Thursday, March 18, 2010

Young Visionary Minds Brainstorm for Solutions in the Face of Tragedy

Posted by: Noel Jones

I was at the meeting at the Boys & Girls Club today to support the kids who would like to develop a skateboarding park so that those kids who ride skateboards and bikes have a safe place to go and do tricks instead of riding in the streets. During the meeting, because the fireman (and BMX rider) who was coming to speak was delayed, the kids (and the rest of us) found out that a boy had been hit by a bus while riding his bike on Northampton. The kids were immediately worried, and Terrence Miller led everyone in a prayer for the child and rescue workers. I am not a religious person, but even I was moved by how hard those kids prayed--they didn't just bow their heads, they sat in their chairs, every single one of them, bent at the waist, with their heads and hands pressed to their knees and praying as hard as they could.

The meeting resumed, and these kids, ages 10-14 bubbled with ideas and were ready to work hard on their project. They had done field research and had made a Power Point presentation of skateboard parks in other areas of PA and NJ, and had come up with ideas for fund raising--even creating
means of revenue for the park they envisioned. The enthusiasm was infectious.

The kids also had some concerns, namely, security. Jahsim Gilliam, 13, asked if security officers could somehow be provided for, “so that we don’t get run out by other kids.” Another kid asked if maybe a police officer could come by once in a while. 10 year-old Keyshawn Range offered an idea for creating revenue, “we could teach the littler kids lessons…and we shouldn’t charge the parents too much--and if we don’t charge the parents too much, they will buy the lessons from us and the money can go to the club.” Later I chatted with Keyshawn some more, and he had another revenue-generating idea. “We could have a competition with other clubs, and charge money and see who can do the tricks the best, and whoever wins gets to keep all the money for their club.”

An engineering student and skateboarder from Lafayette gave a short presentation on plans his class is developing for Metzger Park this semester, and invite the kids to collaborate on the design, but added that it was actually a 20-30 year plan, with some parts that might be finished sooner than others.

City Councilwoman El Warner was in the house, and explained that the city had met last year with another group of skateboarders about building a park, and that the city had agreed to work on it if the kids came back with a plan, but that they never had. She said she would look into options, including Lower Hackett Park, which the city owns, but suggested that in the interim, perhaps Easton Area School District could be persuaded to open Vanderveer Park for a few hours a day for the kids to use. She also mentioned that at some point, a skateboarding company had been interested in the Silk Mill, but that that had fallen through. When someone made mention of the possibility of building near the new Bushkill bike trails, El said that that funding was for “green projects.” Zack Braswell, 14, asked what she meant by “green.” El said, “recycled,” to which Zack nodded and shrugged as if to say, okay, got it, no problem, that's do-able.

Michael Turner, a volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club, who belongs to a motorcycle club, said that his group would be happy to do a fundraising ride to raise money for the park, and that they could also do regular ride-bys at the park to provide security for the kids.

Terrence Miller announced that a pastor of a church on College Hill has pledged $12,000 for the purposes of helping the kids to build the skateboard park, and is challenging the city and other organizations to match the contribution.

Dominique Moser, 12, the only girl skateboarder in the room, had had her hand up throughout the meeting but hadn’t been called on.  Outside, when I asked her what she had wanted to say, she replied, ”Well, I was just thinking that maybe the Guardian Angels would want to help us with security for the park.” Then most of the kids took off quickly on their skateboards--I assumed they had some fun place to go.

Then Keyshawn stopped me with another idea, “You know the back of the cemetery, down by the Bushkill? Well my friends and I like to swim down there—it’s not very deep and the air has a really good smell. Well, there’s a lot of room back there and we could build the park there.” I asked him what he would say to El Warner, since the funding was for “green” projects only, and cement isn’t “green.” He thought about it for about two seconds and then said, “We don’t have to destroy anything back there—we don’t have to use cement—we could build wooden ramps around the hills and stuff, and then we could swim if we get hot and smell that good smelling air.” Let me just remind readers that this kid is 10 years old, and this was his third great idea of the day. But he wasn’t done. “Another thing, I feel sad for that boy—they should have more stops—that’s how kids get hit, because they don’t have anything [stop signs].” I told him I agreed with him and then I started walking home on Northampton.

