Aug. 23 - Sept. 5, 2007
Through Music and Poetry, Teens
By ALEX KRATZ
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
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
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
She added that the armed police presence actually contributes to violent
behavior. “We get really scared because they all have weapons and guns,”
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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