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April 21, 2009

Urban Youth Face Dire Situation, Participants In CCNY Workshop Warn

Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service to Conduct Pilot Program, Community Service Projects with Young People in Harlem

 NEW YORK, April 21, 2009 – Urban youth face, particularly in Central Harlem, face a dire situation characterized by low high school graduation rates and high rates of unemployment, incarceration and homicide.  These challenges were the topic of a one-day workshop held recently at The City College of New York (CCNY) organized by Dr. Jean Krasno, Lecturer in Political Science, and sponsored by the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service.  

The workshop was the first such event sponsored by the Rangel Center, which helps minority and other students prepare for professional careers in public service by earning the Master of Public Administration degree.  The Center recently initiated an urban youth program to conduct research for a pilot project in Harlem and engage in community service with young people from the area surrounding the CCNY campus.

“If we are to be successful in preparing young people for careers in government, we cannot ignore the problems they encounter long before they reach college age," said Mark Musell, the Center's Deputy Director. 

Dennis Walcott, New York City Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development, launched the dialogue on urban youth during the workshop’s opening session.  He called for changing the mindset on how our youth are viewed.  “Things we hear in the news and read in the papers can create the worst stereotypes of our young people,” he said.  “We have to constantly challenge ourselves to see the unlimited potential of our youth and the need to offer them the best opportunities to succeed.”

The Deputy Mayor said assistance should be provided individually, in groups and by government.  While the City is doing a lot to address the needs of youth, he said he was not going to accept the status quo. 

Angela Jones of the New York Civil Liberties Union followed Deputy Mayor Walcott with a presentation on a recent phenomenon she called “the School to Prison Pipeline.”  Many minority students in New York and other cities are subject to in-school harassment and premature arrest by School Safety Agents, who are overly aggressive and have been given too much power in the schools, she contends. 

In the workshop’s first panel session, Dr. Krasno, Ejim Dike, Director of Human Rights for the Urban Justice Center, and Ernest Drucker, a CCNY adjunct, addressed poor high school graduation rates, racial discrimination and a system of general failure that afflicts urban youth.  The facts they cited point to a situation that has become alarming:

  • A 47 percent high school graduation rate.
  • 72 percent unemployment among young black males who drop out of school.  
  • One in nine young black males in the United States incarcerated.
  • Homicide as the leading cause of death for young people in Harlem.

It was pointed out that it costs the city $200,000 a year for each youth kept in juvenile detention, which is nearly three times the cost of adult incarceration.  The situation is not only unacceptable, it is not cost effective. 

For the final panel, Dawn Mikkelson, a student in the CCNY M.P.A. program, and Jennifer Urgilez, a student at Yale University, were joined by four teenage participants in the Harlem 40 mentoring program: Lameik Johnson, Mahogany Strickland, Donnell Bland, and Tiffany Johnson.  Their discussion focused on poor teacher quality and police harassment, which the students contend prevents teens from concentrating on school and graduating.

Some positive ways to address the issues emerged from the discussion.  Participants said many problems erupt because, in a city of eight million people, school officials, police and social services agencies do not know the children, the families and the neighborhoods. 

One suggestion offered was to create a pilot project to establish a neighborhood approach that would be holistic and based on knowing the whole child.  As a result of the workshop, the Rangel Center is taking on this project

Attendees were also appraised on relevant pending legislation.  One bill before the City Council, the Student Safety Act, would require quarterly reporting by the Department of Education and the New York Police Department to the Council on school safety and disciplinary issues.  Mr. Dike called for New York City to adopt the proposed Human Rights in Government Operations Audit Law (Human Rights GOAL).

About the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service
The Charles B. Rangel Center at City College is committed to helping ensure that those who run our nation will better reflect our citizenry.  The Center approaches that mission with a set of inter-related programs.  It supports students enrolled in a rigorous graduate program designed to prepare students from under-represented groups to assume leadership positions in public service.  It will archive material pertaining to public service careers of members of groups underrepresented at the managerial level in public service, beginning with the papers of Congressman Rangel.  It reaches out to professionals and offers fellowships, training, mentoring, and other support.  Finally, the Center sponsors cutting-edge research in approaches to expanding participation in public service.  For additional information, visit www1.ccny.cuny.edu/ci/rangel/index.cfm.

About The City College of New York
Since 1847 The City College of New York has provided low-cost, high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines.  Over 15,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; The School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture (SAUDLA); The School of Education; The Grove School of Engineering, and The Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education.  For additional information, visit www.ccny.cuny.edu.

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