about that audience was its collective kindness and generosity.  While there was special applause and cheering from the pockets of family and friends of the performers when they were introduced, there were tremendous ovations for every performer when they finished their acts.                                             
Every performer received authentic approval from the audience. When a young MC twice lost his place and forgot the lines to his rap, the audience cheered and encouraged him to keep going, which he did. Getting through that difficult on-stage moment earned him a huge expression of appreciation and support from the audience. He was overcome with pride and love for the performers and for the audience of mostly teenage kids from Crown Heights who showed such compassion and gratitude for the offerings of their peers.  

Ruby-Beth Buitekant, Case Manager of Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets (YO S.O.S.) said, "We are aware of the criticisms that young people face of being seen as uncaring, uninterested and disconnected. Just spend an afternoon watching  young people express themselves so positively and it's easy to see that there's so much talent and positive energy that simply needs an opportunity to come out. " 


We'll remember all of the performers on that stage and in that audience on that day and speak only with love, hope and respect.   

The Crown Heights Community Mediation Center's own Ife Charles hosted the event. She tossed tee-shirts and other prizes to the crowd when they correctly answered questions about S.O.S. She led the crowd in cheering for the S.O.S. Outreach workers and Violence Interrupters. She also made so many silly jokes that audience members had to wipe their cheeks of tears! She was the ultimate hostess.

Thank you to everyone that made the day such a huge success. Special thank you to Anthony Newerls for his leadership and the success of the events!