Mar 25, 2009

Squash in Harlem

This past week, members of the Task Force had a chance to meet an impressive group of young people who are squash champs and academic stars in Harlem. They are part of a program at StreetSquash, an after-school youth enrichment organization that combines academic tutoring with squash instruction, community service, and one-on-one mentoring.

As part of the Task Force's outreach efforts on reentry, this forum was an opportunity to hear from some of Harlem's finest. After a brief overview of reentry statistics uptown, these high schoolers engaged in a pairs activity where they discussed their own perceptions of "ex-offenders." Justice Center staff charted their responses and discussed the challenges facing ex-offenders who return to the community needing work, housing, and treatment.

The reaction from participants was actually quite balanced. While some people felt that reentrants should "get a second chance," others mentioned their fears about reentrants committing more crime -- robbery in particular -- when they come home. What was useful about this kind of dialogue is the opportunity to think out loud about these issues, to question the assumptions we hold, and to hear a variety of perspectives. Hopefully, the conversation doesn't end at the Justice Center -- all of the young people left with a packet of information to share with their family members and, ideally, an experience that will inform their thinking as they grow into the next generation of leadership.
Check out StreetSquash's beautiful new squash facility here.