Local Perspectives: Residents Weigh In

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This article is part of our special reporting on the Harlem Children’s Zone, the antipoverty initiative examined in depth in the current issue of City Limits magazine, Hope or Hype in Harlem?

When City Limits walked around the blocks of the Zone, asking passers-by for their take on this major force in the neighborhood, this is what we heard.

Why aren’t my own children included?
Oscar Mendes, 32

A lot of people I think would like to maybe be more involved or have their kids more involved over there. I’ve heard a lot of people angry that their students are not involved, or that their kids are not involved…which is understandable. I don’t have kids, so I don’t feel one way about it or another. I just think that it gives more of a sense of dignity and focus, drive, discipline, a sense of accomplishment, which is important anywhere – and the fact that it’s for young people, you know what I mean? I know it’s corny, but the fact is that you’re dealing with the kids.

The right education, right in the neighborhood
Louis Cosme, 51
Mail carrier, grandfather

Children have a quality education to look forward to. … Before the Harlem Children’s Zone, I think there was a sense of … ‘lethargy’ is not really what I want to say, but you know what I mean. …I have a granddaughter who is about to be four years old, and her mother is very glad that now she’s not going to have to look for an alternative form of public education outside the neighborhood.

More money, more options
Jennifer Jones, 35
Student and mother of 5th grader

It’s brought a lot of money to different types of schools because the Children’s Zone is affiliated with a lot of schools in Harlem, like my daughter goes to PS 197 and there’s a bunch of programs there for her. Reading programs, after school programs that are affiliated with the Children’s Zone that if they wouldn’t have been there, we wouldn’t have had them. My daughter has participated in some of them. I have a lot of options for my daughter. It’s changed a lot, it’s changed a lot – I mean the money and stuff, the programs for the children, they’re really doing much better. Harlem has changed a lot.

A place for sports
Shaun Mattocks, 17
Rice High School, 124th Street and Lenox Ave.

I know that they have a gym in there and they have basketball tournaments in summertime – my friend plays in there sometimes – it keeps you off the streets because you can go and play sports or whatever after school.

A family affair
Shana, 43
Single mother

I have my youngest, she’s 16, she’s been with them since she was in fourth grade, she’s in the tenth now. I have a nephew that’s also been with them for a long period of time and he works security there. And my oldest, which is in college now, she attended there a few years so, I’m very happy. (Shana withheld her last name because she works for the city.)

A new kind of real estate development
Derrick Taitt, 54
Retired, owns property across the street from Promise Academy I

As far as the property being developed, that’s like the best thing about that corner. But you know, I had my reservations about whether a school should be on that corner, it’s just so busy. … There’s been lot of changes, especially that corridor. For many years since after the sixties, when things went down, there were no real businesses east of Fifth Avenue and now this corridor right here between Fifth and Madison is starting to do pretty good, you know … It’s slow, but the area’s changing, definitely.

Improving the community
Reverend Derrick Andrus, 43
St. Mark’s Holy Tabernacle, 262 Malcolm X Blvd

I think it makes the community better. It gives kids something to do, it gets them off the street, it seems to be a positive place. The kids are learning, they’re getting exercise, they’re doing positive things other than just hanging around on the street corners and making trouble so I think it’s doing good. I don’t know in depth what goes on inside, but from what I’ve seen in my passing by, it seems to be a good place for the community, for the kids and for the parents I’m sure it’s a big help. I’ve seen change.

Taking a stand against gun violence
Terrell Henderson, 17
Student, Rice High School, 124th Street and Lenox Ave.

The peace rally they started, I think it was last year I believe, for Sean Bell, they wore the shirts, everybody from the Harlem Children’s Zone, they were basically standing up for peace and against gun violence because in Harlem, gun violence is pretty strong and teenagers could get access to guns and everything. And Harlem Children’s Zone is basically making students aware of gun violence so they’re really trying to put an end to it so that’s why they did the peace rally. I’m not involved in the Harlem Children’s Zone, I just know about it. And I know people that are.”

One of many good things going on
W. Franc Perry
Community Board 10 Chair

My initial answer is they’re one of the many entities in Harlem that has helped to make us a better neighborhood. They’re one of. Their innovative approach towards community education, their attempts to be inclusive of community organizations, and their focus on education is something we enjoy – we like educational institutions that offer our young people opportunities and alternatives to violence and to other forms of negative behavior. There are children who are utilizing the Harlem Children’s Zone programs, whether they be after school or the weekend programs like the Baby College, or that are going to their school,that perhaps might not have had these opportunities before.

– Rachel Dodakian