Remarks as Prepared for Boys’ Club of New York Women’s Board
Thank you for your warm welcome, Anjali, and to the Boys’ Club of New York Women’s Board for inviting me to speak. I appreciate your focus on empowering boys and young men in our city and for taking the time to be here this afternoon.
I also want to recognize Boys’ Club of New York Executive Director Stephen Tosh. Stephen’s enthusiastic support for all young people in need – literally cheering them on at numerous events across our city – is a major reason why Boys’ Club has such a profound impact in the lives of so many. Stephen’s steadfast belief in our Saturday Night Lights model has proven instrumental to its success in Manhattan, and its recent extension across all five boroughs. So for all of your efforts Stephen, I say thank you.
Boys’ Club is also one of our most active partners on the East Harlem Youth Opportunity Hub, which has served hundreds since its 2017 launch. Our Criminal Justice Investment Initiative funded the East Harlem hub and four other hubs dedicated to enhancing positive outcomes for our young people. Credit goes to our CJII Director Danielle Mindess and our Community Partnerships Unit Director Estelle Strykers-Santiago, who is here today, for laying foundations for greater youth success in historically disadvantaged communities.
I also want to thank Boys’ Club Chief Program Officer Carlos Velazquez, who has been key to the success of SNL in East Harlem, the Hub, and other initiatives.
I am excited to share with you more details about Saturday Night Lights, our Criminal Justice Investment Initiative, and our East Harlem hub, but first let me answer the question you’re probably asking yourself right now: Why does a District Attorney care about youth development?
I’ll give you three reasons:
- First, services and supports based on youth’s individualized needs can help them avoid juvenile and criminal justice system involvement.
- Second, coordinating accessible providers for youth can prevent poor outcomes, including justice system involvement; and
- Third, we can reduce future justice involvement by creating opportunities that focus on young people’s strengths.
To that last point, perhaps President John F. Kennedy said it best when he remarked, “Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
Our city is safer today than it’s been in decades, and our best hope to maintain this peace and security into the future is to invest in our youth.
Saturday Night Lights
One way to invest in our youth, as Boys’ Club of New York has known for almost a century and a half, is to provide effective programs and a supportive community.
In 2011, my Office hatched an idea to offer sports programming at gyms and rec centers on Saturday nights – when youth violence had historically been highest – using forfeiture dollars recovered from our prosecutions of multi-national banks.
Our original vision was that, by giving our young people a safe place to meet on Saturday nights and providing them with ample resources, coaching, and mentorship, we might prevent them from becoming involved with the criminal justice system. At locations like Gerry Clubhouse in East Harlem, the program goes beyond learning basketball skills and drills; participants receive one-on-one meetings with a case manager, who works with teens to explore academic and career opportunities, and they hear guest speakers share their journey to becoming community leaders.
Saturday Night Lights has expanded over the years, growing from a basketball program at a single site across town in West Harlem to a network of sites offering basketball, soccer, and more for over 16,000 teens and young adults across Manhattan and beyond. In East Harlem alone, there are 20 SNL sites providing soccer and basketball. Credit goes to passionate, dedicated trainers like Boys’ Club’s Amar Kelly, our CPU Director Estelle, and the interest all of you here take in these programs.
I take great pride in SNL’s growth, and can say from first-hand experience that it’s a joy to witness young participants learning the value of teamwork while also realizing people in their community care about them. My Office is proud to assist in creating new pathways to success for boys and girls in East Harlem – success stories like our very own SNL coordinator Emily Campos Fiallos, who as a youth in this community played on an SNL soccer team. Stories like hers are the true “goal” of SNL.
CJII Overview + East Harlem Hub
My Office’s investment in SNL conveys a simple, but important truth: The role of law enforcement in the 21st century is not merely to arrest and prosecute.
It’s our moral imperative to intercede, whenever possible, to prevent young people from coming into contact with the justice system in the first place. SNL and, more broadly, our Criminal Justice Investment Initiative allow us to do this.
So what is CJII?
