org 1
Vol. 34, No. 3
July 2010
A Troubled Age
Tough times for New York's Youth
Photographs by Lizzie Ford-Madrid

9 | Tough Love in
the Big City
New York's always been a
hard place for some to grow up.
It might be getting harder.
By E.R. Shipp

16 | Spotting Trouble
Te debate over detecting
teen suicide risks
By Curtis Stephen
21 | No Entry
Why is teen unemployment
so high?
By Jarrett Murphy

28 | Fear Ain't New
Afraid of crime now?
Join the kids.
By Curtis Stephen
34 | Back To Basics
Challenges at the community
college door
By Jarrett Murphy

40 | Making Their Way
Immigrant women straddle
cultural chasms
By Curtis Stephen

18 | Early Warning System
Fighting teen dating violence
begins with recognizing it
By Curtis Stephen

22 | Coming of Age
A Q&A with the mayor's
youth czar
By Jarrett Murphy
31 | Gang Signs
Defusing youth violence
isn't simple
By Curtis Stephen
42 | Fathers Figure
A resource for youth
who want to be dads
By Curtis Stephen

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Printed in Canada.

4 | Help (Still) Wanted
Banks go slow on fxing
bad home loans
By Eileen Markey

5 | Costs And Benefits
Te pros & cons of
policing welfare fraud
By Neil deMause
6 | Squeegeeing History
Study seeks a clearer view
of the drop in crime
By Jake Mooney

2 | Editor's Desk
Finding Teir Place
45 | HomeWork
Resources for researching and
helping New York's youth
46 | ExtraExtra
Events, Ads and
48 | LookBack
Shuttering Sydenham
ON THE COVER: Young New Yorkers at a protest at City Hall in
May against budget cuts to summer employment and other
programs. Photo: Marc Fader
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 2 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
Finding Teir Place
Te people in my Bronx building have always been down
on strangers getting in the front door, and not without
reason. We had the homeless guy who took refuge on the
top landing of the B stairwell, the periodic break-ins that
once had a frefghter wrestling with a prowler on the front
stoop and the mysterious piano blaze on the third foor. Te
dead body found in one of the courtyards a couple of years
back also gave one pause. (Te building is really very nice,
but over the course of eight years unusual things do happen.)
Tus all the residents are supposed to do their bit to keep
outsiders outside. So one day this spring, when I got home
from work to fnd a half-dozen teenagers using our lobby
as a skateboard park, racing down the hallways to launch
out over the steps that drop to a sunken foyer, it was my
turn to play Uptight Guy. I braced myself to be ignored—or
worse—swung open the door and told them they’d have to
leave through it.
Without a murmur of protest, they did. Tey all grabbed
their boards and fled out the front door wearing sheepish
smiles. One looked at me and said, “Tanks for letting us
use it for a while, sir.” Obviously, they weren’t going to break
in to anyone’s apartment or set any musical instruments on
fre. Tey just wanted a place to ride their skateboards, and
there aren’t many such places in Norwood. Where would
they go instead?
As Pulitzer Prize-winner and former New York Times
and Daily News writer E.R. Shipp points out in her opening
essay, for decades our overriding reaction to the city’s youth
has been to fear them. But Shipp’s study of New York City
past and present reveals that young people are the ones with
the most to fear—and recommends that the city take sweep-
ing action to prevent some of those fears from being realized.
In attempting to catalog some of the challenges facing
New Yorkers aged 16 through 24, we’ve chosen to highlight
fve issues where very grave concerns have spurred inno-
vative responses. Curtis Stephen, who has reported for the
Times of India, CNN and WNBC and is the author of the
forthcoming book Chief Rocker: Te Soul of Frankie Crocker
and the Battle for the FM Dial, reports on the fear of youth

violence, the choices facing young immigrant women and
the debates around teen depression. We also look at the im-
pact of stunningly high teen unemployment and the frustra-
tion and failure that greet too many high school graduates
when they head to community college. Readers will meet a
few young people whom we encountered during our report-
ing. We don’t pretend that their stories are representative of
all the city’s young, but they’re important stories anyway.
In this issue, our approach to covering New York contin-
ues to evolve. We’re ofering a batch of compact features on
welfare fraud, the rise and fall of broken windows theory,
and the sluggish response of banks to overwhelmed hom-
eowners. You can fnd more coverage of these issues—and
of the challenges facing youth—on our website, CityLimits.
org. Opinion pieces on school testing, juvenile justice and
the unappreciated potential of hip-hop will soon appear on-
line, alongside investigations of what’s happening with the
city’s foster care caseload and how workfare rules afect low-
income kids.
We were all young once. For those of us whose work is
featured here and most who will read it, youth opened doors
to us. Tese days, many young people in New York instead
see doors closing. Tose of us on the other side can decide
to keep them ajar, even if it means dealing with the sound of
skateboard wheels on tile.
– Jarrett Murphy
We were all young once.
For those of us whose work
is featured here and most
who will read it, youth
opened doors to us.
www.citylimits.org 3
When Mom’s In Jail
Almost three
quarters of the
2,422 women
in New York
state prisons
are mothers. More than half of
those women are from New York
City or the surrounding suburbs.
In a three-part series, Patrick Egan
reports on a mother-and-child
reunion behind the prison gates.
Rage Against
The Machines
Ten years after the
hanging-chad fiasco
spurred federal election
reform, New York is
poised to introduce
computerized voting devices that
will replace old lever machines
for September’s statewide primary.
Now, if only county officials would
stop suing to halt it.
Shore Uncertainty
Residents of
Staten Island’s
North Shore
hoped the
EPA would
take seriously a 5-square-mile
contamination zone dating back
to the effort to build the A-bomb. Is
the Fed’s six-figure funding offer a
down payment, or a case of being
More On Youth
What’s wrong
with the juvenile
justice system?
For one thing,
that too many
juveniles don’t even end up
there when arrested, writes Tami
Steckler. Pedro Noguera and Ben
Moser dig into school closures.
And Mustafa Sullivan raps on the
untapped political potential of
Norman Thomas High School in Manhattan, one of 19 schools
the city wants to close. As we reported in May, parents and
advocates are pushing for alternatives to school closings like
providing better leadership and more resources to troubled
buildings. Visit www.citylimits.org/schools.
In our next issue
Artifcial grass and real
challenges for city parks
Photos: Marc Fader (school and ferry), Patrick Egan (mother), Blue 387 (voting booth) and Lizzie Ford-Madrid (basketball).
“Why should the illegals be counted? It’s bad
enough they are doing jobs I want. I could do
those landscaping, construction, bus boy, delivery
boy jobs instead of rotting in unemployment.
Tey should not have a VOICE at all.”
—Jose Rivera, email to the editor, April 29
Check out our immigration coverage at www.citylimits.org/immigration
Mark Anthony Tomas
Jarrett Murphy
Deputy Editor
Kelly Virella
Contributing Editors
Neil DeMause, Marc Fader, Eileen
Markey, Jake Mooney, Helen Zelon
Advertising Director
Allison Tellis-Hinds
Marketing Assistant
Nekoro Gomes
Creative Direction
Smyrski Creative
Danial Adkison
Joshua Burke, Abigail Kramer,
Mark Edmiston, chair
Adam Blumenthal
Andy Breslau
Michael Connor
David R. Jones
Andy Reicher
Michele Webb
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 4 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 4 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
Help (Still) Wanted:
Banks go slow on
fixing bad home loans

New York neighborhoods have been
struggling with the aferefects of
the subprime- and exotic-mortgage
boondoggle for the better part of
three years now. Despite a surfeit of
government programs intended to ca-
jole banks into helping homeowners
climb out from under, most New York-
ers who are behind on their mortgages
are not getting the help they seek.
And those who are getting help
might be better of without it. Foreclo-
sure prevention counselors who work
closely with distressed homeowners
are raising serious questions about the
quality of what few loan modifcations
are being made. As hard as it might be
to believe, modifcation might be mak-
ing some home loans even worse.
Te federal government launched the
Home Afordable Mortgage Program
(HAMP) in March 2009 to encour-
age the banks that service mortgages
to help homeowners avoid foreclo-
sures by rewriting the terms of unaf-
fordable loans, whether by lowering
interest rates, extending repayment
periods or lowering mortgage prin-
cipal. The program, initially budget-
ed at $75 billion, pays banks for each
mortgage they modify.
Nationwide, 1.7 million people
are eligible for the program, but only
295,348—a mere 17 percent—have
had permanent changes made to their
loan terms, according to the most
recent monthly data collected by the
U.S. Treasury, which administers
the program. Treasury ofcials says
HAMP is improving because the
servicers are being goaded to be more
responsive. “Our focus now is on
improving the homeowner experience
and holding servicers accountable for
their performance,” Phyllis Caldwell,
chief of Treasury’s Homeownership
Preservation Ofce, said in a statement.
With help from foreclosure preven-
tion counselors across the city, 2,987
New Yorkers applied for permanent
loan modifcations in the past two
years. Only 428 got them, accord-
ing to fgures collected by the Center
for New York City Neighborhoods, a
nonproft that coordinates a citywide
network of dozens of housing coun-
selors and legal providers.
Far more common than modifca-
tions that actually make mortgages
afordable are endless delays and ob-
fuscation from banks, several housing
counselors told City Limits. In May, the
Urban Justice Center (a nonproft ad-
vocacy organization) sued JPMorgan
Chase for allegedly fouting HAMP
guidelines and refusing to make per-
manent modifcations to the mortgag-
es of three Queens homeowners. Later
in the month, a coalition of advocates
and distressed homeowners including
the Neighborhood Economic Devel-
opment Advocacy Project, a longtime
watchdog of bank lending in low-in-
come areas, disrupted Chase’s share-
holder meeting, protesting the bank’s
intransigence toward homeowners.
Housing counselors say they are put
on hold for hours when they call lend-
ers and that borrowers fax applications
to banks over and over again, only to be
told they were lost.
“I swear, someday 10 years from
now, someone is going to open a closet
and be killed by a pile of lost faxes,”
says Jennifer Murphy, lender servicer
relations director at the Center for
New York City Neighborhoods. When
a state banking department ofcial re-
cently asked CNYCN’s executive direc-
tor, Michael Hickey, what would im-
A protest in Manhattan in May against banks whom advocates say are refusing to modify
mortgages for distressed homeowners. Photo: Marc Fader
www.citylimits.org 5 www.citylimits.org 5
prove HAMP, he had a simple answer:
“Get banks to answer the phone.”
Nationally, 1.2 million trial modifca-
tions have been ofered under HAMP.
But if homeowners are ofered a three-
month trial modifcation but denied a
permanent modifcation, they can be
worse of than when they started.
“If you are in a trial mod and they
come back and say, ‘Actually, you don’t
qualify,’ they can ask you to pay the
arrearages that you were not paying”
during the trial modifcation period,
Murphy says. Of the more than 3,000
homeowners who applied for modif-
cations through the CNYCN network,
641 were ofered trial modifcations.
But even a rare permanent modi-
fcation, intended to be a lifeline, can
be more like a pair of concrete shoes.
Counselors say banks commonly insist
on extended loan terms, $90,000 bal-
loon payments that come due when the
mortgage is paid of and loan amounts
that increase the ofen already infated
value of the home.
“I think these programs are very,
very problematic, even if you put on
your rosiest-colored glasses,” says Re-
bekah Cook-Mack, a staf attorney at
South Brooklyn Legal Services. “Te
modifcations are making the loan
amounts higher.”
No counselor in the New York City
foreclosure prevention network has
seen a modifcation that actually re-
duced loan principal, Cook-Mack and
others who participate in a housing
counselor Listserv contend.
Cook-Mack wonders if banks even
want to help. She cites two of her cli-
ents, 80-year-old retired civil servants
in Bedford-Stuyvesant who refnanced
their home to make repairs. Tey ap-
proached Wells Fargo for help with a
$630,000 mortgage on which they had
made $60,000 worth of payments. Te
bank’s best ofer: a $739,000, 40-year
mortgage with a balloon payment.
“Someone somewhere knows that these
things are still crap,” Cook-Mack says.
Banks collect
more fees the
longer they hold
a mortgage in
limbo. Modify-
ing a mortgage,
particularly for
h o me o wn e r s
who have paid
of a substantial
amount, is not as
proftable to the
bank as foreclos-
ing on the house and selling it, espe-
cially if the bank is calculating the net
present value of the loan with overly
optimistic fgures.
JPMorgan Chase, which services 18
percent of loans in the CNYCN’s net-
work, is committed to helping hom-
eowners, says Michael Fusco, a spokes-
man for the bank. “As a national leader
in foreclosure prevention, we have con-
tinued to expand upon and improve
our programs to keep families in their
homes,” he says. According to Treasury,
JPMorgan Chase had 246,185 HAMP-
eligible borrowers as of March 31. It
has completed 39,507 permanent mod-
ifcations and begun trials on 189,014
under the program.
—Eileen Markey
Costs and Benefits:
The pros and cons of
policing welfare fraud
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles
Hynes made headlines in April when
he announced that he was prosecuting
32 New Yorkers on charges of
having swindled the state out of
nearly $1 million in public benefts.
"Millionaires' welfare 'con'," trumpeted
the New York Post, highlighting one
couple with a $2.2 million bank
balance and three luxury cars who'd
received $59,000 in Medicaid benefts.
But though it made for a fashy news
item, government ofcials and welfare
advocates alike say stories like these
provide a far from representative
picture of benefts fraud in New York
state. And that matters because the fear
of fraud can shape beneft enrollment
rules that can discourage eligible
people from applying for help.
Te Brooklyn cases didn't involve
welfare per se; rather, they concern the
alleged unlawful use of Medicaid and,
in a few instances, food stamps as well.
Tat's typical of most fraud investiga-
tions, say state and city ofcials, and a
refection of Medicaid's enormous scale
compared to other public benefts.
Most Medicaid investigations, either
by the city's Human Resources Admin-
istration (HRA) or by the newly estab-
lished state Medicaid Inspector Gener-
al's ofce, hunt scams of a smaller scale
than the big-time rackets alleged by
the Brooklyn DA. (In fact, lying about
your assets—as the couple featured in
the Post is charged with doing—is no
longer a violation, because the state
legislature eliminated asset checks for
Medicaid in January; applicants still
must submit proof of low income.)
Among the more common scams:
"renting" Medicaid cards for a fee to
obtain prescription drugs (ofen then
sold on the street, or even resold back
to the pharmacy at half price), and
forged prescriptions, ofen on stolen
prescription pads. Still more wide-
spread: provider fraud, ranging from
doctors who upgrade diagnoses to get
a higher reimbursement rate to phar-
macies flling prescriptions—know-
ingly or unknowingly—for Medicaid
cardholders who are deceased. Exactly
how much "fraud," per se, is caught by
“I swear, someday 10
years from now, someone
is going to open a closet
and be killed by a pile of
lost faxes.”
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 6 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 6 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
the city and state is hard to pin down
with precision. HRA cites "more than
$1 billion" in savings last year from its
Bureau of Eligibility Verifcation, and
$119 million from its Bureau of Fraud
Investigation; the Ofce of the Med-
icaid Inspector General cites nearly
$1.5 billion a year in savings. How-
ever, these fgures lump together all
"cost avoidance." Cost avoidance can
mean catching millionaires fling for
benefts under fake names. But costs
are also avoided when an applicant
doesn't respond to a verifcation letter
or is denied benefts (even if they later
re-apply, and get them)."Te great bulk
of what we do runs under the catego-
ries of waste and abuse," says Medic-
aid Inspector General spokesperson
Wanda Fischer, noting: "Sometimes it's
just people who push the button twice
when putting the bill in." Peter Jenik,
head of HRA's Investigation Revenue
and Enforcement Administration divi-
sion, agrees that "the numbers wouldn't
indicate" that client fraud is very preva-
lent in New York City.
HRA ofcials would argue that the
low level of reported fraud is because
of fraud prevention measures it has
in place. Critics retort that the low
fraud numbers suggest that the agency
employs excessive fraud prevention
eforts that only serve to deter
legitimate applicants. New York is one
of only four states that requires fnger
imaging via an electronic scanner
before it will issue food stamps, while
welfare applicants in New York City
must undergo a mandated Eligibility
Verifcation Review, as well as face home
visits from HRA's Front End Detection
System investigators. It's a system
that Federation of Protestant Welfare
Agencies policy analyst Liz Accles
calls "guilty until proven innocent,"
and unique among government
programs—neither the IRS and Social
Security, she notes, conduct fraud
investigations before cutting checks. It
can also end up leaving the genuinely
eligible without benefts.
HRA ofcials insist that that fnger
scans are more reliable than Social
Security number checks, and credit
them with saving the city $4.1 million
in food stamp expenses last year. Tey
also cite the city's dramatically rising
food stamp rolls as a sign that appli-
cants aren't being deterred.
For Medicaid, meanwhile, fraud
checks are less contentious, largely
because they come only afer you're
receiving benefts. In fact, notes Lisa
Kassel, director of the statewide group
Medicaid Matters, the Medicaid ap-
plication process has been streamlined
in recent years. HRA Commissioner
Robert Doar says that for Medicaid, it
makes sense to pay frst and ask ques-
tions later. "Te Medicaid system was
set up to get payments out to provid-
ers very rapidly," he says. "And I have
no objection to that. Tese law-abiding
health care providers, their margins are
pretty tight, and you want to make sure
they're paid quickly. "Yet, notes Accles,
the same tradeof applies to welfare and
food stamps: Te tougher the rules, the
more risk that some eligible people will
be denied benefts.
—Neil deMause