After a couple of blocks, I saw the entire group of kids from the meeting walking up the hill toward me, skateboards in hand, heads hanging, and realized that they had taken off to go find out who the kid was that got hit. By the look of their body language, I guessed that it had been someone they knew. I did not have the heart to ask or bother them, so I just kept my head down and moved to walk past them. Then one of them said, "Hey, aren't you the writer?" I said yes, and then they all gathered around and started talking all at once about how the boy had been a friend and classmate of theirs, and that when they went down to see what happened, that an officer told them to get away, and then the adults that lived on Northampton started yelling at them and saying, "stop skating and get out of here!"

It really broke my heart, and I know the officers were trying to spare them the horrible scene, as they should, but why residents had to treat them that way is beyond me. They are great kids, trying to make their community better. These kids are bound to suffer from shock and grief to different degrees depending on how close they were to this boy, and I think it's really important for them to be getting positive reinforcement from our community.

During the meeting, one boy had spoken up to say that maybe if the kids already had a park for skateboards and bikes, the kid might not have been hit by the bus. He was quickly told by the fireman that, “I can’t say that that comment flies.” Now the fireman was otherwise supportive of the kids’ desire for a park, and I know he was just being politically cautious, but I have to disagree. I think it was a good point, and a natural question for us all to be asking ourselves. As I continued walking home and neared my street, I saw the crowd gathered at the perimeter of yellow police tape that blocked Northampton from 9th Street to 7th, and my heart sank, as I took a detour uphill, trying to block the image out of my mind and focus instead on all the positive energy that the kids had had during the meeting.

What impressed me most about these kids was how deeply they seem to care about their community and that they are in no way sitting around waiting for a hand-out. When someone made reference to the cost of having someone build a park for them, the immediate reaction from one teen was, “What if we build it ourselves?” After the meeting I asked the kids where they lived--they were all West Ward kids, living on 7th & Walnut, 10th & Ferry, 12th Street, 13th Street, N. 8th Street...two live on Pine Street...these are our neighborhood's kids, and they are vibrant, industrious and community-minded.

After having striven for three years to drum up political will among adults in a largely apathetic and cynical town, it was absolutely refreshing to see this sense of agency and political will coming from these West Ward kids. I just hope that the grownups in our community can be supportive of them, and perhaps, take their lead.


Nikkita said...

I'm glad you posted this Noel. Thanks for giving another look on the situation. A way to bring some sort of change out of this tragedy.

It's a shame that the city and adults don't recognize that kids need a place to play, explore and learn that isn't in the "streets". My daughter's group was turned away from the park because of the age restriction. So they had to "wander" around the neighborhood which I believe is more dangerous than them being at the park.

A Change MUST come!

Tim Pickel said...

I attended the meeting yesterday and was impressed, yet again, by the way Dean Young continues to foster responsibility in the kids that go to the Boys and Girls Club.

The type of interaction between all involved in yesterday's meeting is what will eventually lead to a viable solution to the problem. The ideas that were put forth will bear fruit and at the same time serve as a character-building lesson for the youth.

Kudos to Lafayette College for their continued effort to become more involved in our city. Reaching out to our youth will reap rewards down the line.

g_whiz said...

I agree with Nikita on the whole. If we don't have positive venues for kids in the ages between 14-18 (those most at risk for delinquency and the gang behavior these age restrictions seem to be created out of) we're in a way pushing them in these directions out of idleness. I always think about initiatives like this and think about the self fulfilling prophecy. At the end of the day, we tend to get what we expect out of people when it comes to statuses. Instead of seeing a group of 16 year olds as wayward youth, wouldn't it be more pragmatic to see them as people who need to be engaged? If we're to say those of a certian age aren't supposed to be there, in order to improve the youth delinquency problem, wouldn't it be smarter to give them alternative places to be?

noel jones said...

Nikkita, I'm sorry to hear that a great kid such as Najja has been turned away from our parks. Thanks for letting us know though--we need to hear from more parents and teens on this issue. I will say again, that even though the mayor insists that the rule is only to give officers a tool to be able to stop teenagers who look like they might be selling drugs, we are sending a mixed message when we send teens over 14 to a park and tell them that they should feel okay that they're breaking the law--even worse, to feel okay if they're turned away.

