113th Pct. hears youths’ concerns at council forum

Community Council President Vivian McMillan (r.) and state Assemblywoman Barbara Clark discuss issues facing youth. Photo by Rich Bockmann
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Most of the adults at the 113th Precinct Community Council’s youth forum last week had never heard of “the cinnamon challenge,” so they were dumbfounded when Sgt. Jo-Ann Gonzalez explained the YouTube meme popular among kids.

“It’s basically like a dare,” she said, unable to stop from cracking a slight smile. “Kids eat a spoonful of cinnamon. They can get very sick and start throwing up.”

Council President Vivian McMillan’s mouth hung open in disbelief as she listened.

“Why would anybody ...,” she began, her voice trailing off.

Gonzalez was responding to a question posed by one of the two dozen or so youngsters, ranging from elementary schoolers to teenagers, who attended the “Youth Speak Out” meeting at Thomasina’s Catering Hall in St. Albans last Thursday evening.

“This is an opportunity for us to hear from you young people of our community,” said council Vice President Earl Roberts. “What would you like to see and how can we help you?”

The forum was set up as an opportunity for the youth to share their concerns with officials from government, the education field, health services and so on, and while it began with some of those officials lecturing a few tables of disinterested-looking kids, it eventually opened up into a discussion about bullying, communication and available resources.

“Students being bullied are afraid. Fear is real,” said public school administrator Lorraine Stevenson.

She was responding to the complaint of a fourth-grade girl who said she was being picked on at school and, despite her appeals to school officials, the bullying persisted.

“I know it’s hard and most of the time it’s not dealt with, but you have to be persistent,” said Stevenson, who added that if the school cannot put an end to the situation, parents have to get involved.

A large part of the discussion focused on the “no snitch culture,” which shames and often inflicts retribution on those who talk to authorities.

Edward Hampton III, 18, said he was concerned victims like his younger cousin are bullied even more when they seek help.

“The situation becomes worse because now they’re a bigger target,” he said.

One youngster asked why students face discrimination from teachers.

State Assemblywoman Barbara Clark (D-Queens Village) acknowledged that there may be cultural differences in the classroom.

“A teacher who grew up on Long Island in a nice community might not know how to best approach a child in Queens,” she said. “The best thing to do is have a discussion.”

She said community centers are “hard to operate in our area,” citing the recent closure of one due to financial difficulties and because “not that many kids ever showed up.”

McMillan said she would like to invite a representative from school safety to another forum some time in June, and said this first meeting was a learning experience.

“Some of the adults started lecturing, but the purpose was to ask questions,” she said. “The youth go through so many things, and people are always telling them what to do. We don’t have all the answers they need.”

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Posted 12:56 am, March 15, 2012
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