Squeegeeing History:
Study seeks a clearer
view of the drop
in crime
In the late 1980s, the number of ho-
micides soared in New York City,
peaking in 1990 at a harrowing 2,245.
Ten Rudy Giuliani became mayor
and cleaned up New York by paying re-
newed attention to panhandlers, squee-
gee men and the metaphorical "broken
windows." Tere was a new emphasis
on civic order and enforcement of mis-
demeanor quality-of-life crimes, and
a corresponding sharp drop in homi-
cides, year afer year.
Tis, at least, is the popular nar-
rative. But it faces a new challenge: a
study by the New York Academy of
Medicine (NYAM) that lists a variety
of causes for the 1990s homicide de-
cline and concludes that misdemeanor
arrests were barely a factor.
Tis is more than a subject for
historical debate, the researchers say.
Te broken windows theory, while
by no means the only new tactic that
city police used in the 90s, was what
the media hyped and other police
departments copied. Its benefts were
touted around the world by Giuliani
and his Police Commissioner, William
Bratton, and both men—afer Giuliani's
mayoralty and Bratton's seven-year
term as chief of the Los Angeles
Police Department—have gone on to
successful careers in consulting.
Te NYAM study, which focused
on gun-related homicides (the vast
majority of killings in the city), used
a cache of data collected from the city
medical examiner on every death from
external causes in New York between
1990 and 2006.
In an earlier study, the NYAM team
found a small relationship between
misdemeanor arrests and the over-
all decline in gun-related homicides.
Seeking to better understand the
“The numbers wouldn't indicate
that fraud is very prevalent in
New York City.”
www.citylimits.org 7 www.citylimits.org 7
relationship, in the current study they
broke down gun-related homicides
into smaller groups based on the age of
the victims. Tey detected an interest-
ing pattern.
Young people, per-capita, are most
likely to be murder victims. And in the
study's 15 to 24 age group, which in the
1990s averaged 35.47 gun deaths per
100,000 people each year, the research-
ers found no link between the rate's
decline and increased citywide mis-
demeanor arrests. Much more closely
associated with the decline within that
high-risk age group, they found, was
a general citywide decline in cocaine-
market activity and a shif in the nature
of drug sales toward better organiza-
tion and less violence.
In older age groups, the researchers
found that the homicide decline was
closely related to decreased alcohol
consumption, and to the higher per-
centage of the population that received
public assistance in the early 90s (at
least before Giuliani-era welfare cuts
began in 1996). Finally, among people
over 34 the decline in homicides was,
in fact, associated with increased mis-
demeanor arrests—but this was the
group whose members were least likely
to be victimized.
Te conclusion, according to lead
author Magdelana Cerdá, is, "If you
want to reduce homicide, putting all
your emphasis on misdemeanor po-
licing is not the answer, particularly if
you want to afect those groups that are
most at risk of dying of homicide."
In interviews in May, a few weeks
before the study's publication in the
American Journal of Public Health,
broken windows proponents greeted
the fndings skeptically.
Bill Andrews, who served as a spe-
cial assistant to Bratton when he was
New York's police commissioner, and
who now works for him at the consult-
ing frm Altegrity, said in an interview
that the '90s crime drop was too abrupt
and too steep to be merely the result of
broad societal factors like changes in
the cocaine market.
Te importance of misdemeanor ar-
rests to Bratton's approach, Andrews
maintains, has always been overplayed.
He argues that the 90s-era tactics were
much more about efective targeting
and deployment of resources. But the
misdemeanor arrests were, Andrews
contends, "a big factor, an important
factor, a driving factor."
Al O'Leary, Bratton's former
Transit Police spokesman and now
the press ofcer for the Patrolman's
Benevolent Association, said the most
efective initiative of the era was one
to get illegal guns of the streets. But
broken windows, he maintained, was
a part of that anti-gun efort."Paying
attention to disorder and using low-
level infractions to fnd weapons is an
efective tool," O'Leary said.
Te NYAM study has its limita-
tions. As William Sousa, a co-author
with George Kelling of some broken
windows literature, points out, it looks
only at homicides and only at arrests.
Te former limits the measurement of
crime—since murders are the rarest of-
fenses—and the latter of policing, since
cops can afect crime without bust-
ing anyone. Sousa also argues that the
study's conclusions don't actually un-
dermine broken windows' potential to
do good. "If misdemeanor enforcement
can save people 35 and over," Sousa
asks, "isn't it a worthwhile endeavor?"
Andrews, for his part, sees darker
motivations in criticisms of broken
windows. "People despise Giuliani,"
he said, "and they try to undercut
his accomplishments at every turn."
Andrew also contends that denying
a link between increased policing
and decreased crime is "a very hard
argument to make."
Te study, though, does not try to
make that argument. Cerdá said that
while she has not formally studied the
question, she believes that increased
felony arrests and incarceration rates
likely did contribute to the homicide
decline. What the NYAM study chal-
lenges is not felony enforcement but
broken windows theory and its empha-
sis on misdemeanors. Tat emphasis
continues: Misdemeanors represent
72 percent of the arrests made in New
York City last year, and have increased
by 28 percent under Mayor Bloomberg.
—Jake Mooney
Misdemeanors represent 72 percent of the arrests made in New York City last year, and have
increased by 28 percent under Mayor Bloomberg.
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 8 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
Young New Yorkers at a protest at
City Hall in May against budget
cuts to summer employment and
other programs. Photo: Marc Fader
www.citylimits.org 9
Tough Love
in the Big City
Kids in New York have ofen had a lot to fear. So how’d we end up afraid of them?
or young people born without that proverbial silver
spoon in their mouths, New York City has never been
an easy place to grow up. It’s a tough love kind of city.
For every person who has described a rather idyllic
childhood in old New York, there are many more who
remember a harsher one, going as far back as the days of
Jacob Riis, the social activist and photographer who chron-
icled the lives of poor young people in Lower Manhattan in
the late 19th century. What he saw and showed the world
infuenced attempts at making their tenement lives better. In
How the Other Half Lives, he observed:
“Bodies of drowned children turn up in the rivers right
along in summer whom no one seems to know anything
about. When last spring some workmen, while moving a pile
of lumber on a North River pier, found under the last plank
the body of a little lad crushed to death, no one had missed a
boy, though his parents aferward turned up.”
A contemporary of Riis’ in the late days of the 19th century
did even more. Lillian Wald, a nurse on her way to becoming
a doctor, visited the Lower East Side and saw frsthand the
results of so many people, ofen unemployed, cramped into
so little space—usually more than one family in a room in
one of those squalid tenements. She saw children, especially,
sufering from malnutrition, cholera, tuberculosis and other
respiratory problems—and decided to do something about
this breeding ground for contagious disease. She moved into
the neighborhood and became the nurse and the advocate.
“Te question of unemployment is immediately refected
in the illness among the poorest and less food for children
and, therefore, more sickness among them,” she said. “It
is exactly like a temperature chart: sick children show the
curve when fnancial depressions occur.”
Te very concept of childhood was diferent then. Chil-
dren were workers, and child labor was something Wald
campaigned against. Lloyd Ultan, the ofcial historian of the
Bronx, ofers a snapshot of job opportunities for young peo-
ple in the early 20th century: By 1910, as that borough grew
by leaps and bounds, jobs in factories and shops were plenti-
ful; the groups with obvious difculties—mainly because of
language barriers but also some racial and ethnic discrimi-
nation—were immigrants from Eastern Europe. But, Ultan
says, “it was not unusual for children to work afer eighth
grade.” Many people saw no need for schooling afer that.
By the roaring ’20s, some neighborhoods in New York
were encountering a unique mix of challenges. In Harlem:
Te Making of a Ghetto, sociologist Gilbert Osofsky wrote
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 10 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
that if life was a struggle for European immigrants, it
was even more so for the people who poured in to Har-
lem from the rural South during the great migration
that started around 1910 and lasted through World
War II. In Harlem, problems compounded. One
civic group wanted to eradicate tuberculosis through
health education but ran up against the reality of how
Harlem, “the most overcrowded neighborhood in the
nation,” needed more than health education; it also
needed better housing. Another philanthropic group,
the Children’s Aid Society, tried to provide kids with
an antidote to the terrible congestion by building
playgrounds but then had to address the reality of ju-
venile crime. When some educators and benefactors
launched vocational training programs, they encoun-
tered the reality that “these could not open doors for
Negro youngsters in New York’s predominantly lily-
white corporations and unions.”
By the Great Depression, as jobs dried up, labor
unions pushed for tighter restrictions on who could
work: Under 18, one needed a permit; 18 and above
became the norm. Schoolboys could deliver newspa-
pers like the Bronx Home News. Because transporta-
tion was fairly good, young men could travel to Man-
hattan for jobs involving physical labor. Tose who
found no legitimate work might turn to petty thiev-
ery, even working as part of the organization of Dutch
Schultz, the Bronx Beer Baron.
During and immediately afer World War II, jobs
were once again plentiful. But by 1950, Ultan says,
“unskilled labor was disappearing. You needed
education to operate machinery.”
In the post–World War II years, New York’s youth
story was dominated not by immigrants or migrants
but by their children—the Claude Browns of the
world. Brown’s family came to New York City as part
of the great migration. Tey and millions of other
blacks from the rural South moved north to escape
conditions that were barely better than slavery. In his
1965 semi-autobiographical novel, Manchild in the
Promised Land, Brown, who grew up in Harlem in the
1940s and 1950s, wrote of “roaming the streets with
junkies, whores, pimps, hustlers, the ‘mean cats’ and
the numbers runners.”
Tis push-pull struggle for New York’s youth domi-
nates movies, musicals and books that have defned
the city to audiences afar, from West Side Story to Beat
Street, from Te Cross and the Switchblade to Saturday
Night Fever, from Rachel and Her Children to Last Exit
to Brooklyn, from “Fame” to Yo Soy Boricua, from Te
Warriors to Do the Right Ting. Te lyrics of the city’s
unofcial anthem—“If I can make it there, I’ll make
it anywhere”—are hopeful. But for young people in
New York, the if has always been a big IF.
Today’s trying times—described by the Fiscal Pol-
icy Institute as “the steepest and longest downturn
in the United States since the 1930s”—pose a 21st-
century challenge to the city’s youth. According to
the Community Service Society (which owns City
Limits), some 220,000 people between the ages of 16
and 24 are “disconnected,” neither in school nor in
jobs. Many have dropped out of school and have no
marketable skills.
Not all the news is bad. More kids are graduating
from high school. Fewer teens are having children.
But teen unemployment nationwide is higher than it
has ever been. College is harder to aford but more
costly to live without. Just under half of the murderers
and more than a third of the murdered in New York
since 2003 have been younger than 25.
Tis is not a movie or a play. Tis is real life in New
York in 2010. It’s what Steve Banks, the attorney-
in-chief at the Legal Aid Society, is worried will
become of the city’s children. “You see outlines of a
lost generation of children,” he says. “It’s not hard to
imagine they are going to be indelibly scarred by the
experiences they are going through now.”
What is old and what is new about the challenges
facing New York youth today?
“In some ways this is a deepening of what we’ve
always seen. I think that’s just a given in a lot of these
communities,” says David Gonzalez, a New York
Times reporter and a Bronxite. “It’s always been bad.”
Bad, but not always in the same way. Te Commu-
nity Service Society’s chief, David Jones, born in 1948,
grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, in a black mid-
dle-class family living in a very segregated city. Afer
third grade, when he could not yet read and amid a
high rate of turnover of teachers and a lack of books
“In some ways this is a
deepening of what we’ve
always seen. I think that’s
just a given in a lot of these
communities. It’s always
been bad.”
www.citylimits.org 11
Clockwise, from top left:Manhattan
store clerks on break; Terrence
Eggleston, age 22; Junior soldiers
in the Bronx.
A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 12
from the central school board, his parents took him
out of public school. But to him the past and pres-
ent are easily distinguishable. “Te neighborhood for
young people wasn’t all that bad,” he says in refecting
back. “Tere was gang activity, but compared to now,
it’s almost laughable.”
Not all that far away was Marty Markowitz, born
in 1945. Living in a relatively sheltered Jewish house-
hold in Crown Heights, he knew he was poor, and at
some point he realized that to the south of his neigh-
borhood were Italians and to the north were blacks.
He was 9 when his father died, and he found work to
help the family. He delivered newspapers. He worked
in a luncheonette making malteds and ice cream sun-
daes called frappes. He delivered dry cleaning. He de-
livered kosher meat. One of his customers was a big
tipper. “A dollar tip in 1956 was a lot of money! Tat
dollar tip made me the happiest guy in the world.”
When he was old enough to obtain working papers,
he worked in factories. And, ultimately, while working
during the day, he managed to earn a degree attending
night school at Brooklyn College for nine years.
It was tough. But it was possible. “Jobs were more
plentiful for kids. Tere were more opportunities to
fnd work than there are today,” Markowitz, now the
Brooklyn borough president, says. “Tat’s because we
lost our manufacturing base.”
Keith Hefner, who runs a newspaper for and by
teens called Youth Communication, remembers hav-
ing a very talented young Nigerian-born teen in his
program about 25 years ago. He needed work. Hef-
ner told the young man to start at the 12th foor of
the building they occupied on 22nd Street in Man-
hattan, which also housed a variety of blue-collar
and white-collar businesses. “Start at the top foor
and knock on every door. I guarantee you’ll have a
job by the time you get to the frst foor,” Hefner told
the young man. Indeed, the teen found employment.
“I could never imagine that happening now because
the jobs don’t exist,” Hefner says.
Darren Ferguson, a Harlem-born preacher, is see-
ing that jobs that teens might have gotten in fast-food
chains are now going to others. “Tey fnd themselves
competing with older workers who are looking for
any job. Tose who have a skill or a degree are now
competing with more experienced workers who are
willing to take an entry-level job just to get back into
the workforce.”
Even teens who have jobs sufer from the econo-
my’s uncertainty. Christina Gee, a 17-year-old senior
at Brooklyn Technical High, has been working since
she was 15. She sees her friends operating with di-
minished expectations.
“I feel many students are going for pharmacy and
nursing—safe felds—instead of pursuing interests
such as music or dance. I have a personally close
friend who is conficted with dance or nursing but ul-
timately decided to do nursing in hopes of a stable f-
Rough Ride: Tough times for New York's youth

Their Share Of Each Borough

Where 16- To 24-Year-Olds Live
ST/T|| |S|/||
A statistical snapshot
of New York's young
www.citylimits.org 13
nancial future,” she says. “Many of my friends are also choos-
ing CUNY schools rather than private. Money is a big issue
when it comes to college choices. Some friends turned down
NYU because the school did not give enough fnancial aid,
and a $20,000 loan seems like a lot to repay since the benefts
of a college degree are unknown.”
Maybe there’s an argument for dropping the dream to
dance and pursuing an employable skill instead. But what’s
so difcult these days for teens making that decision—to
follow a dream or to opt for something more practical—is
that even if they make the “right” choice, there still may be
no work anytime soon.
Ferguson, a former gangbanger who did nine years in
prison, knows the streets. And he believes today’s city youth
lack the ability to make the right choices.
“Many of them do not believe, as we did, that education
holds the key to their success,” says Ferguson, the pastor of
Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Far Rockaway, Queens. “Te
other part of this is that many young people lack some of the
survival skills that my generation had. Tere is a sense of en-
titlement among them—iPhones, iPods, iPads, BlackBerrys,
cable television, laptops, fat-screen televisions, etc.—that
were only accessible to the rich in years past. Te ease of ac-
cess to these things—to even those who do not have a lot of
resources—makes it difcult for young people to understand
the concept of struggle and sacrifce.”
And yet some obviously do. In April, about 1,000 people—
many of them in their 20s—spent days in line outside a Long
Island City union hall hoping for an application, just an ap-
plication, for a job as an elevator maintenance worker. Only
750 applications were handed out. Only 75 people might ul-
timately be hired. Te question remains whether some will
give up and drop out of the hunt for a job and, thus, mask
the true unemployment in the city, ofcially 10 percent but
approaching 20 percent in some parts of the Bronx.
Idle hands are the devil’s playthings. Tere has been an
uptick in violence—mainly teen-on-teen crimes, including
gun violence. Heidi Hynes, executive director of the Mary
Mitchell Family and Youth Center in the Crotona section
of the Bronx, has already seen what happens when “more
kids don’t have anything to do afer school.” Within the past
few months, she says, a member of her staf and a student
“got jumped afer school by groups of kids.” Kellie Terry-
Sepulveda, executive director of the Point, an arts and edu-
cation center in the Bronx, says she recently returned from a
fundraiser and saw 30 or so young people “running wild in
the street” around midnight on one of the quietest blocks in
Hunts Point. A police van was nearby. “Something was in the
air, and I hadn’t felt that since growing up in Highbridge in
the ’90s. I do think that we’re heading back to a place where
we haven’t been in a while.”
Remember wilding? Tat term came into our municipal
vocabulary in 1989 when roving bands of black and Latino
boys, romping and rampaging and indiscriminately assault-
ing and robbing people in Central Park, turned the city hys-
terical with fear—infuenced, of course, by hysterical head-



