On graffiti, guns and Schenectady Street
“We must openly accept all ideologies and systems as a means of solving humanities problems. One country, one nation, one ideology, one system is not sufficient.”
-- The Dalai Lama
So, rising to the top along with $150,000 from Gov. Cuomo are two suggestions I brought to the D.A.’s office and City Council several years ago.
One: Graffiti –I am sitting in the QUEST parking lot next to an abandoned building that is literally falling apart. Really, pieces of it fall off at random intervals. Squat house, crack house and graffiti station up to including a giant swastika. And police (in their own words) have it on their watch list for seven years, and of course it’s an absentee landlord.
So here’s all the big talk but no corresponding action. If you can’t enforce code on one vacant building how can you wash clean the rest of the city?
Here was my Graffiti Plan (Graffiti Busters) worked out with Carl Olsen and presented to City Council several years ago. Presented to and adopted by said council and then tabled indefinitely.
Graffiti Busters: 10-12 teens from the hill, one small motor vehicle, 10-12 T-shirts and/or hats. The kids clean up graffiti throughout the city. A graffiti wall will be erected in Jerry Burrell Park by S.N.A.P. workers. This wall will be whitewashed monthly and refreshed by new drawings etc.
We invite a major graffiti person to come and talk. Simple, cheap, workable.
Anti-Violence Program: The Chicago program is double and outstanding. It is much much more than an anti-gun program. When the New York Times wrote an article -- 6 pages and numerous photographs -- several years ago, I peddled it everywhere. In essence it depends on volunteers and very little police involvement. Again a door closed on my fingers and in my face. What? Is it just me or am I being discriminated against? I would like to be a viable part of these programs which I have been quietly (or not) advancing all the time. We are dragging our feet here and still stuck in "Leave It to Beaver" territory.
Let’s look at S.N.U.G. (Guns spelled backward -- a violence prevention program). They tried to come to Schenectady and were asked or told to get lost. Don’t believe me -- ask Ron Kutro. Their gun buy-back program works; ours is mired in red tape and paperwork. The question I ask is this -- do we really want guns off the streets? What’s wrong with my way or the highway attitude? But now there’s money involved and the mayor and the D.A. take a train or plane to Chicago just to check it out. I remember when the state was offering money for a gang coordinator. Good enough for Albany; they took the money and funded a position, in place to this very day. Not good enough for us, though; we started a brand new civil service position, paying out a good deal more than Albany was and hired an individual who has since been found living on the beach in Florida and is now a hometown security guard at a local mall. And the job? Gone, no more, hasta la vista.
About Schenectady Street
At our board meeting recently, Schenectady Street came up. Again an issue raised by me too many times to count. So here we have an informal discussion in the rectory of St. Joseph’s Church about Schenectady Street. “It's wide open,” says one man. "People are afraid to go down this street.” “Yup” I responded. “They’ve got heaters, portable ones, right on the front porches of abandoned houses,” another person said. “And rocking chairs” a third person chimed in. “They are holding street talks and selling,” we all said. “At night that street is wide awake and humming,” everyone agreed.
But no one is doing anything about this. Go see for yourself -- Schenectady Street down near Jerry Burrell Park. Maybe if more people were involved and interested this problem could be shut down, and erased. By the way, at the other end of Schenectady Street a gun has been pointed out to me, by various residents I may add, “$75 a pop” and “anything you want,” they added. Do you think that maybe concerned and fearless citizens can help shut it down? I believe it is possible. What about you?
“To see, one must go beyond imagination and for that one must stand absolutely still as though at the center of a heap.”
-- John Cage
Another sweet happening recently in the QUEST parking lot; at 5:30 a group of kids and I were discussing rap and hip-hop when we saw this strange man literally crawling around a parked car. “What’s he doing?” I yelled. Frankly, he looked like he was slashing a tire. But no, he went over and he was urinating. Peeing on a car tire just like a dog. This is outrageous. My kids at QUEST are always asking why they have to put up with all this, and this includes the needles in the parking lot, and I have no answer. What would you tell them?
Inspiring event in NYC
Last Saturday I was invited by the Museum of Natural History in New York City for a day of Black History festivities -- many fine gospel choirs, Caribbean singing and dancing, even tributes to Whitney Houston.
One woman in particular, 76 years young Sandra Phillips, who had among other jobs a key role in the movie "Stand By Me," was amazing, and in her tribute to Whitney she emphasized that “No one is perfect, and that Whitney tried, and unless we were perfect people, who were we to throw the first stone?” And, lord, this woman could sing, and she left us with these words, “Never give in, never give up and never, never give out (or quit).”
And she was a whirlwind, and an example to all of us. Plus, she told us that she had just lost 70 pounds. There she stood, solidly on that stage in her red and gold sarong and her red orthopedic shoes, her feet and ankles swollen to near bursting, and brought us into her life as a black woman without any apologies. And she was fierce and she was strong and she goes on into the future. We should be so blessed and magnificent.
Then the piece de resistance. I.M.P.A.C.T. -- The leaders of today -- a group of 15 to 20 teens aged 13 to 19 -- from prominently distressed areas in N.Y., Harlem, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Staten Island etc., dressed in red T-shirts (no one even thought that, oh boy, no red allowed, gang color, gang color), sneakers and jeans they literally swarmed onto the stage and hit the ground running. These young men and women made sure that everyone knew that they (IMPACT) were there to represent. And represent they did, for a solid 50 minutes, moving from one segment to another, quickly and seamlessly they danced (hip-hop), sang -- a la Stevie Wonder, and used 4-part backups, told stories and spit rhymes.
Passing the mics back and forth and letting us all know it was time for youth to no longer hang back. “We are not the leaders of tomorrow,” they sang and rapped “We are the leaders of today.” And they mean it. Songs about drugs, teen pregnancy, gangs, but the most striking song was, “I hate guns.” Two of the QUEST kids wept when they heard it. If we are really going to have an anti-violence campaign I would like to make this a theme song. I’ve got kids rehearsing to sing and rap and others learning a hip hop component.
Rap can go many ways, and frankly if it’s good enough for the Museum of Natural History it should be good enough for Schenectady. Jessie Norman, the first woman of color to sing at the Met, was there on Saturday and she was part of the standing ovation given to these performers. And she was yelling “Bravo” at the top of her amazing lungs.
“Reality is a staircase going neither up nor down; we don’t move, today is today, always is today.”