NEW YORK—On a street corner in Harlem at midnight Sunday, instead of relaxing and preparing for a leisurely Labor Day, a dozen community members gathered to discuss solutions to violence in the area, including gun violence.
Called Occupy the Corners, groups like these have gathered on street corners for the last three weekends around the city to promote peaceful solutions to violence. Next weekend, the last of this month of action, they will discuss what comes next.
“We’re creating a presence in our community, and we’re here to speak with people directly,” said Talib Hudson, a graduate student studying Urban Policy at the New School. “I refuse to be afraid of my brothers and sisters out here in our neighborhood. I cannot be part of the solution if I’m scared to talk to people.”
The group gathered at the corner of 129th Street and Seventh Avenue, across the street from two police officers. They floated out greetings to passersby, some of whom stopped, curious.
Neighbors Stepping Up
Juan Luna, a painter and architect who lives near 139th and Lenox, stopped and then stayed for a while. “I didn’t know about this,” he said. “I think a lot of people in my building would want to join this.”
The group’s facilitator, Iesha Sekou, asked Luna what he would do to help halt violence in the area. “Introduce them to more positive things,” said Luna, echoing an earlier suggestion about starting workshops for such subjects as photography and sewing. “Sometimes they do things out of frustration,” he added.
Actor James Dickson suggested creating a hotline so youth facing difficult circumstances could call for help. Sekou lauded the idea but said it would have to be a 24-hour operation.
Sekou is founder of Street Corner Resources, a community organization that helps youth by taking them around on National Night Out and taking them on trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for stronger gun laws.
She told a story about a youth who had his laptop stolen and said he wanted to shoot the thief.
Sekou discovered while talking with the student that he had just moved from a shelter and didn’t have much furniture, on top of family issues. She said he viewed his laptop as a means of escaping his situation.
As she was trying to calm him down, she said, “I was getting him to understand ‘You are getting ready to lose 25 years of your life because of a laptop.’”
So, she told the group, that’s why the hotline would need to be manned 24 hours. “You can’t say ‘Leave your issue, call back.’ Then it’s too late.”
Laptops on the Corner
Plans for next Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights (11 p.m. to 1 a.m.) include bringing laptops out to the corner, linking up to the Internet via wireless, and letting anyone interested search for jobs and other related resources. The group also wants to figure out how to build on the momentum they have established and decide what should be done in the future.
Rev. Al Sharpton, and the National Action Network he founded, are supporting the Occupy the Corners movement. Sharpton plans to meet with Mayor Michael Bloomberg to discuss the issues, according to Sekou. Sharpton was not available for comment Monday, according to a spokesperson.
Sheldon Frisby, 54, who has lived his whole life in Harlem, said the problems are complex and come from a host of issues such as lack of care for youth, having funds cut for recreational facilities, and police brutality.
Youth “need to feel like they’re valued,” Frisby said. “Our society has devalued our youth so much.”
Being out on the corner was an important start for change, Frisby said. “Saying it isn’t enough, you have to act on it,” he said. “I’ll be out here as long as it takes.”
11:00 p.m.–1:00 a.m.
Manhattan129th & Seventh Avenue
111th & Madison Avenue
125th Street & Amsterdam Avenue
132 St & Fifth Avenue (Lincoln Houses)
Van Siclen Avenue & Stanley Avenue
Myrtle Avenue & Throop Avenue
East 46th Street & Church Avenue
Mother Gaston & Sutter Avenue
225th Street & White Plains Road
Sutphin Boulevard & South Road
Benziger Avenue and Jersey Street
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