Race & Ethnicity
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2008
American Community Survey



Poverty Rate

Employment Status
|CT || |/3C|
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 14 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
lines in the daily tabloids.
Tat’s what some people fear will recur, since
most of the young unemployed, underemployed
and high school dropouts ft the popular profle of
troublemakers. Fear dominates the response to youth
in the city. It has at least since Willie Bosket, the
sociopath who described himself as a monster and
whose killing spree in the 1970s and 1980s led to New
York’s enacting one of the most drastic juvenile crime
laws in the nation, under which even 13-year-olds
can be charged as adults for certain crimes.
Perhaps largely because of
that fear, there’s kind of a re-
verse wilding going on now.
It’s cops chasing kids and
adults alike, mainly, if not
exclusively, males of color.
And ofen in the city’s public
housing projects.
“Tere is a ‘Round up the
usual suspects’ approach,”
says Banks, “and young peo-
ple are more likely than not to be caught up in such
an approach, since the only place they may have to
go if they are unemployed and out of school is the
street corner.”
Under the law as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme
Court, one cannot be arrested just for being some-
where that a cop thinks you shouldn’t be. “But the
reality on the ground is that’s what happens,” Banks
says. Young people are being arrested for taking up
two seats on a subway or for riding bicycles on the
sidewalk. Or for visiting their grandmothers in a pub-
lic housing project without having proper identifca-
tion, even if Grandma vouches for them.
Te NYPD contends that police stops follow the
same pattern that crime does, targeting neighbor-
hoods with lots of crime complaints and target-
ing people who match the descriptions provided by
crime victims.
But many teens have horror stories to tell. Andrew
Naiku Washington, a black teenager, was stopped by
police ofcers afer leaving a neighboring teen’s apart-
ment across the courtyard from his in Eastchester
Gardens. He was handcufed, frisked and arrested for
trespassing. Ultimately, the case was dismissed when
it came before a judge. But, a federal lawsuit fled on
behalf of Washington and other teens says, Washing-
ton “has been stopped and questioned routinely by
NYPD ofcers in Eastchester Gardens while going to
and from his own home and the homes of his friends
and neighbors.”
Te job market and the criminal-justice system are
just two areas in which some young New Yorkers are
facing very grownup challenges.
Some 17,000 children are currently in the city’s
homeless shelter system. Nearly 10,000 people under
the age of 24 are in state prisons. About 1.4 million
people in New York City live in households that can-
not aford adequate food. About 400,000 children un-
der the age of 18 live in those households.
“When parents sufer, kids sufer,” observes Joel
Berg, executive director of the NYC Coalition Against
Hunger. “Parents will go to extraordinary lengths to
shield their kids from the downturn, including a lack
of food.” But as circumstances become more dire, the
less they can protect their ofspring. “With this econ-
omy, periodic food shortages become more frequent
and more severe.” He is seeing more young adults
coming to food pantries for help.
As Gonzalez observes, many young male immi-
grants in this age group think it makes more sense
to drop out and hustle for work as a day laborer so
they can put money in their pockets and in the fam-
ily’s. Even if they managed to earn a CUNY degree, he
notes, if they are in the country illegally, they will not
be able to legally obtain jobs.
Meanwhile, the youth aging out of foster care are
in the midst of a “real disaster,” says Hefner. “Tey go
into homeless shelters. Tey go into prison. Tey go
into mental health facilities.”
Some groups are hit harder than others. A recent
study by the Community Service Society found that
nearly one-ffh of Puerto Rican youth are not in school
and not working. While Dominicans are the most
likely amont Latinos in this age range to be in school,
Mexicans are the least likely. Black youth are also in
trouble, with 14 percent considered disconnected.
Many young New Yorkers know what the poet
Langston Hughes meant when he wrote: “Life for
me ain’t been no crystal stair.”
When he was in fourth grade at P.S. 5 in Bed-Stuy/
Bushwick a few years ago, Desean Freeman penned a
poem called “Life.” It included this passage: “Have you
ever gone one place/And in a year and a half leave/To
go some other place?/You go from state to state/Just
seeing the road ahead/And behind you/Wandering.”
Two 12-year-olds, Bharada Selassie and Khadim
Diop, who currently participate in Harlem’s Impact
Repertory Teatre, recently wrote, “Do you hate all
teens because we’ll someday take your place…. Or is
it that you have something to hide/So you blame it on
Sex, Drugs … And Change?
Sullivan on hip-hop's
political potential
www.citylimits.org 15
someone with little less pride/I mean you’re the one
who taught us what to do/So if you really hate us why
don’t you hate you?”
Tey’re angry. But ultimately, as Brooklyn’s Edwidge
Danticat writes in her novel Te Dew Breaker: “Anger
is a wasted emotion.” And as Jay-Z raps, “In New York/
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of/ Tere’s
nothing you can’t do.”
All over the city, there are eforts to avoid wasting
emotion or youth.
Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. is pushing
the concept of green jobs—installing roofs, retroft-
ting boilers and installing wind turbines. He is trying
to persuade trade unions to help supply the instruc-
tion needed to train potential green workers, teenagers
and young adults. He, like other politicians and civic
leaders, is trying to squeeze more GED money from
the city and the state to reduce the number of “dis-
connected.” Te youth leaders of Sistas and Brothas
United in the northwest Bronx advocate on their own
behalf for change. Te U. S. Soccer Foundation, work-
ing with Football Club Harlem, joined forces with the
Children’s Aid Society to turn an asphalt playground
into a soccer feld. Street Corner Resources in Harlem
works to stop gang violence before it starts. Te Door
in Lower Manhattan connects youth to GED programs
and jobs. Police Athletic League gyms, despite funding
struggles, provide a place for kids to play and learn the
discipline of the ring or the basketball court.
Even if you are not a math whiz, you know that these
disparate eforts sufer from problems of scale and
Te federal economic stimulus bill has subsidized
some afer-school and youth employment programs—
though not nearly enough to meet the need. Last year,
for example, nearly 140,000 young people applied for
jobs in the Summer Youth Employment Program;
just over 52,000 were placed. Tis year, with cutbacks
everywhere, the demand may be as high as 160,000
young people. Te city knows that more than 14,000
young people won’t get summer jobs this year because
of a cutback at the state level alone.
Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, may
be able to fnd jobs for 150 young people this summer.
Terry-Sepulveda says her organization, the Point, and
others “are all treading water.” Tey are having to be
more creative in using the resources that they have,
and in some cases they are pooling resources.
“When all those young people who used to be engaged
over the summer have nothing to do all day long,” says
Heidi Hynes of the Mary Mitchell Family and Youth
Center in the Bronx, “that is going to be a problem.”
Tere are limits, of course, to how much New York
can smooth down the rough edges to life for its young.
But we need a 2010 version of the Civilian Conser-
vation Corps, that New Deal program that provided
discipline and training and, yes, jobs for youth. Hynes
says New Yorkers should not be opposed to paying
more taxes, if it comes to that. “We know that our
youth will be safer and healthier if they have an out-
of-school activity,” she says.
Government won’t be alone in the efort going for-
ward. Rev. Ferguson, who works with young people
through a hip-hop ministry, sees more religious in-
stitutions helping young people with job fairs, college
fairs, job skills and résumé writing as a part of the
charge to provide hope.
“We cannot provide a false hope that things will
always be good or that God will miraculously send
money—not manna—from Heaven,” Ferguson says.
“We need to equip our people with thick spiritual
skin that gives them a resiliency that will carry them
through lean times.”
It is, afer all, a tough love kind of city.
But what’s so difficult these days for teens making that
decision—to follow a dream or opt for something more
practical—is that, even if they make the “right” choice,
there still may be no work anytime soon.
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 16 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
he 13-year-old was a middle school student. He lived
in Washington Heights. He wrote in his journal that
he wanted to die by putting a plastic bag over his head.
School-based health counselors contacted his guard-
ian and referred him to an emergency room. He’s in
counseling now, and alive. Score one for the city’s mental
health network.
But because of funding constraints, it’s unclear that a stu-
dent at a diferent school in the city would have had the same
access to this level of help. And despite the growing consen-
sus that teenage suicide is a public health problem, there is
emotional debate over how best to combat it.
Te federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
estimates that suicide is the third leading cause of death
for individuals between the ages of 10 and 24 nationwide.
Te number of 15-to-24-year-olds who committed suicide
across the fve boroughs declined from 52 in 2007 to 43 in
2008, according to New York City’s Ofce of Vital Statistics.
But the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s 2008
youth risk behavior survey found that depression—the re-
curring precursor to suicide—was a “serious” area of con-
cern. Afer steadily rising for six years through 2005, the
number of adolescents and teenagers who reported in the
survey that they attempted suicide in the past year fell to 8
percent in 2007, but that number remains higher than it was
nearly a decade ago.
Using its suicide prevention MySpace page, the Depart-
ment of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) plans to
launch a pilot program this fall in which counselors are
made available afer school via the website. And afer the
city’s youth risk behavior survey and fgures from the CDC
showed a higher tendency for attempted suicides among
female Latino adolescents and teens, the New York State
legislature allocated $1 million to the state Ofce of Mental
Health to support a public awareness campaign focused on
Latina teens. In April, an initiative dubbed Life Is Precious
opened in Brooklyn afer securing $167,000 in funding from
Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez. Te program, which is
focused on Latina girls aged 12 to 17, uses a nonclinical ap-
proach to suicide prevention through the use of art therapy.
But while outside eforts are important, the city’s school
system is a likely place for teens with troubles to display
warning signs that they might hurt themselves. One ques-
tion is whether the capacity to provide help is there.
Inside New York City’s sprawling network of 1,600 pub-
lic schools, about 250 of them—including about 100 high
schools—have on-site health centers. Te school-based
health centers—or SBHCs—are stafed with medical pro-
fessionals and social workers who tackle everything from
toothaches to mental health needs in underserved neighbor-
hoods. A broad network of community service providers—
like the Park Slope Center for Mental Health in Brooklyn
and the Children’s Aid Society in Manhattan —indepen-
dently run the centers and are tasked with handling any
number of mental-health-related concerns.
On-site health clinics frst began to appear in a limited
number of public schools across the country in the early
1970s. Similar to those in most jurisdictions nationwide,
New York’s SBHCs are free of charge for enrolled students.
Most SBHCs across the country are paid for by state gov-
ernment revenue. In New York, funding them is only partly
done through Medicaid and third-party insurance compa-
nies. Individual grants and donations also help cover costs.
Unlike outpatient clinics, the city’s SBHCs aren’t pres-
ently eligible to receive Medicaid reimbursement payments
for mental health services. And while a new plan was slated
for adoption last March, it has since been delayed afer the
federal agency that distributes Medicaid expressed concerns
about the manner in which New York State calculates its in-
patient services.
“We have a dearth of mental health services in the schools
and in the community. It’s a challenge everywhere,” explains
Dr. Myla Harrison, assistant commissioner for child and
adolescent services at DOHMH, which oversees the clinics.
New York’s SBHCs aren’t the only ones facing difcult f-
nancial hurdles. In Connecticut, Gov. M. Jodi Rell proposed
last month that the state cut $1 million in funding for the
state’s 75 SBHCs to help cover its budget defcit. And 150 SB-
HCs in California are struggling to fnd a consistent revenue
stream for their operating costs in a state besieged by a host
of budgetary challenges. As a result, SBHCs are increasingly
seeking avenues for federal support. In the landmark health
care legislation that passed in February, the SBHCs became
federally authorized programs. But while $200 million for
SBHCs over four years under the Patient Protection and Af-
fordable Care Act will soon be distributed, those funds are
solely to be used for the upkeep of the facilities as opposed
to covering the center’s operational and programming costs.
Te problem of youth suicide has sparked debate
over how to identify—and help—those at risk
www.citylimits.org 17
“We have a dearth of mental health
services in the schools and in the
community. It's a challenge everywhere.”
A clinic at the Salomé Ureña de
Henríquez Middle Academies
Campus in Washington Heights.
Photo courtesy Children's Aid Society.
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 18 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 18 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
Early Warning System
Fighting teen dating violence begins with recognizing it
n a midday afternoon in
early April, Whitney Rich-
ards-Calathes, 24, poses a
question for eight female teenagers
to mull at Landmark High School in
the Chelsea section of Manhattan.
“Can you give me some examples of
physical abuse?” she asks. Without
skipping a beat, the students call out
answers in rapid succession. Sud-
denly, one teenager—who projects
her voice loud enough to be heard
by all—eagerly offers her response.
“Biting her toes!” she yells as laugh-
ter fills the classroom. “I never heard
that one before,” Richards-Calathes,
a workshop coordinator at the Man-
hattan-based nonprofit Day One,
says as she writes the answer on the
It’s a brief moment of levity in an
otherwise serious session exploring
everything—from verbal abuse to
sexual assault—that characterizes
teenage dating violence in New York.
Ten percent of New York City teens
say they were physically assaulted
sometime in 2005 by their partners,
according to the city Department of
Health and Mental Hygiene’s 2007
youth risk behavior survey. Similarly,
the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention found in 2006 that 1 in 11
teens nationwide also experienced
dating-related violence. As a result,
teen-dating abuse is garnering more
attention than ever before.
Day One was the first local
organization to solely concentrate
its efforts around New York City
teens and young adults aged 12
to 24. Founded in 2003, the group
has combined violence-prevention
workshops with legal advocacy
and support services, a survivors’
network and awareness campaigns
targeting colleges and universities.
With six staffers—including an in-
house attorney who dispenses free
legal advice and also provides di-
rect representation—Day One places
strong emphasis on safety and pri-
vacy. “Our approach is always to fig-
ure out what kind of risk this person is
facing immediately and what is the
right course of action for them,” says
Stephanie Nilva, Day One’s executive
director, who previously handled
domestic violence cases as an attor-
ney with Legal Services for New York.
“We do whatever they want us to do.
If they want us to call their parents,
then we do. If they don’t want us to,
then we don’t. Often, there’s a lot of
complex issues involved, and our first
priority is to ensure their protection.”
For years, Day One and a coalition
of advocacy groups urged lawmak-
ers to provide New York teens in abu-
sive relationships with access to civil
courts to obtain orders of protection
against their partners—an effort that
culminated in a 2008 New York state
law. “Many young people don’t want
to go through the court system no
matter whether it’s civil or criminal,”
says Nilva. “But this option is far bet-
ter than the criminal courts because
of the fear factor.”
For Day One, equipping teens with
the tools to protect themselves from
potential abuse also encourages
them to troubleshoot among peers.
“It’s important to know the warning
signs,” Richards-Calathes tells the
students at Landmark High School,
one of nearly a dozen sites she vis-
ited across the five boroughs in April
alone. “No one says, ‘Let’s go to a
movie, and in four months I’m going
to abuse you.’”
As Richards-Calathes’ session at
Landmark concludes, she offers the
story of a young woman who meets
a man named Christopher. The stu-
dents are asked to raise red strips
of paper whenever they hear some-
thing in the tale that should trigger
a red flag.
Richards-Calathes begins to de-
scribe a classic boy-meets-girl sce-
nario. Lulled into a false sense of
security, much like the teenage girl
described in the story, the students
provide resounding oohs and ahs as
the relationship steadily progresses.
But it isn’t long before the story’s main
subject finds herself isolated, tracked
via cell phone and, eventually, phys-
ically assaulted by her boyfriend.
By then, all the students waive red
paper strips. But earlier in the nar-
rative, the girl was told by her boy-
friend to spend more time with him
and less with her longtime friends.
Only one red flag went up. The rest of
the class would have given the guy
one more chance.
—Curtis Stephen
Participants at a Day One session weigh in
on whether they think certain teen dating
behaviors are abusive or not.
www.citylimits.org 19
Despite the funding challenges, Manhattan City Coun-
cilwoman Gale Brewer—an ardent SBHC supporter—con-
tends that the clinics should be expanded to every school.
Failing that, she contends, each school should be stafed with
at least a social worker—which she estimates would cost the
city $6 million annually. “Tere are so many young people
with so many issues at home, and having someone to talk to
is so important,” Brewer says.
Te federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
Administration estimates that 2 million teens nationwide
are sufering from depression. Depression is one among
dozens of reasons most commonly cited by researchers in
the medical community as contributing factors in youth
suicide cases. Te others range from environmental causes
to the impact of substance abuse and anxiety to debilitating
mental illnesses like bipolar disorder. Yet there’s no consen-
sus as to which cause is more prevalent. “With suicidal be-
havior, it’s never due to just one thing,” says Dr. Alex Crosby,
a CDC suicide expert. “We just don’t have the longitudinal
studies that can allow us to say, ‘Well, clinical depression
contributes to 50 percent of suicides.’”
Adjacent to the Audubon Ballroom in Washington
Heights is the nondescript location of the Asociacion Co-
munal de Dominicanos Progresista, a community-based
mental health service provider. “Depression is the most
common diagnosis among the teenagers that we see,” says
Howard Raiten, director of mental health services at the
nearly 30-year-old organization. “You have to look at what
is behind depression. Tere isn’t one explanation. Tere’s
hostility, bullying, violence, questions over sexual identity
and stress. Adolescence is a very difcult and trying stage of
Last year, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recom-
mended that children and teens between the ages of 12 and
18 undergo screenings for depressive disorders. However,
that suggestion is generating its share of controversy among
some observers, who worry that the methods used to detect
depression and treat it do more harm than good.
In New York, schools with mental health programs run a
number of screening programs—testing for depression, anx-
iety and a range of other disorders using a questionnaire tool
whose guidelines are approved by the state Ofce of Mental
Health. At 17 New York City–area high schools, screenings
for depression take place through the use of questionnaires—
distributed afer securing parental consent—created by the
TeenScreen National Center for Mental Health Checkups
at Columbia University. Te brief questionnaires ask about
depression symptoms, past suicide attempts and drug and
alcohol abuse. Students who test positive move to a second-
stage screening interview with a mental health professional.
If a student is deemed to be sufering from depression, then
the parents are contacted and recommendations are made
for the appropriate local mental health providers to contact.
But critics charge that the tests are too susceptible to false
positives. “Tere is no screen that prevents suicide. You
won’t even fnd a single pharmacological drug that has on
its label that it prevents suicide. So what is the screening all
about?” asks Vera Sharav, president of the Manhattan-based
advocacy group Alliance for Human Research Protection.
“It’s all about turning kids into guinea pigs and generating
business for the medical industry.”
Jerome Wakefeld, a professor of social work at NYU who
has probed depression studies, is also dubious. “We’re using
instruments that are too broad to identify those who are tru-
ly at risk, so the false-positive rate is enormous,” he explains.
“Te public has been sold on this idea that it’s all depression,
but there’s plenty of good evidence which shows that suicidal
behavior, especially in adolescents, is triggered by stress of
various kinds.”
For its part, TeenScreen stands by its testing procedures.
“I would rather have a few kids who [falsely] score positive
that we’ll catch during the second-stage interview than to
have some kid score negative who actually needs help,” says
Leslie McGuire, deputy executive director at TeenScreen.
Also controversial among some observers is the use of
antidepressants—particularly psychotropic medications like
Prozac, Paxil and Zolof, which in some studies have been
found to actually increase the potential for suicide among
teens and young adults. Last February, Brooklyn Assembly-
man Felix Ortiz reintroduced legislation to prohibit school
personnel from recommending the use of psychotropic
drugs. “A lot of parents in my district have complained about
teachers who told them that child should be put on Ritalin
and other medication,” says Ortiz, who now chairs the men-
tal health committee. “It’s not the role of teachers to ever tell
parents about medication. Tey’re not doctors. Tat’s the re-
sponsibility of a health professional.” Te bill has since been
referred to the education committee.
“I think [antidepressants] are being prescribed too fre-
quently and too automatically,” cautions Raiten. “With de-
pression, the thing that we have to do is get to the underly-
ing cause. Ultimately, it’s about dealing with those personal
“The biggest threat to a
depressed young person’s
well-being is to receive no
care at all.”
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 20 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
problems that led up to the depression in the frst
place.” A RAND study found that $1 billion was
spent on psychotropic medication in 1998 for chil-
dren and teens.
But experts contend that medication can bring
relief to those who are sufering from a range of
debilitating afictions. In a 2005 letter to the Food
and Drug Administration expressing worry about
the FDA’s 2004 warning
on antidepressants’ risks
to teens, the American
Academy of Child &
Adolescent Psychiatry
wrote: “Several studies …
have shown a combination
treatment (medication and
talk therapy) as being most
efective for youngsters
with depression—a course of treatment that would
appear to be endangered by such a strong decline in
the medication portion of therapy.”
“Te biggest threat to a depressed young person’s
well-being is to receive no care at all,” the letter
At colleges and universities, the discussion around
suicide prevention isn’t quite as contentious as the
intense debate now swirling around younger teens.
Still, the conversation—and the response of many in-
stitutions—is ofen set against the unwelcome back-
drop of highly publicized suicides on campus.
New York University saw six students kill them-
selves on campus in 2003 and 2004. And while
glass barriers have been installed along the railings
of Bobst Library—where two suicides occurred in
2003—a College of Arts and Sciences junior killed
himself afer leaping from the library’s ffh foor last
year. NYU administrators did not respond to City
Limits requests for comment. University ofcials had
previously expressed concern over media coverage of
previous suicides, citing it as a catalyst for possible
copycat incidents.
Even schools that haven’t sufered from suicides
are moving to prevent them. Pace University re-
ceived a $220,000 suicide prevention grant last year
from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Servic-
es Administration for its Project OPEN (Outreach,
Prevention and Emergency Network) program. Te
initiative—which is intended to serve as a national
model—is focused on raising mental health aware-
ness among previously overlooked segments of the
Pace population, including Muslims and Asians as
well as gay, lesbian and transgender students.
“Tose students who write about suicide in their
English assignments are more likely to come in for
help,” says Richard Shadick, director of counseling
services at Pace. “It’s really the students who are quiet
about their pain that we’re trying to reach.”
Air Rights & Wrongs:
the politics of asthma


