On Wednesday, Brooklyn Independent Media (BRIC) held a live broadcast of their latest in a series of town hall discussions.
The most recent discussion, “Youth #BHeard: Fighting for a Voice,” was moderated by BRIC Senior Producer Brian Vines and aimed at reshaping the dialogue around urban youth and violence.
The event featured an esteemed panel of professionals whose daily work impacts the lives of young people, including Nadia Lopez, principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy; Ebro Darden, morning host for HOT 97 FM; Jaritza Geigel, a youth leader of Make the Road NY; Criminal Justice Advocate Marlon Peterson; and Juan Thompson, journalist for The Intercept.
The town hall started with a short video produce by BRIC that featured five local teams who recounted what life was like for them as young people of color, trying to grow up while navigating life in Brooklyn.
Then Vines began the panel discussion, where three themes emerged around New York City teens of color, their socialization and their greatest challenges: 1. society’s view and expectation of them; 2. their treatment by the criminal justice system; and 3. the media’s role in shaping their narrative.
Vines asked the panelist pointed questions around their daily interactions with teens and how their experiences could provide insight on possible solutions. The panelist traded their respective insights, followed by a Q&A of the panelist by four local teens– Aisha Wright of YO SOS Crown Heights; Kenneth Champion of Reel Works; Cristal Maria, a student at Millennium HS and Daury Quiroz, a student at El Puente.
On society’s expectations of today’s youth:
“The kids don’t have low expectations,” said Thompson. “When people say that, they need to check themselves. Whether it be in Ferguson or Baltimore, young people– like I did when I was younger– desire something more.
“They want all the same things we have—a job, education, a home and be able to be free from violence and police harassment. And it’s our job as adults that we be there to guide them as they seek to advance in society.”
Ebro added, “I have high expectations for young people because most of the ones I hear from dream: They want to have fun; they want support, love; they want feedback; they want access.”
Lopez said expectations need to be outlined first within the community, and that is her approach in the classroom, as well as what she demands from parents: “You do it by setting the example, setting expectation with the adults and the scholars.
On the criminal justice system:
“We act surprised when someone is hurt on the block,” said Peterson. “ But in many ways, we’re also complicit. We as a society, we incentivize politicians that come with tougher crime policies that prosecute young people as adults.
“We are part of voting these people into office. We in the community aren’t critical enough of what we see. When we see a young person on the news for committing a crime, the first thing we think is that person should go to jail. The end. We don’t ask, why did that person do that? What’s happening in that young person’s life that would cause him or her to make that decision? We don’t ask those questions. We jump to the end and think that somehow that jail will prevent it.”
On the media’s influence:
Vines pointed out that 1,100 magazines, 9,000 radio stations, 1,500 tv stations in America are all owned by six corporations.
“The problem is, if the story is not being put out there on a consistent basis and they are not getting a thousand and one retweets, then they stop telling the story,” said Geigel of the media’s decision to push one story over another. “But you have to keep with the grind, because it is connected to money. If people don’t see there’s a value at the end of it, then they stop.”
Ebro agreed: “Just so young people know, all those retweets?… that’s somebody’s money; that’s their brand. That’s leading you to their website to click on a link or Facebook page that they’re selling advertising against. It all goes back to money.”
Although the panelists presented a lively and informed discussion, the town hall was set up in a way whereby the youth became a side note to the adult discussion– that is, the teens who spoke afterward formed their questions around the previous exchange between the panelists.
Toward the end, it seemed apparent that the best way to begin approaching a solution for youth violence would have been by giving the young people the primary platform. Imagine the invaluable and raw insight that could have been gained had the host asked the youth the questions, versus somewhat muting their voices behind those of the adults.
Youth #BHeard: Fighting for a Voice.