Community Service, For Real

Community Service, For Real

Music mixed on turntables pulsates through oversized speakers. A
crowd of 40 teens gathers outside a new juvenile detention facility
in the South Bronx. ‘Why is the basketball court inside the jail
nicer than the one at our school?’ asks one teen through a
loudspeaker. ‘New York City just spent $8 million to reopen a
juvenile facility that they promised to turn into a community
center!’ shouts another. This is not your average community
group.

Welcome to Youth Force, an organization started in 1994 in the
South Bronx and led primarily by 14-to-25-year-olds. In the hopes
of saving their peers from being swallowed whole by the seemingly
inescapable cycle of gangs, drugs and jail, Youth Force recruits
most of its organizers directly from the juvenile-justice system,
writes Mark Berkey-Gerard in the October issue of online youth zine
Horizon.

Over the next two years, in fact, family courts and police officers
will refer more than 1,000 juvenile offenders to Youth Force. Most
of the delinquents, who are disproportionately African-American and
Latino, stay on as volunteers once they have completed their
community service.

‘The blank stares you sometimes see on the faces of retail and
fast-food workers are noticeably absent in these community
organizers,’ writes Berkey-Gerard. ‘The teens protest. They
organize. They budget and they raise funds. And they do it with
their trademark young, urban attitude.’ — Anjula
Razdan

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