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Source: DOHMH 2005 youth survey
Teen depression and suicide in New York City
www.citylimits.org 21
he woman sweeping foors at the McDonald’s
on 204th Street had gray hair tracing her tem-
ples, and her colleague at the register looked to
be at least 50. Down at the Micky-Ds on Ford-
ham Road, the woman making french fries
could have been a grandmother, and she was not the
oldest one behind the counter. At the restaurant on
East 170th, the employee on break had a wrinkled
face; those on duty were younger, but few could pass
for 30. Te man taking orders on East 167th Street
looked to be pushing 50. On Jerome Avenue, the en-
tire staf—at the registers and the grill—seemed to be
beyond their 20s.
If there’s a typical teenage job in America, its push-
ing Happy Meals and Big Macs under the golden
arches. But an unscientifc survey of McDonald’s in
the Bronx late one May afernoon found very few
teens pulling milk shakes or slathering special sauce
onto sesame seed buns. And while McDonald’s is not
the only place where a teenager can work, statistics
indicate that, wherever they look, America’s teens are
having as hard a time fnding work as they ever have.
Te national unemployment rate for people aged
16 to 24 hit 19.6 percent in April—the highest ever.
For the younger subset of 16-to-19-year-olds, the rate
was 25.4 percent; for the past year, unemployment
rates for this group have been higher than ever be-
fore. Some parts of the teenage population are faring
especially poorly. Black females posted a 39 percent
rate of unemployment. Te rates for black males and
Latino males have fallen from their late-2010 highs
of 57 percent and 41 percent, respectively, but only
because roughly 197,000 black and Latino teenagers
simply dropped out of the labor market.
“It’s shocking just how many teens are spending
half a year or more looking for work,” says Mike Salts-
man, a research associate at the Employment Policies
Institute. “Tere is no question that the recession has
worsened employment prospects for teens. Tose
numbers are certainly unprecedented.”
Timing is everything, and for people trying to enter
the workforce now, their timing is awful. “Tis
cohort that is coming out now sort of picked the
worst possible time to become a new entrant to the
labor market,” says Heidi Shierholz, an economist at
the Economic Policy Institute. “Young workers have
been hit disproportionately hard, as they always are,”
she adds.
Te reason is obvious: When the economy tanks
and older workers lose their jobs, the labor market
is fooded with more experienced candidates, who
compete—and ofen win—against teens for remain-
ing jobs. If she were an employer with a job to ofer,
Shierholz explains, “I’m going to take the most expe-
rienced worker who will take it.” She adds, “A very el-
evated unemployment rate means workers don’t have
a lot of power.”
Tis competition is playing out in the streets and
drive-through lanes of New York. “People who are
unemployed but older apply for the same jobs [teens]
were used to getting—the McDonald’s, the Burger
Kings, even some of the retail jobs,” says Oma Hollo-
way, the career services director at Te Door, a Lower
Manhattan nonproft that serves youth.
Older workers not only have more experience; they
are more likely to have educational credentials that
give them a leg up over teens. People with master’s
degrees, for instance, are doing Census jobs this
summer. For teens whose paths to a diploma have
detoured, the disadvantage is magnifed. “When I was
doing my job search before, it was the older people
who were getting the supermarket jobs,” says Tykeisha
Youmans, a 19-year-old client of Te Door who
dropped out of high school. “Before I got my GED, I
wasn’t getting hired anymore: Target, Home Depot,
Kmart, all these places.”
Some analysts see more than just a cyclical down-
turn at play. Opponents of the minimum wage, who
have long argued that it depresses employment, say
the rise in the federal hourly minimum from $5.85 in
2007 to $7.25 in 2009 priced teenagers out of work. A
“Unfortunately for a lot of these
young people, it’s not saving
up for college. It’s how do you
live and survive day to day.”
Why is teen unemployment so high?
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 22 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 22 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
City Limits: We hear a lot about dis-
connected youth—people between
16 and 24 who aren’t working or in
school. Is that the target population
for DYCD programs?
William Chong: The focus is much
broader than that. We serve young
people who are school age—gener-
ally that starts at 5 years old. Many
of our programs are able to serve
people up to 25 years old. Our Out-
of-School Time program serves
young people from all different
CL: Disconnected youth, by
definition, are disconnected. How
do you manage to reach the youth
that really need your services and
not just those with the inclination to
Jeanne Mullgrav: Through our so-
licitations, we take great efforts to be
very intentional about meeting the
needs of young people who might
not self-select for our programs….
With all of our programs, we use
demographic data to place those
programs. We know that we are
reaching youth who are not only dis

connected but also are low-income
and have other barriers to partici-
pation…. Making an appointment
and showing up might work for oth-
er youth who have structure in their
lives. That may not work for discon-
nected youth. You may need to be
Chong: People are used to waiting
for people to show up. When we de-
signed [our runaway drop-in center]
program, we said it made no sense
to have a 9-to-5 schedule. Young peo-
ple don’t operate 9 to 5. In our Out-
of-School Time program [a battery of
after-school services] … we want to
reach young people before they run
the risk of becoming disconnected.
We said to the providers, “You have to
work with principals to identify kids
who need these services.”
CL: The most recent Mayor’s Man-
agement Report indicates that the
number of youth served by many
DYCD programs dropped in the ear-
ly part of the 2010 fiscal year. That
was partly due to program changes
and partly to a reduced budget.
What has the impact of budget cuts
been on DYCD’s ability to perform its
duty to young people in New York?
Mullgrav: DYCD, like the Depart-
ment of Aging, is quite reliant on tax
levy funding, and although of course
these programs are needed and
valued, they are not among those
services that are deemed to be man-
datory…. It is important to keep per-
spective on where this agency be-
gan and where we are now. We have
more than doubled the amount of
after-school funding since 2005. The
agency in 2002 had a budget $165
million, and our 2010 budget is $416
million, and right now [for the com