CJII-funded programs are part of a first-of-its-kind effort to invest criminal asset forfeiture funds into transformative projects that support families and youth, victims of crime, and citizens who are reentering society.
My Office has devoted to CJII grantees an unprecedented 250 million dollars in ill-gotten gains acquired through international financial crime investigations. With oversight from the CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance, we awarded grants to dozens of programs designed to fill critical gaps and needs in New York City’s criminal justice system.
Three years ago, my Office invested 58 million dollars from this sum toward projects focused on helping youth and families to prevent crime. This investment paid for five Youth Opportunity Hubs that provide young people coordinated services in East and West Harlem, Washington Heights, and the Lower East Side.
The East Harlem hub, established with a 10-million-dollar grant to Union Settlement, provides holistic, wraparound services to youth and young adults while fostering greater collaboration and partnership among more than two dozen East Harlem service providers.
Along with 14 intervention and referral partners, Union Settlement provides strong programming through Pro-Social, Employment, and Health and Education services. These supports reduce likelihood of initial justice system involvement; improve at-risk youths’ physical and mental health; and provide more opportunities for education, workforce opportunities, and connections to positive role models.
Boys’ Club has demonstrated itself a fantastic partner to the East Harlem hub by conducting outreach, providing arts and educational services, and hosting backpack giveaways and parents’ meetings, among other events. And, this commitment has paid off for youth in this neighborhood in many ways.
In one case example, a young person, who had moved to New York from another state to escape violence and bullying because of their sexual orientation, found out about the hub through a flyer posted in the building they lived in. They were connected to the hub’s youth advocate and case manager, who after gaining the young person’s trust connected them to STRIVE in East Harlem. A short time later, this youth graduated from STRIVE’s construction program, received their High School Equivalency diploma, and obtained an internship.
This person’s journey is proof that the trauma-informed work we’re doing with youth matters. It matters for them, as they chart their life’s course, and it matters for us in this room, as we seek to create safer communities.
Other East Harlem Programs
This is particularly important in East Harlem right now. Service providers here are in problem-solving mode as they determine how to stem the increase in violence they’re seeing. Our Office is dedicated to being a good law enforcement partner with community-based organizations to provide young people the support they need before it’s too late.
Our partnership with this community includes a 1.3-million-dollar investment in the Association to Benefit Children, which provides comprehensive educational, mental health, and family-related services to clients all the way from infancy to college. ABC’s importance is best seen through the experience of a young man named Isaac, who had experienced domestic violence in his family.
ABC’s Someone to Watch Over Me program not only provided Isaac a safe place to talk about his home life and his feelings of depression and anxiety. ABC staff also baked him a cake and sang happy birthday to him. Isaac told a staff member, <quote> “ABC is the only family I have.”
Isaac has since graduated from high school and is attending college on Long Island, where he is pursuing his passion for filmmaking. He is also paying it forward by mentoring older youth in the ABC program – all because people took the time to show him he was valued.
In addition to the Association to Benefit Children, our East Harlem efforts also include investments in:
- The Center for Court Innovation’s Men’s Empowerment Program at Harlem Community Justice Center, which offers trauma-informed, culturally competent victim services to men of color.
- Exodus Transitional Community, which provides survivors of violence with psychoeducation around trauma, leadership and community advocacy training, and case management to youth.
- And, as part of our Hub initiative, a four-million-dollar investment in capital funds in multiple East Harlem NYCHA developments.
My Office also has a prosecutor assigned specifically to East Harlem, where they work closely with our Community Partnerships Unit and the community-based organizations who are best at steering kids away from a path of violence. I am convinced that a crime prevented is a better than a crime prosecuted – and that is especially true when it comes to our city’s young people.
In a few moments, I’ll be happy to answer questions about our collaboration with Boys’ Club and our efforts in East Harlem. But first, let me note that we are actively seeking ways to sustain many of the youth development programs I described today, whether through help from other government agencies, nonprofits, for-profits, or NGOs. Estelle can supply you with more information today, if you have ideas.
Thank you again for listening today, and I look forward to any questions you might have.