Leading Impactful Change: How UAI Students Used Civics to Improve Police-Student Relationships

Leading Impactful Change: How UAI Students Used Civics to Improve Police-Student Relationships

by Christina Karahisarlidis, Program Manager for Generation Citizen Mid-Atlantic Region

Generation Citizen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to revolutionizing civics education, has seen some tremendous work from partner schools. One of our most recent success stories comes from a Generation Citizen project at Urban Assembly Institute of Math and Science for Young Women (UAI) in Brooklyn

Last year, students at UAI sought to improve relationships between students and police in the school’s downtown Brooklyn neighborhood. Students at UAI voiced concerns about potential police harassment and violence in the community and wanted their voices heard. This year, due to their lobbying and persistent advocacy, UAI received a $25,000 grant from the school’s local New York City Council Member Lincoln Restler to hire a community-based organization, Elite Learners, Inc., to facilitate safe passage for students in downtown Brooklyn after school. They also received a match from the New York City Department of Education for Adams Street Campus, the building where the school is co-located, doubling their funding to $50,000. 

Because of their work, these UAI students have also established a Youth Leadership Council that meets weekly with their teacher, Kelly Preston. Generation Citizen Program Manager Christina Karahisarlidis had the honor of attending one of their meetings earlier this fall.

At this meeting, students finalized their mission statement: “The Youth Leadership Council (YLC) is composed of students in downtown Brooklyn who strive to give their peers a voice and the tools to facilitate questioning the status quo. The organization aims to foster trust, connections, and comfort by networking with government officials to: influence concrete legislation, promote amicable interactions between diverse stakeholders, and slowly integrate new organizations that share our passions to push us forward.” 

The Youth Leadership Council facilitated a meeting with students and principals from UAI and two other schools in the area: George Westinghouse and The Urban Assembly School for Law and Justice. During this meeting, students expressed their safety concerns in the area, and Westinghouse agreed to provide additional support to the effort of providing safe passage for students in the Downtown Brooklyn area, bringing their grand total of funding to $90,000.

In early November, student leaders from The Youth Leadership Council walked Camara Jackson, founder of Elite Learners, through the portions of the neighborhood identified by students as areas where safe passage is most needed (for those familiar with downtown Brooklyn, sections of Metrotech near the businesses Five Guys and Shake Shack, and the area near McLaughlin Park).

In the second week of November, Elite began providing safe passage for young people in these areas. Elite team members are visible because of their bright orange jackets and mobile van. With the presence of the Elite team members, students already feel safer and more comfortable knowing that conflict will be de-escalated should it arise.

Students shared extremely insightful takeaways from this experience with Generation Citizen, a few highlights of which are:

  • “Don’t be discouraged with bumps in the road.” – Star Carvey
  • “If you have a goal, you can always achieve it. You need to have steps to achieve the goal. If some of them don’t work out, keep trying your best.” – Avery Jacob
  • “Never give up. There are so many people in this world, so keep trying.” – A’nya Norman
  • “If you start something, take the responsibility to finish it. Keep trying and making connections.” – Hanna Ramsawak
  • “10 voices are louder than 1. As a group, [we] achieved [our] goal, and now it will benefit the students.” – Saskia Giawood

Students at UAI are excited to continue to make their voices heard and make lasting change in their community. They would love to collaborate further with other local schools and students in the downtown Brooklyn area to expand their impact. This year, three more classes at UAI are working through the Generation Citizen Action Civics curriculum, and we are excited to see the profound impact their work has on students and their community. 

If you’d like to learn more or get involved, please contact Generation Citizen Program Manager Christina Karahisarlidis at ckarahisarlidis@generatiocitizen.org and the UAI Youth Leadership Council at adamsstreetylc@uainstitute.org.

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