ing fiscal year] it is $293 million….
It still represents significant growth
since 2002.
Chong: The money has been dis-
tributed to higher-need communi-
ties. We look at data on poverty,
disconnected youth. Even in good
times, we’re never going to have all
the money we need, so we want to
be very strategic about where we in-
vest these funds—to neighborhoods
that need them the most. We’ve been
getting a lot of flak [because] we tar-
geted middle-class neighborhoods
[for funding reductions]. They didn’t
meet the criteria we’re looking at.
CL: That perception—that, com-
pared with some other city services,
youth funding is somehow option-
al—is that a mind-set among the
mayor, the Council and others that
has to change?
Mullgrav: It’s obviously not the
mayor’s perspective, because he has
more than doubled the size of the
agency that is committed to youth
development activity. He knows that
these services are quite in line with
the goals he has for young people….
We have to provide public educa-
tion. We have to provide police pro-
tection. We have to make sure we
have moneys in our pension system
to pay pensioners. Those are things
that are required, beyond public
will. Once you have taken care of
those big-ticket items, unfortunately
the rest does become discretionary.
Chong: We will put forward mod-
els that are informed by research,
that get the most bang for the buck.
We know the economy will improve,
so it’s important that we have that in
place, so that when the economy im-
proves, we can scale up.
—Jarrett Murphy
Coming of Age
Lean times force tough choices by the city’s youth agency
As City Limits went to press,
New York City's Department
of Youth and Community De-
velopment was facing a 33
percent reduction in total
city and federal funding. We
spoke with the commissioner
of DYCD, Jeanne Mulgrav, and
her deputy commissioner Wil-
liam Chong about how the de-
partment manages its mission,
especially in the face of such
massive potential cuts.
www.citylimits.org 23
recent study by the Center for Business and Econom-
ic Research at Ball State University estimated that
310,000 teenage jobs were lost by the government’s
lifing the wage foor during a recession.
“We’re unfortunately making these jobs more dif-
fcult to come by, and we’re at risk of creating this lost
generation of teens that are lacking that frst job ex-
perience,” says Saltsman. “Maybe [teens] are willing
to take that job paying fve or six bucks an hour. And
maybe there’s a boss who’s willing to take a chance
on them,” he says. But, Saltsman argues, at $7.25—or
higher, as the minimum wage is in 14 states—all bets
are of. “When you set it that high, people who don’t
have any skills or were disadvantaged earlier in life
have that much more of a hurdle.”
Te minimum wage was raised in 2007 to restore
some of the buying power it had lost over decades, as
infation made consumer goods costlier. Shierholz re-
jects the idea that the wage is to blame for teen travails
in the workplace. Today’s high teen unemployment,
she says, refects the problems in the larger labor mar-
ket. What’s more, she says, “A higher minimum wage
actually creates more jobs,” by putting more money in
the hands of people likely to spend most of it, stimu-
lating the economy. Whatever the impact of the mini-
mum wage, it’s probably small: Only about 1 percent
of workers aged 16 to 24 earn the federal minimum.
(Te pool would be somewhat larger if it included
people earning state minimum wages that are higher
than the feds’, but that number is hard to specify.)
But neither economic downturns nor wage in-
creases operate in isolation. Technological changes
have also altered the opportunities open to young
workers. At supermarkets with self-checkout lanes,
for instance, one worker can supervise several lanes,
doing what three or four cashiers used to. So teens
hoping to break in to the supermarket game face
competition not just from older workers, but from
computers as well.
For many teens in New York, the jobs they aren’t
getting nowadays weren’t just going to be for pock-
et money. “We have a number of young people who
live in shelters, who have vouchers or have the pos-
sibility to fnd housing. [Joblessness] can hold up the
possibility of fnding a place, because they don’t have
employment,” says Holloway. Some receive welfare
or food stamps and need to show they are working.
“If they live at home, they are contributing to their
One New York job
for the young:
Managing the
ice cream truck.
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 24 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
household. Teir parents are unemployed or facing
having to do of-the-books jobs.”
“Unfortunately for a lot of these young people, it’s
not saving up for college. It’s how do you live and sur-
vive day to day?” she says. And for both those attend-
ing college and those skipping it, getting jobs in the
late teen years creates the work record that flls out
a résumé for that better gig down the road. Demon-
strating work readiness, developing good references,
networking: All that is hard to do from the outside
looking in.
All those pressures mean that despite the unin-
viting labor market, teens
are actually more intent
on working now than they
were a few years ago. Te
Door runs a program called
EPOCH that helps clients
get their GED and a job.
“Before, a lot of young peo-
ple were more interested in
getting their GED, were willing to take their time.
Tey didn’t as much feel this sense of urgency to get
a job,” says Holloway. “But you’re fnding a lot more
that what young people immediately want is employ-
ment. We’ve had to shif more, on young people who
come into the GED program, to making sure they’re
ready for a job.”
But that’s more challenging now. Because of the
competition for work, young job applicants are more
likely to face drug tests, background checks and mul-
tiple interviews, Holloway says. For those who can’t
fnd anything paid, Te Door tries to fnd programs
or internships “where they might earn a small stipend
so they can see some of the possibilities and another
way to market themselves to fnd employment,” Hol-
loway adds.
Te teen jobs picture will get better, Shierholz says,
only when the economy does. “Te primary thing
that we need to do now is get recovery in the larger
labor market. We can talk about smaller programs we
can implement. But those things can work around the
edge,” she says. Te American economy is adding jobs,
but at the current pace of growth, it’ll take fve years
to get unemployment back down to its pre-recession
level. “We will just have an enormous swath of young
people who are facing entering a labor market when
it is really weak.”
One of the government programs that has helped
over the years—even if it’s been, as Sheirholz
puts it, “around the edge”—is the Summer Youth
Employment Program, which in New York City last
year provided seven weeks of minimum wage work
to 52,000 people aged 14 to 24 at 8,700 worksites
around the city. It’s a critical efort to crack open the
door between urban youth and the job market. And
this year, it’s going to be sliced by more than half.
In his proposed fscal 2011 budget, Gov. David Pa-
terson eliminated funding for SYEP, citing “a rising
public assistance caseload” and the need to use fed-
eral welfare funds, which had been directed to SYEP,
to pay benefts instead. Te state cut would cost the
city about $20 million. At City Hall, the Bloomberg
administration had threatened a smaller, but none-
theless unhelpful, cut, but in the most recent budget
the mayor actually restored the $1 million he origi-
nally cut and added some $10 million more to the
“We are projecting a total of 25,000 slots,” says De-
partment of Youth and Community Development
Commissioner Jeanne Mulgrav. “We are anxiously
awaiting good news from the state, but we have heard
that the governor’s ofce is not supportive of this. We
Pain Has A Color:
Black men and the recession
Youth at the
annual Bronx
Day parade
in May. Teen
is a national
www.citylimits.org 25 www.citylimits.org 25
Tykeisha Youmans
19, Lower Manhattan
Youmans grew up in Fresh Meadows, Queens.
“Toward the end of eighth grade, I started
hanging out with kids who didn’t care about
school. We were the back-of-the-class crew.” She
wanted to go to Mary Bethune High School, to
study business, but her middle school attendance
was too poor. So she went to Washington Irving
High School. “I didn’t finish. It was really big.
Teachers weren’t really personal. I cut a lot. I was
there maybe a year before I transferred to John
Browne. There actually wasn’t security to stop
me from cutting or teachers who noticed I wasn’t
there. I had a guidance counselor who showed
me how I could do it and said that I could pass.
It was a lot of self-doubt. Even though we sat
down with a plan of how to graduate, I didn’t
think I could. [Friends] were just telling me to
forget about school because you could always
get it together later. … I was still considered a
ninth grader when I was 17. I dropped out after I
got pregnant because I needed to work.” She got
a job as a supermarket cashier. “After a while,
it was like, ‘Wow, this kind of sucks.’ I actually
somehow got fired. I think I marked down a price
or something.” She babysat for awhile, then got
a different supermarket job before delivering
her son Joshua, who is 16 months old.
“I would like him to have his father in his
life. It wouldn’t really work out. It’s almost like a
chapter in my life that I want to close I want to
leave it in the past. But it’s not fair to Joshua.”
Youmans moved to Manhattan when she was
18. “For a time I was homeless. My mom and I
not agreeing. I was just a big failure in her eyes.”
As the date of what should have been her high
school graduation approached, Youmans began
asking around about programs that might offer
her help. She found what she needed at The
Door, a citywide youth services agency based in
the West Village. Youmans obtained her GED. The
childcare provided by The Door helped. She’s
on good terms again with her mom (“She’s more
of a landlord now,” she laughs.”) and works at
Duane Reade. Her plan for Joshua? “I’d like to
take him back to Queens.”
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 26 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
do know there is support from the legislature to have
resources available for young people.” Te delay in the
state budget means that even if funds are restored, it
could be hard to ramp the program up if Albany waits
too late to deliver the good news; SYEP is supposed
to run from early July to mid-August. “I have never
been known to turn away any resources. I know that
I can put money to use if it comes in our direction,”
Mulgrav says, but adds: “Te earlier we get these re-
sources, the more impact it has on meaningful and
relevant workplaces.”
Last year’s city youth employment program was the
biggest in memory. But even it couldn’t keep up with
need: DYCD received 140,000 applications for those
52,000 slots. Tis year, neighborhood-based contrac-
tors who run the program for DYCD are bracing for
having to tell even more teens, “No.”
“Last year we had almost 3,000 kids working,” says
Bob Altman, who directs SYEP at the Mosholu Mon-
tefore Community Center in the Norwood section of
the Bronx. “Tis year they gave me 420 slots. So as you
can see, there’s going to be a reduction,” he deadpans.
For last year’s slots, Altman had 8,800 applicants. At
press time in 2010, the number of applicants was at
5,500 with the deadline a week away.
“Tese are good kids,” Altman says. “Tere’s just
not enough opportunity for them. Tey really want to
work.” MMCC placed SYEP participants at a summer
camp, lawyers’ and doctors’ ofces, a Hebrew Home
for the aged, the Bronx Zoo and Lincoln Hospital.
“Tey get paid every two weeks. Tey feel good about
themselves. And they learn. If the kids do well, some
of the places, they hire them. We try to teach them
about the value of work. Being on time. Pants down
to your bottom? No.” Te kids spend the money they
earn locally; it’s a win-win, Altman says. Tose who
don’t get SYEP slots typically don’t get anything else.
“Tey hang out. Tey can’t get jobs.”
Iliyasu Kenchi, a 19-year-old in East New York,
is headed to an overnight camp in White Plains for
his summer job. He’s been working since he and his
brother did odd jobs at a farmers market when he was
14. He did SYEP two summers ago. A high school
graduate pursuing an associates degree at City Tech,
Kenchi’s last job was as a snow laborer for the sanita-
tion department. He says he wants a job, “like right
now, right now. Instead of waiting until June.”
“Any type of job,” he says. “Tey just don’t call
you back.”







