BLOGAug 1, 2011
Hope Grows in Brooklyn
Pitkin Avenue buzzed with activity during the recent Summer Plazas community events in Brownsville, Brooklyn. For the past three Sundays, with the street closed to through-traffic, local children happily jumped rope, played tag and hoola-hooped in the middle of the road. Others painted colorful images on mural-sized paper that stretched down the block, while still more waited eagerly in line to have their faces painted or create wire sculptures. As kids splashed through a sea of sprinklers, their parents tasted fresh vegetables from a new farmer's market and swayed to the sounds of live music. The events created opportunities for local residents to interact and enjoy themselves safely in public spaces.
In Brownsville, that opportunity has been hard to come by lately. The months leading up to the Summer Plazas have been marked by a troubling wave of violence in the community, including the gunning down of a local teenager just blocks away from the site of the festivities. A few months prior, another shooting took place just outside a local middle school as children were arriving to begin classes. A third shooting at a local convenience store left several children fatherless on Fathers Day. This tension between the community's extraordinary strengths and its enormous challenges is a fact of life in Brownsville and many other communities across the country. But as local residents grapple with how to stop the violence, it often feels like there are no easy answers.
The best solutions are rooted in the unique assets the community already possesses—leaders like Greg Jackson, who has turned the Brownsville Recreation Center into a welcoming haven for local families, or Karrie Scarboro, who, in the mold of 1960s community activist Jane Jacobs, regularly organizes her neighbors to activate dangerous public space through walking groups and “neighborhood watch”-style events. People like Greg and Karrie inspire their neighbors to use their time and talents to strengthen the bonds of community. They also contribute to a sense that Brownsville is still a neighborhood, even when those bonds are tested by violence and tragedy.
The Summer Plazas keep pace with that vision. Last year, Community Solutions’ Brownsville Partnership and the Pitkin Avenue BID worked together to pilot the first successful events. This year, after the events received rave reviews, the BID hired an enthusiastic group of local residents to help out. Several members of that group have avoided eviction or transitioned out of homelessness with Community Solutions’ help. Now, they are giving back by helping to strengthen their community for others.
The Brownsville Partnership is made up of best-in-class organizations like SCO Family of Services' cadre of research based early childhood programs and the Center for Court Innovations' Youth Court. Among these groups, it acts as a local organizing force, or in Jackson’s words, a catalyst to "make good things happen.” Brownsville has one of the largest concentrations of public housing in the country and historically high rates of family homelessness. The Partnership focuses its diverse efforts on the most vulnerable families, taking a collective impact approach that aims to make homelessness, poverty, educational failure and violence rare.
Initiatives like the Brownsville Partnership demonstrate how Community Solutions is helping communities build on their assets by knitting together and activating the enormous resources they already possess. Every day, we’re working harder to learn from and catalyze change in the areas we serve.
Today, there are incredible things happening in Brownsville. At the same time, events like the recent shootings remind us of how much work remains to be done and of how much we still have to learn. It’s all part of the process of helping a burdened community get back on its feet by findings its own strengths and putting them to use.