This is a law enforcement tool that should have only been used as an emergency stop-gap long enough to replace the restriction with structured programming, which Dean Young at the Boys & Girls Club has been working on, and/or simply park supervision. A supervisor does not need to be a police officer, just someone that can call the police if they see anything they're concerned about. Quite frankly, I am tired of hearing about "Summer Nights" in response to this argument--Summer Nights is great, but it is only a couple of months each summer, our parks are there year round and should be used any time of year that weather permits. For instance, Summer Nights is not happening right now, and the weather is beautiful--it's supposed to get to 70 degrees today!

noel jones said...

Tim, I agree, Dean continues to do a terrific job at the Boys and Girls club--this skateboard club is just one of many examples of how he continues to provide a haven the great kids in our neighborhood, and to teach them how to be active residents with a sense of agency, which is what Easton needs more than anything.

And yes, it was really great to see Lafayette reaching out again to the community--the kids seemed to really connect with this student because he skateboards too and was telling them that their ideas are valuable and welcome in their design process.

I also really appreciated the fact that a fireman came that was a BMX biker--he connected well with the kids too--I wish I had caught his name...did anyone else? If so, please post it here.

Also if anyone caught the name of the Lafayette student please post here too--I'm sorry to have missed it in my scribbling of notes and observing the kids...

David Caines said...

Just a bit of a reality check-
We are a city of some 25,000 or so souls, and some for varied reasons will chose to walk the wrong path. The reasons are varried and sundry, but the truth remains.
And many of those truths are ugly things....
We are a spoiled people who must over the next few years come to terms with the fact that the "American Century" has passed. We are a city in decline, within a state in decline, within a natio n in decline and while working with our govt. must remain a tool, the reality is that we must dig our way out by ourselves. The time must be found, the comonalities must be found,and where possible the money must be found. As well, and perhaps above all things a sense of common surival and possibly triumph must be found. quite possibly with the understanding that we Eastonians may well one day stand alone...a thing that we are incapable of at the moment. While I feel for the child who has died and his familly, if we cannot find the means to do better...he will be niether the first nor the last. I would love to say that such a truth is unacceptable, but quite simply it is not.
When we first moved here Jeantte and I had some my hard choices thrust upon us...and we chose to satke our claim tenous though it may sometimes be. Honestly, we regreted moving here, sometimes we still do. Though thanks to a slugish, near depression ecconomy we're stuck here. And we've grown to like the place after a fashion.
We however must be the change we wish to see.
And we are, as I'm sure are most on this blog.

I believe that we need to take action outside of our sytem of governance,butnot because it is flawed...but because it is overwhelmed. Sadly I am not the man I was pre-fire...and that huants me..but I am comming to terms with the man that I am, and within his limitations...that man is willing to try to make a better place here, and at least localy doing so with a great deal of help from thr EPD. Cudos.

noel jones said...

Well said, David. Things are definitely improving little by little on many fronts, and the people who care about bringing positive change are meeting each other and pulling together more and more each day...we are growing as a community.

David Caines said...

Thanks Nicole,
Well the summer has begun and sadly with it the first round of thugs looking to see if my block is a good place to do business. So, out I go with the camera and the standard round of threats and attempts at intimidation ensue. The camera and I go back inside and they get downloaded to my hotmail account, I don't keep pictures in the house it's just a safety thing. And since I think that this thread may be more or less done, I'll add that I do agree with julie in that we are talking about spending a nice chunk of our limited resources on a pretty small group of kids.

Anonymous said...

"we are talking about spending a nice chunk of our limited resources on a pretty small group of kids."

Well stated. Yes the few young people at the meeting may say they will maintain the park but who assumes the liability? Who supervises the rules? Who stops the bikers from doigntheir jumps on jumps made for skateboarders? These and many other questions need to be asked. And most improtantly -- the NIMBY appraoch that comes from almost everyone. Yep people want this but not in their backyard.

I am all for providing for our youth but at what price? and they still beed to skate or bike to the park. We must teach our kids safety in school and in our homes.

And for those that say they have teens being told to leave Centennial Park they must be just hanging out. My son plays basketball there and he is 15 and has yet to be told to leave. And for the person that spoke against Summer Nights you miss the point. Yes they only serve food and games during the summer and this is at least one meal we know these kids will get. The rest of the year dinners are served at the Easton Area Community Center. They serve more than 100 a day I am told. Let's work with these existing groups to make their programs even better. Has anyone here volunteered?

noel jones said...