º 3

April national unemployment rates for 16- to 19-year-olds
Source: BLS
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City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 28 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
imes Square. In its colorful and danger-flled
heyday of the 1970s and ’80s, porn shops, drug
pushers, prostitutes and pistol-toting stickup
men were the price of admission. But the venue
has been a tourist-friendly commercial strip
for some 15 years. In early April, for few minutes,
that changed.
On Easter night, a series of brawls and violent con-
frontations broke out in Times Square and nearby
Herald Square among roaming bands of youths, re-
portedly resulting in the shooting of three women
and one man, whose ages ranged from 18 to 21. A
20-year-old Bronx man was arrested in two of the
shootings. Te New York Police Department alleges
that a rowdy group, including some who are gang-af-
fliated, caused the mayhem afer focking to the area
for the annual New York International Auto Show
at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. More than 50
youths were arrested or given summonses for disor-
derly conduct. Although some who were picked up
later claimed that they were wrongly apprehended at
the scene, what isn’t in dispute is that while the inju-
ries among the wounded weren’t life-threatening, the
incident—which garnered newspaper and television
coverage worldwide—stoked old fears. Te mayor
called it “wilding.”
Some of the old anxiety had already been creeping
back. Te citywide murder rate rose nearly 23 percent
in the frst 11 weeks of the year compared with 2009.
Despite multiple economic challenges facing the city,
the mayor in his executive budget reversed proposed
cuts that would have reduced the NYPD head count.
Ostensibly, the move was a reaction to the failed May
1 terrorist bombing. But the proposal to cut cops had
people anxious well before Faisal Shahzad lef his
SUV parked in Times Square.
For many New Yorkers, however, crime isn’t news.
While peace has prevailed in much of the city for
most of the past 15 years, there are plenty of neigh-
borhoods where the presence of guns, as well as their
deadly consequences, are routine. And it’s a reality
that no single demographic in New York City knows
quite as intimately as its youth.
In 2008 more than a quarter of the city’s gun-
violence victims were age 16 and younger. Some
experts fear that the onset of summer—with more
teens out and about, fewer jobs available and budget-
busted services—will contribute to a rise in youth-
related gun violence. Tose observers point to
cases like the fatal shooting in May of two teenage
bystanders in the Bronx—Marvin Wiggins, Jr., 15,
and Quanisha Wright, 16. Two Bronx men in their
20s have since been arrested in the case.
“Te story is not that something—for all practical
purposes—‘unprecedented’ happened in Times
Square,” says David Kennedy, director of the Center
for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College
of Criminal Justice. “We still have poor communities
of color where mothers are afraid, kids are getting shot,
kids are getting killed, and every young man knows
somebody who has been killed. Tat’s the story.”
It’s not all about numbers. Individual shootings
have an impact that a digit (there were 1,800 shoot-
ing victims in the city in 2007, the last year the city
provided that fgure) doesn’t convey.
In July 2008, Brooklyn native Dwayne Hyde—then
a 25-year-old employee with the Steve Madden shoe
company at the Kings Plaza shopping mall—hopped
on his motorcycle and rode alongside several friends
to attend a nighttime barbecue in Flatbush. “We were
heading out to a diferent barbecue in Queens be-
cause a friend of mine wanted to use our bikes in a
music video,” he recalls. “Tat’s where I really wanted
to go.” But Hyde agreed to briefy stop of with his
friends at the barbecue being held on the intersection
on East 59th Street and Glenwood Avenue. “I saw a
lot of people that I knew, so I was just greeting every-
body,” he says. “Te whole time I was there, I was just
keeping my eyes open. Anytime I’m in a large crowd,
I’m always aware that something could happen.”
Nearly fve minutes later, something did. As he
sat on his motorcycle and waited for other friends
to join him for the ride to Queens, Hyde answered
a cell phone call and watched a green Oldsmobile
roll by. Within moments, he heard what he initially
thought had been freworks. “I heard, ‘pop, pop, pop’
through my right ear. And as soon as I turned, I got
hit by the bullet.”
Te single bullet, fred from a .45-caliber weapon,
struck Hyde on the right side of his face. “I fell, and
then my bike fell on top of me,” he explains. Bleeding
profusely as he lay on the ground, Hyde witnessed
the chaos unfolding around him. “Tere was maybe
another 12 to 14 shots that rang out. I heard people
Afraid of crime now? Join the kids.
www.citylimits.org 29
screaming, and I saw everybody
running all over.”
As friends quickly raced to his side,
some got to work on moving the mo-
torcycle away from Hyde while others
used cell phones to call paramedics
and his mother. “All I was thinking
about was my mother. I was just pray-
ing, ‘Lord, please, I can’t die like this,’”
explains Hyde, who says his father was
shot and killed in the city during an at-
tempted robbery in the 1980s.
He was rushed to Brookdale Hospital,
and it quickly became clear how badly
Hyde had been injured. Te bullet shat-
tered the right side of his jaw, damaging
his nerves, and lodged near his spine.
Fearing paralysis, doctors waited until
the next evening to conduct surgery. “I
later found out that three other people
got hit too. Tey were treated and re-
leased,” he says. “And one of the cops on
the scene told me that they found bul-
lets from three diferent guns.”
Te spike in gun violence these days has been rattling
some neighborhoods that had enjoyed a relative respite
from violence, including increasingly gentrifed locales
like Clinton Hill, Brooklyn—where the 88th precinct has
already seen six shootings this year, including a couple of
drive-by incidents in which bullets struck pedestrians, af-
ter experiencing none during the frst six months of 2009.
Soon afer the shootings, Councilwoman Letitia James—
who assumed her seat in 2003 afer the assassination of then
Councilman James E. Davis by a political rival inside City
Hall—made a public appeal in March for the area to be des-
ignated as an NYPD Impact Zone, which would bring an in-
fux of rookie cops. Tat request is still under review. But in
the meantime, the NYPD has since deployed a mobile unit
and skycam to Myrtle Avenue.
Still, James contends that more law enforcement should
only be a partial plan of attack. “We need to rearrange our
priorities. All the emphasis has been on developing down-
town Brooklyn, but we’re seeing blood and death on our
streets right in the shadow of all that,” she says. “Our kids
need part-time jobs and more afer-school programs. If
there’s money for the $4.5 billion Atlantic Yards develop-
ment project,” which James has adamantly opposed, “then
there should be money for this. What’s more important?”
Te question is where that money should go. Brooklyn
District Attorney Charles Hynes has run a series of gun buy-
back programs—the latest of which took place in May at six
area churches and led to the acquisition of nearly 300 guns—
as well as pushed to increase the maximum sentencing pen-
alty for carrying illegal frearms and produced a recent DVD
flm on the impact of youth gun violence in the borough. But
Hynes says he remains “frustrated and worried” by the spike
in shootings.
“In Brooklyn, we’ve had three more murders compared
to this time last year. Even though we’ve had reductions in
crime, this has really been a difcult area to get under con-
trol,” says Hynes, who has held the DA post since 1990.
“We’ve had many programs, and none of them has been a
panacea. But we’re sure as hell fghting to see what works.”
In April the NYPD announced the results of Operation
Phoenix, a yearlong probe in which an undercover cop ac-
quired some 150 weapons in Brooklyn. Among the weapons
recovered were those that had been linked to the slayings of
18-year-olds in two separate incidents: the October shooting
of Brian “Cosmik” Scott, a rising fgure in the rollerblading
scene, near Prospect Park and the November killing of Isiah
Davis, who was found on a Brownsville street corner.
Last year two murders were recorded in Harlem’s 28th
Precinct, which encompasses the area from West 110th
Street to West 127th Street—a zone that has been under-
going rapid economic change in recent years.
To date, two homicides have already taken place in 2010.
“For the most part, this is a community of hardworking peo-
ple. But there’s also a lot that they don’t really see or notice,”
explains Ofcer Joseph Carrasco as he careers his squad
'88 '`0 '`2 '`+ '`6 '`8 '`0 '00 '02 '0+ '06 '08
Young adults as murder victims
Source: DOHMH
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 30 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
car along West 125th Street, with his partner Ofcer
Catherine Melendez seated on the passenger side, on
a recent Friday night.
Carrasco, who has served in the 28th Precinct
for some fve years, recalls once observing a group
of youths on a Harlem street corner, including one
who appeared to be selling drugs. When Carrasco
and other ofcers went over to the group, he stopped
a 13-year-old boy and made a startling discovery.
“Tis kid had to be about 5-6 and 97 pounds. His
eyes turned pale, and his whole demeanor changed
when he saw me,” says Carrasco. “I told him to get
his hands out of his pockets. And there it was on his
waistband—a .38 chrome revolver that was almost as
big as he was. It’s really sad.”
It’s instances like those that
Rodney Harrison, a youth-
savvy deputy inspector and
commanding ofcer of the
28th Precinct, uses while ex-
plaining the NYPD’s “stop-
and-frisk” policy during the
Harlem youth anti-violence
workshops and community
meetings that he regularly
attends. “A lot of times I’m asked, ‘Why are you both-
ering us?’” he recalls. “But I tell them that if we get a
call about a robbery, and the person’s description is
a male black with braids, then guess what’s going to
happen now? We don’t know if you did a robbery, but
we may have to stop and engage you.”
Last year the NYPD conducted 575,304 stop-and-
frisks (which actually includes instances where cops
stop and question but don't actually frisk)—an 8
percent increase from 2008 and the most recorded
since 2002. Te searches reportedly resulted in more
than 7,600 weapon seizures, including 760 guns and
6,000 other weapons. But the vast majority of those
stopped were not carrying weapons or doing any-
thing for which the police could arrest them or issue
a summons. And while a 2007 RAND study of the
NYPD’s stop-and-frisk policy found no evidence of
racial profling, more than 80 percent of those who
had been stopped in the last set of fgures released
were black or Hispanic.
Proponents have long argued that stop-and-frisks
have served to reduce gun violence, yet it remains
a subject of enormous controversy. Critics contend
that the entire policy is in need of an overhaul. “Every
one of those stops should be justifable,” says Eugene
O’Donnell, professor of law and police studies at John
Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Te whole idea being
ingrained into the head of police ofcers is that this
year, the number of stops has to be larger than last
year. You might get a gun, but there’s a perception that
the cops are being heavy-handed. And that’s a serious
concern.” Many elected ofcials echo this criticism.
For Councilman Peter Vallone, who leads the
Council’s Public Safety Committee, the mounting
criticism of the policy refects hypocrisy. “I’m getting
sick and tired of elected ofcials who want to have
it both ways. Tey complain about crime and want
cops on every corner, but then they want to complain
about the tactics already proven to have brought
crime down,” he says. “It’s time for them to get of the
fence—either they want more guns and shootings or
they’re willing to support efective police work.”
The story of youth and guns in the tougher parts of
town is not a simple one of killers and the killed. A
new movement has sprouted to address the violence
and its causes. Man Up, an organization founded in
East New York by Andre Mitchell, is one. Another is
Not Another Son, launched by Oresa Napper afer
the fatal 2006 drive-by shooting of her 21-year-old
son, Andrell, outside the Tompkins projects in Bed-
ford-Stuyvesant. “Te young man that they were try-
ing to get was standing in front of the building. Tey
think it’s the Wild, Wild West. Like it doesn’t really
matter,” she says of Andrell’s killers. “A lot of people
are talking about how crime is going down, but we’re
still seeing a lot of pain. I’m trying to do all that I can
to bring this issue to the surface because this really
“A lot of people are talking about how crime is going
down, but we’re still seeing a lot of pain. I’m trying
to do all that I can to bring this issue to the surface
because this really shouldn’t be acceptable.”
Crime Without Punishment:
Hate crimes that disappear
www.citylimits.org 31 www.citylimits.org 31
Gang Signs
Defusing youth violence isn’t simple
edrick Hammond recently
found himself having to
defuse a potentially dicey
situation on West 141st Street. “I saw
them ganging up. When you know
how it’s going down, you know what
to expect,” he says. “Five guys and
then all of a sudden it was 10 of them
getting ready to go off. I said, ‘Listen,
we’re not going to do this. What y’all
are gonna do is make it unsafe for
everybody.’” Soon after, the crowd
broke up.
There’d been no fight. But for Street
Corner Resources, it was a battle
they’d won.
Founded in 2006 by Iesha Sekou,
the organization combines anti-vio-
lence workshops with spontaneous
on-the-ground outreach. And its goal
is ambitious: namely, stopping the
bloody toll of gang violence in Har-
lem and debunking the appeal of
those groups before new recruits are
brought into the fold.
This take-it-to-the-streets approach
is designed to underscore proactive
solutions for large and small con-
flicts alike. Sekou’s assistant Dedrick
Hammond, for instance, recalls how
he and Sekou stumbled on a group
of teens on the verge of “getting out
of hand” while play-fighting on a
recent weekend afternoon. Both
decided to get the group a pair of
boxing gloves and organized an im-
promptu amateur session. “I was ref-
ereeing all night,” Hammond says.
“Funny enough, they came to an un-
derstanding that hitting each other
wasn’t what they really wanted to do,
and they ended up shaking hands.”
For Hammond, the concern for
Harlem’s youth grew out of his ex-
periences as an infamous figure in
the neighborhood’s late-’90s street
crew scene, which in part, earned
him the nickname Bad News after
launching FSU (which translates to
“fucking shit up”) in the St. Nicholas
housing project.
After surviving two separate shoot-
ings—including a near fatal inci-
dent—Hammond, 31, has spent the
past year urging his former cohorts
and their younger counterparts to
avoid the pitfalls that have marked
much of his life up to this point. “A lot
of them respected me for the things
I used to do. But when they ask me
about shooting guns, now I tell them
about the worst parts and what hap-
pens after they shoot,” says Ham-
mond, who is better known by his
newly adopted alias Beloved.
In its roughly four years of exis-
tence, the organization has built
enough street cred and a reliable
network of contacts inside Harlem’s
close-knit gang sects that they’re
able to sometimes respond—without
any apparent fear—to potential acts
of violence before they start. “You
have to know the lingo now. They’re
using Twitter and text messaging to
say where they’re getting ready to
mob up,” Sekou reveals. “Someone
will call us and say, ‘Something is
about to pop off on St. Nicholas [Av-
enue] or Lenox Avenue,’ and that’s
when we’ll round up some other folks
in the community and immediately
head out there.”
Street Corner Resources has al-
ready organized a weekend “peace
retreat” (“No cell phones, no iPods, no
gangs,” Sekou says) for Harlem teens
who trekked upstate to Maple Ridge,
a wind-turbine-powered farm com-
munity in Lewis County. The organi-
zation has also produced a series of
hip-hop oriented workshops, featur-
ing local DJs and rappers, crafted to
ensure that students don’t tune out a
presentation deemed too preachy.
Sekou, a 52-year-old Bronx native,
discovered trouble on her own in the
early 1970s as a 15-year-old member
of the Black Spades, alongside the
likes of future hip-hop pioneer Afrika
Bambaataa. But the ultraviolent ten-
dencies of contemporary gangs and
the prevalence of guns among them
disturbs her. “It’s almost like young
people are playing this thing out like
video games,” she explains. “They
choose the weapons and set the pa-
rameters. It’s not as simple as people
think, where kids just pop out pulling
triggers. It’s very a very intricate sys-
tem based on language, behaviors
and turfs.”
To meet that system on its own
terms, Sekou is raising money for
a state-of-the-art trailer that she in-
tends to use as a mobile unit to con-
nect young Harlem residents to a
range of services, from GED training
to jobs. “We’ve had enough meetings
about the problems our young peo-
ple are facing,” Sekou explains. “If we
truly want to address those problems,
then we have to see what’s happen-
ing, understand their mind-set and
roll up our sleeves to do something
about it.”
—Curtis Stephen
“It’s a very intricate
system based on
language, behav-
iors and turfs.”
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 32 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
www.citylimits.org 33
shouldn’t be acceptable.”
Debates about crime statistics and police tactics
are easy to handle compared with the question
embedded deep in the background of incidents
like the death of Andrell Napper: Why?
“A lot of the gun violence is defnitely gang-
related,” says Carrasco. “You have your Crips and
your Bloods, but we have a lot of other crews in
the precinct, like the Gun Totin’ Divas, the Gun
Totin’ Goonies and the Spartans,” he says.
Of course, that does not mean all the victims are
in gangs. One day in mid-March, on the ground
foor of the High School for Public Service in
Crown Heights, a group of 15 students afliated
with an afer-school program run by the gun con-
trol advocacy group New Yorkers Against Gun Vi-
olence rejects—with some heat—the proposition
that most of the impact of the city’s gun violence is
experienced by the gang-afliated.
“Tat’s not true,” says Christy Bhola, a 17-year-
old Canarsie resident, who says she joined the
program afer her mother and brother were
robbed at gunpoint on the front steps of their
home. “It’s not as if it’s only gangs just killing
each other where they go, ‘OK, I’m a gangbanger,
and you’re a gangbanger. Let’s do this.’ It doesn’t
happen like that. You could be driving your car,
and a stray bullet could hit you.” Others describe
instances of discovering guns and feeing bullets
during spontaneous shooting incidents. Sharalee
Jones quietly explains how the randomness of gun
violence struck close to home last September. “My
cousin was shot and killed on the street that he
lived on, which was a block away from me,” she
says. “You just don’t know.”
Even in individual cases, the motive is not al-
ways clear. During his one-month hospital stay,
Hyde struggled to regain his ability to swallow.
He has since recovered physically. But memories
of the shooting itself resonate. “It’s terrible dealing
with something that you don’t have any control
over,” he says. “Te recovery was even worse than
the shooting.” No arrests have been made, as far as
Hyde knows. “From what I was told, somebody in
the car was shooting at two diferent gentlemen on
foot, who were across the street from each other,”
he says. “None of this was ever in the newspaper,
as far as I know. It was just another night.”
Hammond and
Iesha Sekou of
Street Corner
grassroots effort
to prevent gang
with police
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 34 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
or her mere 20 years, Gina Ortiz speaks with the
polish and poise of a person used to impressing
her elders. She says she loved the small public high
school she attended—Riverdale-Kingsbridge M.S./
H.S. 141 in the west Bronx. She aspired to attend
Boston University or Northeastern, en route to a career in
government or law enforcement. Tose schools didn’t accept
her, so, with her regents diploma in hand, she enrolled at
John Jay College to begin her postsecondary education.
Well, sort of. Like more than half of the New York City
public high school graduates who attend CUNY institutions,
Ortiz started college by reviewing material she was supposed
to have already learned.
A remedial math course was a frustrating way to start her
path to an associate degree. “I knew that I needed extra help.
I was happy there were resources. What disappointed me
was that any efort I was going to put into it wasn’t going
to be for anything,” she says, a reference to the fact that re-
medial courses do not yield any credits toward graduation.
“It was depressing. Every time I went, I resented my high
school experience.” She wondered why she hadn’t studied
math harder. But she hadn’t even had a math course her se-
nior year. As she discusses the course, her irritation pierces
her cool demeanor: “I never knew how harshly I was going
to be fucked by it.”
Few college systems in the country can boast the his-
tory and scope that defne CUNY, which traces its roots
to 1847, serves probably the world’s most diverse student
population, caters to a quarter-million students and man-
ages a network of 21 campuses—which include communi-
ty, comprehensive and senior colleges as well as graduate
facilities—across fve counties.
But for all that CUNY does, one thing it does not do well
is graduating students seeking associate degrees, the foot-in-
the-door credential that is the bread and butter of commu-
nity colleges. Te three-year graduation rate of students who
entered in the fall of 2006 was 10 percent, barely distinguish-
able from where it was in 1999, at 9.8 percent. While some
of those who don’t graduate on time remain with the school
and keep trying, six in 10 do not.
Community colleges, where students usually pursue asso-
ciate degrees, are the new “it” topic of education circles. Dur-
ing the 2009 mayoral campaign, Bloomberg pledged to give
$50 million in additional funding to the CUNY community
colleges. Last summer, President Obama promised new fed-
eral money to community colleges through the American
Graduation Initiative, which he called “the most signifcant
down payment yet on reaching the goal of having the highest
college graduation rate of any nation in the world.”
CUNY’s community college performance is worse, but
not much worse, than the national-average 19 percent grad-
uation rate at three years. Around the country and for de-
cades, community colleges have struggled to get students to
graduate. In part this is because their students face unique
challenges. “Life is always getting in the way for college stu-
dents,” says Tom Bailey, director of the Community College
Research Center at Columbia’s Teachers College. “A third of
community college students have dependents, whether it’s
parents or whether it’s children.”
But these days, at least in CUNY’s case, the graduation
problem has a new wrinkle, because its incoming students
appear to be better prepared.
Most frst-time CUNY community college students come
from New York City public high schools. And for the past
several years, the city’s high school graduation rates—and
the share of graduates earning more challenging regents di-
plomas—have been steadily climbing.
Yet CUNY’s community college graduation rate remains
low. Tat’s partly because so many community college stu-
dents have to take time out to catch up on skills they never
picked up in high school, as Ortiz did. Te percentage of
community college students requiring remedial coursework
has decreased over the past decade—from 84 percent in
2000 to 71 percent last year. But it’s still high.
Te puzzle of how to get more high school graduates
through community college is occupying more attention
at both the city department of education’s Chambers Street
headquarters and CUNY’s central ofce on East 80th Street.
Students like Ortiz, meanwhile, sort it out on their own.
Te CUNY system comprises 11 senior colleges (places like
Baruch and Hunter, which ofer only bachelor’s degrees,
as well as campuses like John Jay, which ofer bachelor’s
and associates) and six community colleges (like Hostos
and Queensborough, ofering only associate degrees).
Te senior colleges have selective admissions standards, and
students needing any extensive remedial work must go to
community colleges frst. Te community colleges have open
admissions, but they also have standards—and students who
don’t meet them must complete remedial courses before
they can begin college work.
Challenges at the community college door
www.citylimits.org 35
CUNY’s community colleges require
students to have a high school diploma
or GED and to demonstrate basic pro-
fciency in reading, writing and math.
Scoring a 75 on the relevant regents
exam or hitting 480 or above on the
comparable SAT section can exempt a
student from taking the CUNY place-
ment tests. Students who fall short of
the minimum required placement test
score on reading or writing are re-
quired to take the remedial course—or
courses—in either subject. At Bronx
Community College, for example,
a student could take a succession of
three classes before getting to college-
level math work. Te frst reviews el-
ementary school math, heading up to
eighth-grade material. Te second is
similar to ninth-grade algebra. Te
third covers intermediate algebra and
CUNY senior university dean for ac-
ademic afairs John Mogulescu says the
students coming into CUNY nowadays
are less likely to need second-language
instruction or remediation in reading
or writing. Indeed, the number of stu-
dents needing help in reading has fall-
en from 57 percent to 33 percent from
2000 to 2009. But math is still a “huge
obstacle,” Mogulescu says. Te per-
centage of high school students who
enter CUNY needing remedial math
instruction has barely budged, edging
from 59 percent in 2000 to 56 percent
in 2009.
Sharon Persinger, who has taught
at Bronx Community College for 12
years, says the student population has
grown younger, which has afected how
seriously most students take school.
“Tere’s more resistance to putting in
the efort to learn it this time through,”
she says.
Motivation is particularly difcult
in the remedial classes. Iliyasu Kenchi,
an East New York teen who had to take
two remedial courses when he enrolled
at City Tech last fall, says, “I thought
it was a waste of time because by now
I could have been doing my major. I
could have been on the track team.”
Tis disappointment leads to a sig-
nifcant dropout rate in many remedial
courses. Students who don't drop out
sometimes fail the remedial courses—
or pass the course but fall short when
they retake the placement test to see if
they are deemed ready for college-level
work. “I did good, I passed,” recalls
Kenchi of his remedial reading course.
When he took the placement test again,
he fell 2 points short. “Tat’s what kills
me. It was close. It was really close.”
Students who pass the remedial
courses and satisfy requirements on
their retaking of the placement tests ac-
tually graduate at the same rate as other
CUNY students. Some even feel better
prepared than peers thanks to the re-
medial work. Amy Morel, a student at
City Tech who had to take a remedial
math course twice, says, “It refreshed
my memory a little, so when I actually
took [college-level math], I’m actually
doing way better than the rest of the
But even those students pay a price,
literally: Financial aid typically covers
up to eight semesters of work, so stu-
dents who aim to obtain a bachelor’s
degree but are sidelined by remedial
courses can end up paying out of pock-
et. “When it’s my two last semesters for
my B.A. I’ll have to pay for classes,” says
Morel, who is a mom and works at a
laundromat. She’s not sure how she’ll
swing that expense.
Students who avoid having to take re-
medial courses graduate from CUNY
community colleges at a 34 percent
rate over six years. Tose who must
take a single remedial course have a 24
percent rate; those who take two, a 21
percent rate; and those who take three
graduate only 16 percent of the time.
So remedial coursework is a major risk
factor for leaving CUNY without a de-
gree. For that reason, much about the
remedial system is under scrutiny.
It starts with the placement tests
themselves. Some instructors don’t feel
the scores are detailed enough to pin-
|ooo ao¸
Students Entering CUNY
'00 '0+ '02 '03 '0+ '05 '06
Students Earning Associate
Degrees Within Three Years
Source: CUNY
Performance of New York
City's community colleges
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 36 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 36 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
Iliyasu Kenchi
19, East New York
Right after I graduated from ju-
nior high, I didn’t know what kind
of high school I wanted to go to.
I didn’t apply anywhere. I went
to Franklin K. Lane in Jamaica. I had heard a
lot about it. Especially the history. It used to be
overrun by gangs. I would not say it was a bad
school. People were like, ‘Dude, you’re not going
to make it out of there alive.’ I liked chemistry.
When you get to an understanding of chemistry,
it gets to be more fun. And literature—novels.
Raisin in the Sun, that was my favorite. Even the
movie was good. There’s Moby Dick. The Odys-
sey. A Christmas Carol. … I didn’t have a plan
for what kind of major I wanted to go into. So one
morning when I got up to go to school, I saw my
mom cooking. I got the idea of what I wanted to
do. I want to be a chef.”
He earned a local diploma. When he took
the CUNY placement test he was found deficient
in reading and writing. He entered City Tech
taking remedial courses in those subjects and a
credit course in math. “I thought it was a waste of
time because by now I could have been doing
my major. I could have been on the track team.
But I kind of realized it’s like a refresher course.
I’d forgotten things I learned when I was in ele-
mentary.” He doesn’t blame his high school. “This
is what I get for slacking off.” He didn’t do well in
his remedial writing course and was told to re-
peat it. He passed the remedial reading course
but when he took the placement test again, he
again fell short. “That’s what kills me. It was close.
It was really close. I failed that by two points.” He
failed the math course. So he has had to retake
all the same courses this spring. He will be done
with them by June, and has a summer job lined
up to help him earn the $800 he needs for fees
and equipment to join a semi-pro football team,
the Kings County Black Hawks, where he aims to
plan defensive end. His plan is to “hopefully get
my associates within two years, transfer to Penn
State and continue my culinary arts education.”
His parents are from Nigeria, and he can pre-
pare several Nigerian dishes. “Hopefully I can
open my own restaurant.”
www.citylimits.org 37
point what a student does and doesn’t know. Others believe
the tests are given when students might not be expecting
them—perhaps on the day when they sign up for classes.
And some feel the tests fgures too prominently in how re-
medial teachers teach. Since professors are hoping to enable
their students to pass the test, the exam can become the sole
focus in class.
But course content is only one part of the issue. Remedial
courses are ofen taught by adjuncts, who tend to be less ac-
cessible than full-time faculty. Te pressure on CUNY com-
munity colleges to provide remedial courses has increased
over the past decade, since the Giuliani administration
forced changes in admissions criteria that prevented the
senior CUNY colleges from ofering extensive remedial in-
struction. Tat kicked the remedial population to the com-
munity colleges.
Along with those changes came a huge boost in
undergraduate enrollment at CUNY, from 170,000 in 1999
to 270,000 today. Mogulescu says the CUNY system has
added 1,200 faculty positions in the past decade, probably
“more new faculty than any other university in the country.”
Asked if the hiring has kept up with enrollment, he adds, “It
hasn’t, clearly.”
While CUNY’s tests determine the need for remediation,
and its courses are supposed to address that need, the
skill shortages actually develop before students arrive at
CUNY. Some new CUNY students are GED recipients. Oth-
ers are high school grads who waited a few years to enter
college. But more than half are straight out of public high
schools. And the public high school curriculum is a concern.
“Te criteria for high school graduation bears no kind of
relationship to college readiness,” says John Garvey, a for-
mer CUNY administrator who has published research on
remediation and graduation rates. What’s more, “the bulk
of the items, especially in math, on those placement tests
are really from the middle-school curriculum,” Garvey
continues. High school students are required to take only
three years of math, and two can be satisfed by failing and
repeating a single course. “Tat’s not the road to college,”
says Garvey. “Tat’s the road to somewhere else.”
But classroom instruction is only one part of how high
schools are supposed prepare students for college. High
schools are also supposed to help students fnd colleges
that are right for them, apply to them and be prepared for
the college workload. Tere’s evidence that some city high
school graduates lack that preparation.
About 10 years ago, Brooklyn’s Cypress Hills Community
Development Corp. began a program to help more kids gain
access to college. “Afer we did that work for a few years, we
knew we could get high school kids to college,” says stafer
Andrea Soonachan. “But keeping them there was a diferent
story.” So Cypress Hills launched an intensive retention pro-
gram with New York City College of Technology, targeting
students with poor academic records or life challenges (say,
having children) for intensive case management. “People
come to us with very little college knowledge. Tey might be
the frst in their family to go. Teir counselor at school might
have a 200-kid caseload. Tat’d be a low one.”
With all the college options facing New York students, a
lack of college knowledge can mean a bad ft between stu-
dent and post-secondary school. Te problem cuts both
ways, says Gregg Betheil, the DOE’s chief of postsecond-
ary pathways and planning. Some students get into pro-
grams that are more challenging than they can handle. But,
he adds, “there’s been national research indicating students
are actually undermatching to their college. For fnancial or
other reasons, family circumstances, they sometimes go to
a two-year college” when they could go to a more selective
institution. “Tey’re
working down to
their expectations.”
While acknowledg-
ing that high schools
have a responsibility
to help students with
that matching pro-
cess, Betheil stresses
that the city’s schools
are trying—and that
they’re not the only ones with a role to play. “We have many
schools that are just doing a fantastic job,” he says. “At the
same time there’s work that’s happening on the other side of
the divide,” a reference to CUNY.
Even a student who fnds the “right” school can have the
wrong idea of what college work involves. One Cypress Hills
client, Angus Fischer, was hell-bent on getting something
more than a high school diploma. Afer being held back
twice in lower grades, he caught up by graduating from high
school in two and a half years. One year he took 14 classes
and was at school for 11 hours a day. He applied to 12 col-
leges and ended up at City Tech. His frst semester, he failed
two courses and was put on academic probation. He pulled
up his GPA the following semester, but not enough to avoid
being kicked out of school.
“In college, it’s more on you. Tat’s what I found most in-
teresting,” Fischer says. “At the beginning of the semester,
they’d give you the course outline, and you’d have to follow
it. I found it kind of more challenging in the sense that the
professor doesn’t have enough time to sit there and explain
things to you [individually].”
In 2008, CUNY and the DOE formed a task force on
college readiness on which senior ofcials of both
Canada's Challenge:
a new Harlem school
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 38 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
systems sit. Te goal, says Betheil, is to “better align and
calibrate a suite of standards organized around the college
core” for both CUNY and high school teachers. Now the two
institutions have a formal data-sharing agreement aimed at
allowing instructors at both ends of the pipeline to tailor
their curricula and programs to students’ needs.
Several initiatives are underway to improve CUNY grad-
uation rates. Te city is one of seven selected by the Gates
Foundation for the Communities Learning in Partnership
(CLIP) program, aimed at increasing community college
graduation rates by focusing on math preparation. At Kings-
borough, Queensborough and LaGuardia, experimental
learning-communities programs have organized commu-
nity college entrants into cohorts that move through classes
together, ofering each member the support of the group as
well as better linkages between remedial and college-credit
coursework. CUNY’s College Now program allows students
to accumulate CUNY credits while still in high school.
Ten there is ASAP, or Accelerated Study in Associates
Programs, a pilot efort that CUNY started in the fall of 2007.
ASAP aims to reduce the pressures facing new students and
the complexity of the typical college experience. Students
are required to attend full time. Tey receive fnancial aid,
free MetroCards and free textbooks. Teir class schedules
are consolidated, they are placed in smaller classes and they
are organized into groups based on what major they planned
to study. Te program aimed to graduate 50 percent of the
students in its frst three years. Afer the frst two years, 31
percent had graduated, while a comparison group of other
CUNY students posted an 11.4 percent graduation rate for
the same period.
Te question now is whether promising programs like
ASAP can be made available to all the students who need
them. “Tere are innovative, cutting-edge thinkers through-
out the [CUNY] system. Tere are real pockets of great work
going on,” says Cypress Hill's Soonachan. “Te next step is
really fguring out how to scale them up.”
CUNY faces real challenges meeting all the needs of its
increasing student body. Enrollment is growing so fast that
this spring, for the frst time, CUNY had to stop accepting
applications for admissions, citing capacity concerns. Mean-
while, the hope for a new federal investment in community
colleges has faded: Obama’s community college initiative
died quietly in the hubbub over health care. Te budget
pressures lead some to wonder if CUNY will able to aford to
expand programs like ASAP—which catered only to a pilot
group of 1,300 students—for the thousands who need them.
Mogulescu says CUNY's answer to questions about scale
is the new community college, due to open in 2012. Te
school’s entire design refects an efort to improve retention
and graduation. It will require full-time enrollment in the
frst year and ofer a simplifed—in other words, shorter—
list of major programs to choose from. Admissions will still
be open, but students will be required to show a little more
commitment during the application process.
Some members of the CUNY community are troubled by
the plan for the new college. Barbara Bowen, president of
the Professional Staf Congress, the union that represents
CUNY instructors, worries that requiring students to attend
full time will exclude those who can’t aford to. (Mogulescu
contends that most CUNY students already attend full
time.) Bowen is also concerned that the new college will
drain resources needed by existing schools, without creating
enough new capacity to relieve the strains from high
Some of the objections, however, are more on principle.
“We are concerned about a college that has as its primary
function to move people to graduation,” Bowen, “We’re all in
favor of people moving swifly, but the majors should not be
chosen on what will allow a student to move through quickly.”
In the minds of some teachers, graduation rates are an
important goal but not the only one schools should focus
on. “Some of this is philosophical. What is the role of the
community college?” asks Persinger. “From the point of
view of the educator, I’m not producing college degrees. I’m
trying to help people gain skills, gain an understanding of
the world that they didn’t have before.”
To some, this might sound like impractical, academic
thumb-sucking. Are low-income kids supposed to spend
their time and taxpayer-backed fnancial aid on learning for
its own sake? Isn’t the point to get a degree as soon as pos-
sible and move on with life?
But maybe the two goals—improving the graduation rate
on one hand and, on the other, teaching to educate and not
just to graduate—aren’t mutually exclusive. Tey haven’t
been for Fischer, who afer leaving City Tech began his
college career again at Kingsborough.
“It’s kind of going good now,” he says. “At City Tech, the
professors were trying to get in the course work and prepare
you to take the fnal. At Kingsborough, they speak about
how they don’t just want to give you a piece of paper. Tey
try to work with us as students, not machines.”
“The criteria for high
school graduation bears
no kind of relationship to
college readiness.”
www.citylimits.org 39 www.citylimits.org 39
Gina Ortiz
20, Parkchester, Bronx
“In eighth or ninth grade I realized
that college was going to be essen-
tial to a good life. My mother was
a teenage mom. She overcame
several obstacles. It kept her back from being in
college. My college plan was to go to Boston Uni-
versity or Northeastern. I fell in love with Boston
and the historical architecture and that fact that
it was a college city. The students I was grow-
ing with [at Riverdale-Kingsbridge High School]
all had big ambitions for college. I had to make
mine just as high. Unfortunately, John Jay Col-
lege was the only one to accept me. I got reject-
ed from every other college. I’m not sure why.
My grades were fine. My SAT scores were OK.
Going to college with your mom [who had gone
back to school at John Jay] is not the ideal situ-
ation. That went against every single one of my

