Vol. 20,  No. 16 Aug. 23 - Sept. 5, 2007


Through Music and Poetry, Teens Address Violence


High school senior Jorge Hernandez, sporting a mini-afro, sagging jeans and a business-like demeanor, dropped his backpack and emphatically tossed his black baseball bat to the side as he strode onto a stage in Van Cortlandt Park.

Hernandez wanted to share a few words about violence, he told a scattered crowd of about 50 youth and adults who had gathered just outside the new Sachkerah Woods Playground last Tuesday. All were participants in the ironically named “Stomp Out the Violence” event, sponsored by the youth group Sistas and Brothas United (SBU) and Assemblyman Jeff Dinowitz.

In the hot afternoon sun, Hernandez talked about his experience as a student at Walton High School, which is listed as one of the Education Department’s “Impact” or high-violence schools, and will be phased out after the coming school year.

He spoke, in short staccato sentences, about indifferent teachers and scared students. He talked about how the violence at his school, which is now accompanied (and compounded, some students contend) by metal detectors and cops, has interrupted the learning process. People need to speak up about the situation, he said, and let their voices be heard.

“Without your input,” Hernandez said, before walking off stage and picking up his bat, “the future is lost.”

The event, partially born from a horrific shooting in front of nearby Tracey Towers three months ago that left four young men hospitalized, was organized by SBU (the youth wing of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition) to foster youth expression in the face of violence.

Organizers of the event had hoped for a slightly bigger turnout, but said they were pleased with the results nonetheless.

“So far it’s OK,” said Stephanie Ventura, 17, an SBU member and Clinton High School senior, who was co-hosting the event, which featured many performers and speakers. “People are here. We wanted to get them out here talking about violence and they are.”

As a hard rock band started wailing on stage, Ventura talked about the violence that she says plagues her school, Clinton, which is right next to Tracey Towers on Mosholu Parkway. Often, she said, students turn to gangs and violence after becoming disillusioned by overcrowded classrooms and apathetic teachers.

She added that the armed police presence actually contributes to violent behavior. “We get really scared because they all have weapons and guns,” Ventura said.

Ex-gang members like Carlos Sabater and a 21-year-old named Caesar, otherwise known as “Roar,” warned the congregated youth to not make the same mistakes they did. Sabater, who grew up in the south Bronx and spent 19 years behind bars, is now living in a halfway house in Harlem and is finally getting his life in order. Caesar, who lives in Kingsbridge and is now in the Carpenter’s union, said he got out of the gang life before becoming imprisoned or killed.

Others expressed themselves using poetry. Roberto “Eagle” Ventura, spitting stream-of-consciousness-like stanzas, was representing an activist and artist’s collective known as Movement in Motion, which he called, “one big organic glue.” A Columbia student calling herself Ma’at riffed about the evils of systematic repression.

Unfortunately, there were some technical difficulties. Upstate poetry-hip hop group Read Nex (like Red Necks) had to rely on sparse handclapping to keep the beat and cut their set short after a couple of powerful, revolutionary-themed, verses (“using racism as a tool for division”).

Plus, there were chips and soda.

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