Anon 11:11--in answer to your question, yes, the administrators on this blog have all volunteered and given many hours of time and energy to this community and continue to do so, as have many of the regular commenters on this blog.

serving dinner at a community center is a wonderful thing. it has nothing to do with providing green space for teens to play in 10 months out of the year that Summer Nights isn't happening. what is your objection to the idea of a teenage girl hanging out in a park with her friends? why must she be playing basketball to not get kicked out of a park? the administrator's daughter is a great student and wonderful teen--why should she not be able to hang out in a park with her friends?

you say "I am all for providing for our youth but at what price?"--i think we should be asking what the price to us as a community is if we don't provide healthy recreational options for our youth.

the point is not that kids would NEVER be on the street if they had a park, it's that they would be on the street LESS if they had a skate/bike park.

as for liability and supervision, those are all things to be figured out. it's important to recognize that there are successful parks like the one being discussed all over NJ and other parts of PA. the kids are currently taking vans to a park in NJ--if other areas can run successful parks so can we. Easton has a tendency to think of things in terms of what has been done HERE before, rather than what's being done successfully in the world outside Easton.

these kids should not be blamed and held back for the mistakes other kids have made, if they come up with a creative plan that answers all concerns.

Anonymous said...

I think that a lot of waht Anon had to say is important but I am mostly taken back by comments from newcomers to our community who speak about the past as if they lived here. I welcome new residents, they have helped our community in many ways. Let's see, when our kids had jobs the new people drove up the price of homes so high they couldn't sfford to live in the city they grew up in. Let's face it if you moved to the city more than 3 years ago you paid a lot more than what your home is worht today. The market didn't go down, you paid too much. Why? Because of hundreds of people wanting to live here for our schools and our quality of life. Now they are ehre an complain.

Let me explain. Easton has always been a good place to raise kids. Our graduates have gone on to some very pretigious positions. Yes we have great sports and music programs but we also have the most advanced placement and honors classes of any public school in the valley. We have wonderful recreation programs in the city and the suburbs. For the most part our crime rate is going down and streets are safer from gangs.

Do we need improvements? Of course. Every community does, but let's stiop talking about the past in a negative way or our city as deplorable because I am happy here and love this place and its people.

What we need is jobs. Good family supporting type jobs. Everyone should work getting jobs.

Yes 12% tax increase from the schools is something we must fight but more importantly instead of badgering the board members and blaming the professional staff it would be more proactive to get involved in making the schools even better. I have found local board members much more cooperative when we are proactive than going after them like they were some alien from space. We are one community and our city governement is much more professional in many ways and that is what brings respect to our city. Frankly right now some of the members of the board would rather have the city out of the district that gave them their name.

As we become more engaged it is important that we do it in a manner than people will want to listen rather than being looked upon as cry babies.

Just my though for this beautiful Saturday in Easton.

g_whiz said...

Anon-12:07 I appreciate your post, but I find it troubling that you suggest that new members of the community have less of a right and less of a voice than longtime residents. Different perspectives on community issues can be a particular benifit and given we all are paying taxes and spending our time discussing this issue I would think we're all interested in the community. Perhaps not everyone was here in the 80s, but I don't know how much that's relevant. Those of us that are here now and interested in investing and voulenteering and making the community a better place should, and should be encouraged. Not questioned. And as such, because these "newcomers" are investing now, and have lived here "only" three years, they have every bit as much right to complain about crime and problems in their neighborhoods as any other resident. Again, thanks for the post, I thought it was very interesting.

Anonymous said...

g wyhiz -- don't misunderstand me I love the newcomers. they bring a wealth of experience and fresh ideas, I have no problm with that. They also bring a sense of pride to their neighborhood and care for their homes. My concern is only in the regards of perspective. There have been a lot of mistakes in my mind in the city over the last 50 years and more. I like to quote one elected official who spoke about the decision in 1861 to move the courthouse from downtown to the hill. Not only has that taken all of the lawyers offices and courthouse offices out of the downtown but they also destroyed a wonderful neighborhood known as Gallows Hill.

Time gives individuals a different perspective and because i have lived here all of my life I see many positive changes that a newcomer may not see. But I am so happy that they are here. They just need to understand the perspective that someone who has been here longer may see. That's all.

g_whiz said...

Hm. Thanks for bringing that up very much. The backstory about Gallows Hill does provide a pretty important side effect of what happens when neighborhoods loose otherwise vital parts of themselves. Your imput will always be welcome here. Might I reccomend you set up a user account on the site? Again, thanks for the insight.