Last week University Settlement participated in a Community Network Forum - the first of hopefully many community conversations centered around planning a course of action to combat rising violence, particularly among youth, in the Lower East Side. Melissa Aase, Executive Director, facilitated the conversation and that many participants agreed that one of the biggest issues in dealing with rising violence among youth on the LES is not lack of services, but rather the barriers that exist among service providers. As a result, there will be a Lower East Side Unity Rally on January 31.
By: Ed Litvak
January 18, 2013
WNYC has the first interview with Arlene Delgado, the mother of murder victim Raphael Ward. The teenager was shot and killed January 4 on Columbia Street, after a dispute involving winter jackets. One suspect, Timothy Montalvo, is in custody. police are searching for three others, including the alleged shooter.
WNYC visited Delgado, 34, in her apartment at the Baruch Houses. While gazing at a video showing an animated Raphael singing Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" she said, "He was very playful. You know, he was too young to take anything so serious. Nothing was serious enough for him… I could just finish disciplining him and he'll still grab me and hold me and he'll say, 'Hug me back, Ma,'… I always felt like he was trying to find the weak side of me. … He'd say, 'Hug me back or I'm not letting you go,' and I'd have to hug him back."
Delgado, who became pregnant with Raphael at age 17, works for a hospital network as a financial representative. She's getting a business degree at La Guardia Community College. In the aftermath of her son's murder, Delgado said she wants to perform community service by, perhaps, opening up a community center for teens, providing them with a safe refuge from the violence of the streets. "I'm going to save my son's friend that's what I'm going to do," she vowed. "Mommy's going to save your friends. You loved them? I'm going to embrace them."
Last night, representatives of many of the neighborhood's non-profit organizations and other groups met at Grand Street Settlement, steps away from the location where Raphael was killed, to talk about what the community can do to help kids stay safe. Melissa Aase, University Settlement's executive director, facilitated a conversation about potential concrete steps that could be taken in the weeks ahead.
Most participants agreed there are quite a few youth programs on the Lower East Side, meaning that sufficient resources are not necessarily the problem. The bigger issue, they said, is breaking down barriers that exist among service providers, doing more to reach kids one-on-one and making sure adults are helping teens envision a positive future away from gangs, drugs and guns.
A few speakers explained that a kids are scared of leaving the housing complexes where they live because the neighborhood is so territorial. "They're stepping out into their community and we don't know whether they're going to make it back (alive)," one woman said. Another speaker, Roz Gibbs, called for more dialogue between police and teens. "They (police) need to help squash these beefs and mediate between rival groups," she said. Victor Papa, president of the Two Bridges Neighborhood Council, suggested there's a need to deliver a "common message" to young people about violence and drugs. "What happened reflects a lack of understanding about what violence is," he added. One of the most passionate speakers was Luther Stubblefield, the tenant association president at the Baruch Houses. For the past nine years, he explained, he'd been talking to young people, urging them to get education and job training, with only limited success. The message from kids, he said, is (or should be) basically, "Give me a year in a trade school instead a year at Riker's Island."
The group leaders agreed they would assemble the best ideas and come up with a concrete action plan in the next few weeks. One concrete concept that's becoming a reality is a Lower East Side Unity Rally planned for January 31 at 5:30 p.m. It will start at Avenue D and 6th Street and proceed down to Columbia and Rivington streets where Raphael was shot. The event is being planned by the Manhattan Borough President's office.