Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The South Bronx


Today was a bitter cold in New York, but instead of working in my well-heated office, I spent the bulk of the afternoon shivering on the streets of the South Bronx.  I was there to visit our new Save Our Streets program, which is replicating the anti-violence efforts of our Save Our Streets Crown Heights program (which, in turn, is based on the Cure Violence model from Chicago).

It is still early days (we are not fully staffed yet and our offices at 148th and Willis Avenue are still a work in progress), but I was encouraged by the trip.  I spent some time tagging along as our team of outreach workers and violence interrupters walked the streets, attempting to publicize the program and make connections with the kinds of young people who are at particular risk of being both the victims and perpetrators of gun violence.   I was struck by the charisma and popularity of the team -- if they weren't bumping into someone they knew, they were engaging young men at the parks and on the corners in conversation, pressing post cards and flyers into their hands.  (It probably goes without saying, but I wasn't much help in all this.  In fact, several people had to be reassured that I was not a police officer before shooting the breeze.)

In many respects, the SOS outreach effort reminded me of the street team campaigns that Steve Rifkind and others pioneered to market new hip-hop acts.  Like the street teams, the SOS staff prides itself on its knowledge of the community and their ability to tap influential and hard to reach audiences.  But instead of selling CDs, the SOS team is trying something much more difficult: marketing a message of anti-violence.  We are soon to release research suggesting that SOS Crown Heights has experienced some success with this message.  Here's hoping that we will do as well in the South Bronx...

Speaking of the Bronx and hip-hop, I also spent a few moments at Bronx Community Solutions, where Tats Cru, a team of graffiti artists, has recently finished blessing our offices with a mural featuring quotations from various players involved in the project, including a defendant, an attorney and others.  The Bronx Community Solutions blog, Changing the Court, ran a nice post on the project in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. day.