college visions.” Despite having to take two re-
medial math courses, Ortiz is on track academi-
cally because she amassed CUNY credit while in
high school. She plans on a career in govern-
ment or law enforcement. An auxiliary New York
City police officer, she believes there is a link
between discord on local streets and violence
among nations. “I often wonder why we aren’t
at peace. Why can’t there be world peace? It’s
because of the simple decisions, the small deci-
sions growing into this big thing. I kind of want to
contribute to the peace.”
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 40 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
or Tasnim Huque, the past few months have
been full of surprises. Her Muslim parents,
who immigrated to New York City from India’s
sprawling eastern city of Calcutta in the late
1980s, are gradually allowing the 18-year-old
to show some independence. While there’s little
inhibiting most seniors at Hunter Science High
School in Manhattan from attending the prom—
except, perhaps, the cost of limos, gowns and tuxes—
Huque was certain that she’d be missing it for a
diferent reason: her 6 p.m. curfew. But her parents
recently told her that she could, in fact, attend. “Tey
even bought me a nice Westernized dress,” she says
excitedly. And that’s not all she’s excited about.
Huque is also stunned that her mother, a teacher,
and her father—who works for the MTA—are allow-
ing her to apply to colleges on her own. “My parents
are highly educated, but I’d be the frst to graduate
from college [in the U.S.],” she says. “Tey might have
taken this one thing from me in letting me hang out
late with my friends,” a reference to the curfew. “But
they give me trust. Tey always tell me, ‘You remem-
ber who you are and what your responsibilities are.’”
Te coming-of-age journey of teenage girls and
young-adult women in the city’s immigrant com-
munities—many of which are rooted in socially con-
servative values with prescribed gender roles—ofen
raise deeply nuanced questions about cultural iden-
tity, self-esteem and self-determination.
“We’re getting a lot of immigrants from places
where gender expectations are really, really diferent.
For girls, they’re being trained very early in family
maintenance and preserving family honor,” says
Philip Kasinitz, a CUNY Graduate Center sociology
professor and co-author of the 2008 book Inheriting
the City, which chronicles the experiences of the
second generation in New York. “But they’re hitting
a society where they’re being told, ‘Follow your
dreams. Do the thing that makes you successful, and
to hell with your family.’ Tat especially places girls in
a difcult spot. And the question becomes, How do
you balance that?”
It’s a question that Maimouna Nbiaye, 17, fnds
herself grappling with. Born in Brooklyn and raised
in Senegal, she’s now a student in the International
High School at Prospect Heights. Nbiaye, who as-
pires to become a doctor, is struck by the possibili-
ties awaiting her. “When I was [in Senegal], I did not
think about how I can stand up and say, ‘Oh I can do
this,’ ” she refects. “Back in Senegal, it was just men
who said, ‘I can do this.’”
But she’s also conficted. Nbiaye isn’t sure if New
York—despite all that it promises—is where she
wants to settle afer pursuing her studies. West Af-
rican culture, she argues, isn’t valued enough here.
Umu Jalloh, 18, who was born in Sierra Leone, draws
a similar contrast. “Back home, older persons get
more respect. Over here, you see someone cursing
a person who could be their grandmother,” she says.
“Respect is what my culture is about.”
But the longing for home is driven not only by
cultural familiarity—City Limits interviewed about
a dozen West African teenage girls who expressed
similar sentiments—but also, in part, by the searing
memories of what relatives and friends lef behind are
still enduring in the afermath of bloody confict. Be-
tween 1991 and 2002, Sierra Leone was torn apart by
a brutal civil war. “When I used to be in my country, I
went through war, and I used to cry a lot,” refects Jal-
loh. “I saw people dying, poor people and sick people.
I just want to be able to help them.”
Located in the Bronx, the Sauti Yetu (which means
“our voice” in Swahili) Center for African Women
provides a range of support services primarily to
the city’s West African immigrants on issues rang-
ing from reproductive health to domestic violence.
Teir Girls Empowerment and Leadership Initiative
(GELI) provides some 50 teens and young women—
including refugees—hailing from places including
Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone with culturally
sensitive afer-school programs including counseling
workshops, academic support, arts-related courses
and advocacy.
But as they participate, many of the Sauti Yetu girls
face their share of challenges, from the impact of ab-
breviated educations and turbulent family reunions
to demanding household responsibilities. “Te rea-
son why we target girls in their late teens is because
they’re easily neglected,” explains Ramatu Bangura,
the Sauti Yetu program manager who spearheaded
the launch of the initiative. “In cultures where girls
get married very young, the idea of having a 16- or
Immigrant women straddle cultural chasms


www.citylimits.org 41
17-year-old girl in the house is freaking out the par-
ents. Tey don’t know what to do with a teenager who
is developing her own mind and has a budding sexu-
ality. Tat’s where we come in.”
And while standard teen worries about academic
challenges, relationships, sex and self-esteem are all
aired openly during workshop sessions and free-
fowing social theater performances—based on the
Teater of the Oppressed model crafed by the late
Brazilian writer Augusto Boal—unique concerns like
cultural alienation and early marriage also factor into
the wide-ranging discussions. “In our frst group, we
had 12 students, and nine were married or engaged
to be married under diferent circumstances,” says
Te nonproft group maintains close contact with
the young women—whom Sauti Yetu attracts from
area public schools and mosques—to determine in-
stances of coerced marriages. “We tell them that the
minute you hear any inkling of a marriage in our
group, let us know so that we can contact the family
and negotiate a better position for them. It’s not as
cut-and-dried as people make it out to be,” Bangura
explains. “What are her prospects for education, and
what does her security look like? Tey’re calculated
decisions, which really goes beyond ‘My culture says’
or ‘My culture doesn’t say.’”
Still, Sauti Yetu stafers claim that since the pro-
gram’s inception, they’ve had at least two instances
of underage teenage girls involved in marriages that
the stafers believe were coerced. Afer contacting the
Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), the
group also claims that ACS determined that the girls
weren’t in danger and that the cases didn’t require
intervention. (In a statement, ACS said, “Children’s
Services is committed to ensuring the safety and
well-being of every child whom we come into contact
with. Culturally competent practice that respects and
acknowledges the diverse backgrounds and cultural
values of the families we serve is a core component of
our work. When Children’s Services receives a report
from the State Central Register of child abuse and
maltreatment, child protective specialists will fully
investigate the facts and circumstances of the family
at issue in the report and take necessary steps to en-
sure the safety of children.”)
Dina Emam, 24, has been aware most of her life
that she was diferent. Born in Egypt, she migrated
to New York with her parents when she was 9 months
old. Afer growing up in the north Brooklyn neigh-
borhood of Greenpoint as the only Arab Muslim en-
rolled in a predominantly Irish and Italian Catholic
school—an experience she describes as “challeng-
ing”—Emam later became president of the campus
Source: Census Bureau

