Christina and Naquan are near in age and live forty minutes away from each other by train, but have had very different experiences in New York City. The two young people would also not have crossed paths had they not shared a similar passion: creating social impact.
Christina, a sophomore at Columbia University, is part of the Design for America (DFA) chapter on campus. The organization mobilizes college students to think of innovative ways to tackle social issues locally. She and her peers decided to focus on the juvenile justice system, and after some research on youth centers, connected with Debbie Rice, Director of Clinical Services and Training for Youth Empowerment Programs at our Next Generation Center.
Naquan has received work training and opportunity through Children’s Aid and also attends a weekly guidance group at the center. He and his peers have been having ongoing conversations around community policing and how the effects it has on them. When Debbie approached him, along with other youth at the center, about discussing his experiences with the Columbia students, Naquan was excited. He saw an opportunity for collaboration and he and the youth at the center did not hold back in transparency.
“The first thing that jumped out were their interactions with the police,” Christina said about talking with the youth.
The Next Generation youth not only shared their frustrations about policing in their community, but they also voiced their concerns about not knowing their rights when it came to talking to the police.
When the DFA students asked the Next Gen youth what they saw as a possible solution to tackling the issue, their answer was unanimous: social media. The two groups produced a video surrounding their discussions around community policing that they could circulate online.
“It was a way to get our voices out there,” Naquan said of the project. “The issue targets us and the message needs to come from our generation.”
The DFA members also invited the Next Generation youth to their campus for a screening of the project at the organization’s end of year showcase and to take a tour of Columbia. The visit not only widened the audience for the dialogue the group were having over the last couple of months, but widened the center youth’s horizons as well.
“The Next Generation Center is the ideal community partner,” Christina said. “The coolest part for all of us was hanging out with everyone.” She and DFA look forward to continuing a partnership and the conversation. So does Naquan.
“It starts with our rights and ends with building a better relationship with the community and law enforcement,” he said.