In November, a group of Bushwick organizers and teens staged a carnival-like protest in front of Councilmember Martin Malavé-Dilán’s office. Their demand: new funding for a center to provide meals, counseling and classes for neighborhood teens. Their method: a lively street party that stopped nearby traffic with nearly 30 teens dancing to merengue and rap music. And while they might not have won the increased funding they were looking for, they did manage to win the councilmember’s attention.
The protest, organized by community group Make the Road by Walking, comes months after its study found only 2,000 slots for free youth services programs available in a community with a population of 40,000 teenagers. Protesters want a crisis center for teens to address the problem of teen homelessness. “There are young kids out here going to jail,” says Yaritza Mercado,16, one of the youth organizers who led the protest. “I think that if we can get these programs out here in Bushwick, there will be less kids out in the street.”
Malavé-Dilán wasn’t around for the protest. But when he showed up afterward, some reported that things got ugly. Two protesters, Jesus Gonzalez, 14, and Justice Ford, 18, and a volunteer, Sean Gullette, said that the councilman confronted Gullette for helping to stage the rowdy carnival.
Malavé-Dilán denies the accusation. He reports that $60,000 of his discretionary money, plus an additional $57,000, goes to youth programs in his district. “Other elected officials as well as I are working on the construction of a youth center not too far away from this organization,” he says. Youth group members met later with the councilmember, who promised he would look into their proposals.