3C|| || ST/T|
3C|| C|T C| ST/T|
3C|| TC |.S. C|T|Z||S CV||S|/S
|C|||C| 3C||
Place of birth for New York City's youth
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 42 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 42 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
hen Taran Taylor, 19,
discovered a little over a
year ago that his girlfriend
was pregnant, anxiety immediately
set in. After all, the Crown Heights
native was in his senior year at the
High School for Arts, Imagination
and Inquiry in Manhattan, and
becoming a father was the last thing
on his to-do list.
“I had mixed feelings. At first I
wanted it, and then I didn’t,” recalls
Taylor. “All I could think about was,
How was I going to support the child?
Am I going to go to school or get a
job? What’s going to happen?” When
he confided in his school guidance
counselor about his personal dilem-
ma, she encouraged him to contact
the Lower Manhattan group New
York Youth at Risk.
Since 1989, the nonprofit orga-
nization has provided black and
Latino youth aged 12 to 25 across
the five boroughs with a compre-
hensive range of mentoring support
services. In the group’s two decades
of existence, its assorted programs
have been geared toward teenage
mothers, homeless youth, those from
single-parent households and those
with disabilities.
But nearly seven years ago, New
York Youth at Risk launched a mul

tiservice program to
support teen and young-
adult fathers after se-
curing a grant from the
city’s Department of
Youth and Community
Development, along
with federal support for
the program. Each year,
some 150 young fathers
attend parenting work-
shops and receive indi-
vidualized counseling, conflict medi-
ation lessons and GED classes, along
with job readiness training and re-
ferrals. But in order to participate,
expecting fathers must fit a certain
criteria beyond meeting the 16-to-25
“They really have to be up to some-
thing,” explains Kirk Francis, the
fatherhood program’s senior case
manager and a chief architect in
launching the initiative. “We tailor
the program to their needs, so our
job is really to support the things that
they want. But they also have to be
serious in that effort.”
Taylor wasn’t sure what to expect
when he walked through the orga-
nization’s doors. After enrolling, he
remained skeptical enough to miss
scheduled appointments with or-
ganization staffers. His daughter—
named London—was born during
this period, and his joblessness be-
gan to fracture his relationship with
his girlfriend. In short, things weren’t
going well.
“I never felt comfortable talk-
ing to everybody, so I would just
keep my feelings to myself,” he ex-
plains. “But my mother kept telling
me that I’d blow up someday for
no reason if I kept holding things
in. So I just decided to give it a try.”
In doing so, Taylor has forged a
father-son bond with Charles Ander-
son, 58, who serves as one of New
York Youth at Risk’s staff counselors.
“There’s a perception that black men
are not involved with their children,
and that’s the stereotype. But we
have to look in the mirror too,” Ander-
son, who became a father at age 19,
says, “I actually think that these men
can be a much better father than I
was at their age if we just give them
the tools and the support.”
Enrolled fathers typically finish the
program within six months, but their
involvement with the organization
can persist well beyond that period.
That’s because New York Youth at
Risk’s fatherhood initiative encour-
ages their continuing participation
in mentorship services and family-
night events that are designed to
promote healthier relationships for
teenage and young adult parents af-
ter childbirth.
“Regardless of what their status as
a couple might be, it’s an opportunity
to bring everyone together and en-
courage workable partnerships for
the sake of the family,” says Eurydice
Robinson, who serves as program
manager of the fatherhood project.
“One of the false realities is that mon-
ey is the biggest obstacle for these
couples. Time is often the problem.”
Equally challenging, staffers con-
cede, is the reality that scores of oth-
er young, expecting men will opt to
take another path on learning that
they’re fathers-to-be. “If this program
was for those who needed it, then we
could fill Yankee Stadium, Madison
Square Garden and Shea Stadium
with all the members,” says Ander-
son. “But this is a program for young
men who want it.”
—Curtis Stephen
Fathers Figure
A resource for youth who want to be dads
David Patterson, 19, is learning how to be a dad.
www.citylimits.org 43
group Arab Students United as a New York Univer-
sity undergrad.
Te group produced political-, social- and cul-
tural-themed events from an Arab perspective for
a campus-wide audience. But for Emam, Arab Stu-
dents United also had a personal impact—by helping
her shed the identity crisis that she felt when she was
younger. “In college, I just started to feel more com-
fortable in my own skin,” she says. “I think we’re see-
ing the creation of a new kind of culture. Obviously,
I have my Eastern culture, and it’s not going to be
the same as someone who actually lives in the region.
But I also have my experiences in the West, and they
can’t be discounted.”
While the campaign to tackle stereotypes—both
cultural and gender—is one that links Arab-Amer-
ican young women like Emam and the West African
teens, it’s playing out in sharply diferent ways. One
important fgure in Arab New York is Linda Sarsour,
director of the Arab American Association of New
York, a civic group in the south Brooklyn working-
class neighborhood of Bay Ridge.
Eight years ago, Sarsour—then a street-savvy and
budding 22-year-old activist of Palestinian descent—
was volunteering for AAANY, doing voter registra-
tion on the streets of Bay Ridge, where she settled on
a spot outside a local mosque. It wasn’t long, Sarsour
recalls, before she was told by an infuential Muslim
leader that the “men were coming out.” She was told
to go. Immediately. Sarsour eventually lef, but not
before she made her point clear. “I said, ‘Excuse me?
Tis is the United States of America. Where do you
think you are? I can stand wherever I want.’”
For AAANY, creating new outlets for self-ex-
pression among teens and young-adult women is
increasingly becoming a focus area. Te group has
12 stafers—nine of whom are women aged 30 and
younger. Beyond ofering traditional Middle East-
ern folk dance and music performances, AAANY—
whose work has received funding from the New York
Foundation and the Brooklyn Community Founda-
tion—also seeks to use culture to broaden the voices,
roles and perception of New York’s Arab-American
Tat efort includes an initiative dubbed Brook-
lynat, which
translates to Arab
Girls in Brook-
lyn—a youth
group whose
members engage
in local activism
and community
service projects,
from food pantry
service and park
cleanup jobs to poetry slam outings. Te organiza-
tion also places young women at the center of vot-
er registration drives and an ongoing push to have
Muslim holidays placed on the public school year
But for young Arab-American women, being po-
litically active in the afermath of Sept. 11 brings with
it a range of other issues for a community whose
residents ofen feel under siege. “You had the FBI
coming in, immigration raids, hate crimes, kids in
our community getting into fghts in school because
someone called them bin Laden,” recalls Sarsour. “It
was crazy.”
Te atmosphere has improved since then, but there
are subtle reminders of distrust. “I’ve been in simple
situations where I’m with other young women who
are covered in a train station, and you’ll have tourists
who skip over us looking for directions, and they’ll
just go past us,” Sarsour says. “Sometimes I don’t
bother, but other times I stop and ask them, ‘Oh are
you looking for so-and-so?’ And they give me a look
that says, ‘Oh my God, you speak English?’”
One of the things immigrant teens are forced to
either accept or resist is the disparity between
“In cultures where girls get married very young,
the idea of having a 16- or 17-year-old girl in the
house is freaking out the parents. They don’t know
what to do with a teenager who is developing her
own mind and has a budding sexuality.”
Arizona & After:
Immigration advocates'
hunt for data
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 44 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
their real lives and the myths of immigrant success that
pervade American culture. With representation from
countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, South Asians
total some 300,000 people across the city. On the surface,
the growing population—which boasts a strong enclave in
Queens—appears to be a community on the rise. But it also
faces signifcant challenges, even with the high prevalence
of two-income households.
In Queens, where some 16 percent of the population lives
at the poverty level—the percentage among South Asian
youth is just over 22 percent, according to the Census. It’s
within that segment where SAYA, a nonproft organization
that runs a number of leadership development programs
for some 600 children and youth in the city’s South Asian
community, concentrates its eforts. “Te popular notion is
that everyone in the South Asian community is successful
economically, but that’s not necessarily the case,” says Udai
Tambar, executive director of SAYA. “Te South Asian com-
munity is still very young right now. We have an opportunity
to prevent a permanent underclass from being created in
this city, and that means engaging and empowering as many
youths as possible.”
Meanwhile, New York’s Haitian young have faced a pe-
culiar dilemma: whether or not to claim their heritage or
instead try to melt into the larger sea of black New York.
Fela Pierre-Louis, a 25-year-old Haitian, well remembers
being the source of derogatory verbal barbs as a city pub-
lic school student. “People used to ask me if I had AIDS
and told me that I stunk when I didn’t,” she says. “Nobody
wanted to be Haitian.”
Pierre-Louis leads the youth development program at Dwa
Fanm—which translates to women’s rights in Creole—a
Brooklyn nonproft group focused on human rights issues
for Haitian women. In her work, Pierre-Louis is noticing
that more teens are “owning up to being Haitian” compared
with when she grew up.
On a late afernoon in May, near the corner of Nostrand
Avenue and Clarendon Road in East Flatbush—the site of
the annual Haitian Flag Day celebration—Dana Baptiste, 20,
is fully absorbed by the action onstage. Te neighborhood is
the heart of the city’s Haitian community.
Performing the infectious rhythm called Rara Nap Danse
(a Creole reference to Carnival) on the expansive stage is the
14-member Brooklyn-based percussion band Brother High.
Baptiste, who migrated from Haiti to the city eight years ago,
fnds herself standing in a spot where she’s long wanted to
be. “In Haiti, rara is street music, and religious people aren’t
really into that,” she says before smiling. “I always wanted
to come here, and [my parents] wouldn’t let me. But I’m an
adult now.”
As she turns in the direction of her two female compan-
ions, Baptiste vigorously pumps her fst into the air. “Haitian
girls rock,” she says. “Haitian girls rock.”
Staff members and interns
at Dwa Fanm, which assists
Haitian women in New York.
www.citylimits.org 45 www.citylimits.org 45
The Door
A lower Manhattan nonproft that ofers
comprehensive services for youth in need.
Youth Communication
Publications that feature news written
by and for young people
Street Corner Resources
Street-savvy eforts to stop gang violence
before it starts
Day One
Aims to prevent teen domestic violence
by educating teens on warning signs
New Yorkers Against
Gun Violence
Gun control group ofers a youth afer-
school program
Sauti Yetu
Services for young African women in New York
Arab American Association
of New York
Its Brooklynat program caters to young
women bridging cultures
National Center for
Education Statistics
Detailed performance numbers on colleges
around the country
Sistas and Brothas United
A veteran group of activist teens in the Bronx
Mary Mitchell Community Center
East Tremont-based refuge for young
people stresses sports programs
Dwa Fanm
A Haitian women’s organization
Children’s Aid Society
Te historic charity runs a menu of
programs for the young.
Advocacy for South Asian women
Child Center of New York
Programs for at-risk youth
Police Athletic League
Decades of helping youth through play
Big Brothers, Big Sisters
Companionship for the young
New York Youth at Risk
Among other programs, a focus
on fatherhood
The Point
Resource for teens in the South Bronx
Cypress Hills Community
Development Center
Partners with colleges to boost
students’ chances
Annenberg Institute for
School Reform
Nationally respected research leader
College system trying to improve its
graduation rate
Center for Community
College Research
A national perspective on a vital
educational resource
Youth Development Institute
Provides research to those who serve youth
New York City Department
of Education
Data on schools, tests and graduation rates
Mayor’s Volunteer Center
Dozens of ways to serve the young
Kids rock 80s styles on St. Mark's Place.
City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 46 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 46 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth

Te Classroom Mini-Economy:
Real-Life Learning in the K-8
122 East 42nd Street,
Suite 2600
Tis workshop is aimed at
helping K-8 grade teachers es-
tablish an instructional system
that simulates real-world eco-
nomic activity. Students have
“jobs” that include running
banks, insurance companies,
stores and other businesses.
Te Mini-Economy involves
your students in real decision-
making and creative thinking.
Each workshop participant
will receive a comprehensive
170-page curriculum for Te
Classroom Mini-Economy,
and a complete set of 22, kid-
friendly Kids Econ Posters.
For more information,
please contact Jenny Winship
at 212-730-7007.
9:30 AM
How to Ensure Efective Man-
agement Of U.S. Government
305 Seventh Avenue,
11th Floor
Tis workshop is for organiza-
tions that seek to either scale
up or enter into the world
of U.S. Government grant
funding and recognize that
they need the right talent,
processes and systems to
manage these funding sources
successfully. At the end of this
session you will understand
the strategic and practical
implications to your organiza-
tion of government grants,
including the impact on
your stafng needs, internal
procedural requirements and
systems specifcations. To reg-
ister, visit: To fnd out how to
register, please contact Andrea
DiSpenza at (917) 522-8231 or
For the latest events, visit

Program and Ofce
Space Available
The Robert Ross Johnson
Family Life Center
172-17 Linden Boulevard

Approximately 8,000 square
feet of ofce and program
space is available at the
Robert Ross Johnson Family
Life Center, a 43,000 square
foot facility located in the
St. Albans neighborhood
of Queens.
Contact: 718-896-0860
Furnished Ofce Lof Sublet
Near Bryant Park
307 West 38th Street
Modern, spacious 3,000 sq. f.
ofce lof, utilities included,
available for lease. Space can
be divided to suit one to 8
people. Te sublet features
ample natural lighting and
high ceilings. Te facility is
turnkey, with ready-to-go
internet access (wired & wif),
a telephone system, and built-
in custom desks (ea. 8f x 3f).
Te sublet’s lounge has ceiling-
mounted data projectors, a
conference room, production
area and storage space. Sublet
also features a kitchen area, re-
ception desk, custom bar, and
2 private bathrooms. To view,
please call 212-563-5701.
Two Light-Filled Ofces South
of Union Square
817 Broadway, 6th Floor
Two furnished light-flled pri-
vate ofces in a small collegial
law frm located two blocks
south of Union Square. You
can rent one unit or both with
no build-out costs, no capital
investment or fees (key, set
up, or installation). Te ofces
are comfortable 15-foot by
11-foot spaces, and each unit
features two 3-foot by 8-foot
windows overlooking Broad-
way. Monthly rent includes
utilities and amenities (recep-
tionist, telephone, fax, Xerox,
wireless Internet, custodial
services, large kitchen w/ cof-
fee service). First month’s
rent and one-month security
required to move in. Short-
term leases are available.
For City Spaces, visit

BoardServe NYC: Helping
Build Nonproft Boards
United Way of New York City
invites you to participate in
BoardServeNYC, a nonproft
board recruitment, training
and placement initiative in
partnership with NYC Ser-
vice. BoardServeNYC links
nonproft organizations in
New York City with prospec-
tive board candidates who are
passionate about volunteering
and are ready, willing and
able to volunteer on a board
of directors.
Sustainable South Bronx
Receives EPA Award
Nominated by U.S. Senator
Kirsten Gillibrand for EPA’s
prestigious honor, Sustainable
South Bronx focuses on com-
munity planning, environ-
mental science, public health
New York’s Annual Pride Parade is June 27. Photo: Talmoryair.
www.citylimits.org 47 www.citylimits.org 47
research and cost-beneft
analysis. Programs include
the South Bronx Greenway
(SBG) which will create bike
and pedestrian paths around
the Hunts Point and Port
Morris Waterfront. Sustain-
able South Bronx’s education
programs include GreenFab
which in conjunction with
Vision Education and Media
and NYU’s Interactive Tele-
communications Program
ofers students at the Bronx
Guild High School afer-
school classes in a variety of
technology and engineering
skill sets.
For more announcements
visit www.citylimits.org/


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City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 48 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth City Limits / Vol. 34 / No. 3 48 A Troubled Age: Tough times for New York's youth
In 1980, Mayor Ed Koch closed Sydenham Hospital, the
smallest and least efficient public hospital in the city.
Sydenham was one of several public hospitals to close in
the years after the 1970s fiscal crisis—Delafield, Fordham,
Gouverneur and Greenpoint were the others. Sydenham
was different. It was the first hospital in the city to train
black doctors. Its history and its location in the heart
of Harlem gave it a political profile larger than its 119
beds. Mayors before Koch had tried to close Sydenham
only to retreat in the face of public opposition. A year
before his first re-election campaign, Koch didn’t retreat.
The hospital stopped admitting patients in October and
closed for good in November.
The former mayor told the website BigThink.com last
December that in 12 years in City Hall, it was the decision
to shutter Sydenham that he regretted most. “It was the
wrong thing,” Koch said. “We saved $9 million. So what. In
those days, even $9 million was a relatively small sum in
terms of government expenditures. I didn’t recognize the
psychological impact of closing Sydenham, the pain.”
The Sydenham building on Manhattan Avenue was
later converted into apartments for senior citizens.
In 2000, a Columbia University dental clinic opened in
the building.
During the battle over Sydenham, both sides said they
were worried about health disparities affecting central
Harlem. Koch said closing Sydenham would free up
money to address those disparities; his opponents feared
that the closure would worsen them. In 2008, central
Harlem had the highest age-adjusted death rate of any
community district in the city. Its diabetes death rate
topped all other neighborhoods’. The rate of AIDS deaths
in the area was four times the citywide average.
Nowadays, the public hospital system is struggling
under a new wave of financial pressure. The Health
and Hospitals Corporation—which includes America’s
first public hospital, Bellevue—recently announced cost-
cutting measures to close a $1.2 billion budget gap. Some
453,000 patients with no insurance sought care at the 12
HHC hospitals in 2009, a 14 percent increase over three
years earlier.
—Jarrett Murphy
Medical History
“It was the wrong thing. We
saved $9 million. So what.”
Protesters call on
Mayor Koch to
keep Sydenham
Hospital open. He
didn't listen.