Kids in East New York have more in common with kids in Afghanistan than kids living a few miles away on the East Side of Manhattan.
Gangs, the equivalent of clans or tribes provide a loose set of rules, provide protection and a sense of belonging. Kids, their older siblings and frequently their parents belonged to the same gang. Housing projects are made up of “crips” or “blood” buildings.
Handgun violence, long term unemployment, foreclosures and serious health problems are endemic.
On a desolate street in a deserted industrial block sits the Alpha School, a forty-one year old combination Alcohol and Substance Abuse (OASAS) and GED program.
An oasis in a maelstrom of crime, poverty and hopelessness.
The director of the program, Barry Addison, “Mr. Bee,” is a graduate of the program and iconic figure on the means streets of East New York.
From Joe Hynes, the Brooklyn District Attorney, to the local precinct commanders, from the Borough President to the school superintendent, the Alpha School is recognized as an anchor of the community.
Every day, “crips” and “bloods,” kids out of incarceration or flirting with incarceration, kids who were thrown out of neighborhood public schools hold hands and chant the Alpha creed.
The Alpha school is a lifeline, a last chance for kids, one of the very few programs that saves the lives of kids.
BTW, the New York State Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse is zero-ing out their funding, closing down the program.
OASAS accused the program is not serving enough kids, a paperwork foul up, the program was serving more than enough kids, but, too late says OASAS, we already spent the available dollars.
Either the Commissioner of OASAS, Arlene González-Sánchez, is insensitive, or, other programs had more political clout, or both.
OASAS was asked for a list of the 41 programs that were slashed, the answer, ” … file a FOIL request.” A state agency is refusing to release information dealing with state funds. You stonewall and require a FOIL request when you have something to hide and want to hide it deeper.
In the 1870’s and 80’s the states of the former Confederacy passed what we call “Jim Crow” laws, laws that effectively deprived former slaves of the benefits of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution. Peonage replaced slavery, onerous requirements kept Afro-Americans out of the polling booth and a long list of racial segregation bills were passed in state after state. The Supreme Court denied appeals. Yes, these laws may have a discriminatory impact, but, said the court, these are state laws and the federal government should not intrude and, after all, the laws do not explicitly challenge the constitutional amendments. In the late 19th century we lived in a blatantly racist society.
More than a century later the Governor of New York State proudly fights to raise salary limits from $175,000 to $200,000 for rent stabilized apartments while imposing a property tax cap that will impact the poorest school districts by reducing funding to the neediest.
The five conservatives on the current Supreme Court agree that women working at Wal-Mart were paid less than men and receive promotions at rates significantly lower than males, but, hey, that’s not discriminatory, after all, Wal-Mart doesn’t explicitly have discriminatory rules.
Racism, and gender bias are alive an well.
For kids living in the Pink projects the future is bleak. They learn early on to navigate the gang culture, to survive on the streets, they drift away from schools, their future: maybe the Armed Forces and maybe Rikers.
One of the very few lifelines is the Alpha School. For many kids a last chance, to earn a GED, to see the light towards adulthood and survival.
East New Yorkers don’t contribute to political campaigns, don’t elect governors or presidents, they only try to survive.
Depriving former slaves of their voting franchise, segregating them in schools and trains, “colored” and “white” water fountains and closing down a program that may provide an entry point to the middle class for Afro-American kids: what has changed in 150 years?
Prisons are jammed with kids from East New York at a cost of $240,000 a year, one of the few alternative paths is the Alpha School opportunity.
Closing the Alpha School is cruel, senseless.