"Today was like one of those fly dreams.
Didn't even see a berry flashing those high beams
No helicopter looking for a murder.
Two in the morning got the fat burger"
In the midst of the Great Recession, a heat wave of shootings sweeping NYC and Harlem, and the crush of everyday crap that makes doing good hard has hell, we are having a good day here at the Justice Center.
My day begin at 7 am when I loaded up the 18 passenger van I borrowed from the Midtown Community Court yesterday to transport supplies for our Second Annual Harlem Reentry Family Day event. You see, I live in one of NYC infamous hoods, Bedford Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and I work in another, Harlem. I am surrounded constantly by the issues I work to address. It can be stressful. So Saturday is usually my time to pull back. I started off slow this morning.
As I rolled up to the Justice Center at 8 am my colleague Cramon was already there sweeping up the street. Twenty minutes later NYC Dept. of Sanitation supervisor shows up with a street sweeper and cleans the entire street. The Fire Department even turned on the fire hydrant. Next, the church across the street rolled out the tables they were lending us for the event. Our lead organizer, Anisah Thompson, who has worked for weeks to get the Family Day event together, shows up having collected the last of the donations. It ain't even 10 am yet! I love this sister's amazing energy. That's when I started to feel that this could be a good day.
By 11 am we are on time and ready to go. Our Youth Court members all showed up, partner organizations are at their tables and my brother from another mother Cramon is heavy on the grill. The kids start to arrive with their parents. Even our parolees who are suppose to report to their POs at the event start rolling in, some with family in tow. One PO said she started receiving calls at 8 am from her clients asking where she was.
By 1pm the seniors from CASABE House are out with the congas and senior dancers. As the drums speak the dancers twirl and shake their gifts; their advanced years melt away. All around the crowd claps and moves to the beat. They must have been something back in the day, because they sure are something now.
Its 3 pm and the youth dancers from the dancing school across from the Justice Center are doing their thing. In another areas of the block a group of guys are giving free hair cuts. In one chair is Parole's Statewide Director of Reentry Services. Youth Court members are manning tables with games, beading and tie-dye.Food is being served by a corps of volunteers from Odyssey House, a local treatment program. kids are splashing in the blow-up pool in front of the fire hydrant as their parents look on.
It is hard to tell who is staff, who is a volunteer, who is a program client, they are all just working together like this happens every day. I wish it did.
The people who roll through are thoroughly Harlem, toothless addicts, moms with kids, kids with no one, local hustlers, parolees, parole officers, clergy, seniors on scooters. They eat and drink the items donated by local businesses-- Fairways, Associated on 3rd Avenue, and others; as well as items we paid for (Thank you Department of Justice, J.C Flowers Foundation, Second Chance Act, NYS DCJS). It is amazing.
No one shot, no fights, no beefs, just smiles all around and , thankfully, great weather. It is a good day in Harlem.
Christopher Watler, Project Director, Harlem Community Justice Center