Joseph Gilmore is what they call a “Point Baby.” He started out at the Point Community Development Corporation in 1996, when
he was 10 years old. He participated in the art programs at first and later
went on to do photography and community work.
Today, Gilmore, in his early 20s, is an aspiring photographer and credits The Point. “It gave me an opportunity to learn certain things that weren’t available in public school and urban areas of the city. With photography I learned my own business, gaining clientele through networking,” he said. Now, Gilmore volunteers at The Point, having gone from youth participant to adult organizer.
The Point is based in Hunt's Point. Even though that area of the South Bronx is going through a remarkable renewal, there is still ample room for economic and social improvement. In 1994, Maria Torres, Paul Lipson, Mildred Ruiz and Steven Sapp founded The Point and brought a new vision to community development in the Bronx. They wanted to treat program participants not as receivers of "aid" or "charity" but as active agents of change within their community. After 13 years, The Point is an integral part of the Hunt’s Point community and its renewal.
The founders’ vision can be seen in “Activists
Coming to Inform Our Neighborhood” (A.C.T.I.O.N.), a teen community leadership program. While many after-school programs keep youths off the streets by occupying them with activities like sports and music, A.C.T.I.O.N. involves them in issues that affect their lives. This helps them deal with the negative influences they may encounter and enables them to be activists, who not only recognize problems but work to find solutions. For example, instead of just grousing about not having enough parks, they find out how they can create new parks.
Recruitment is done by word of mouth. Program participants, about 20 each year, come from all parts of the Bronx and even from Westchester. “Any after-school program is self selecting. Students with the ambition to dedicate extra time to something like this after school are already ahead," said Adam Liebowitz, director of A.C.T.I.O.N. But he said that four of the young people involved did leave high school and are now trying to get their GEDs.
From his time as a participant at ACTION, from 2001 to 2004, Gilmore remembers one project especially. In 2002-2003, the group worked to help clean up South Bronx brownfields, contaminated lots of land that had to be cleaned before it would be fit for further use. A.C.T.I.O.N. participants helped document the location and previous uses of these lots in order to spur their redevelopment. Today, he says, Barretto Point Park and Hunt’s Point Riverside Parks exist partly because of A.C.T.I.O.N.’s efforts. “I actually remember documenting both of those parks,” Gilmore said.
What is now Barretto
Point Park, a hidden gem on the Hunt’s Point waterfront, was previously
occupied by an asphalt plant, then remained unused for many years before
the Department of Parks and Recreation acquired the lot from the Department
of Environmental Protection in 2001. Hunt’s Point Riverside Park is the first new Bronx River access point in the South Bronx in over 60 years and one of only four canoe launch points in all of the Bronx. It used to be occupied by a fur-dying plant.
This year, A.C.T.I.O.N. have been fighting to stop the city from building a new
2,000-bed jail at Oak Point. In collaboration with the American
Lung Association and City Councilmember Joel Rivera, A.C.T.I.O.N. has
also been working to pass a measure that would prohibit the sale of flavored
tobaccos in the city. The
attorneys general of 38 states, including New York, had reached an
agreement with RJ Reynolds in October 2006 in
which the company would restrict its sales of flavored tobacco products. Under
the agreement, RJ Reynolds could not market cigarettes in flavors such as Twistaberry
and Mochalime that were plainly targeted at kids.
But then RJ Reynolds came out with a new line of Camel Signature Blends, a “cool” new breed of Camel cigarettes, with richly colored packaging and suave-sounding flavors like “Frost” and “Infused.” In
433 would ban the sale of any flavor cigarettes besides menthol
in New York City.
As long as their efforts benefit the community, A.C.T.I.O.N. does not care if they help politicians as well. “If it’s mutually beneficial, if it’s a cause that we’re championing and we both look better then fine,” said Leibowitz.
Generally, the people A.C.T.I.O.N. members encounter â€“ educators, other people in the community, politicians -- react well to the teenagers. “They love it,” Leibowitz said, adding “when you see youth doing it, it gives you pause and makes you really consider something.” And, Leibowitz says, the program can benefit both the young people and the politicians. "If it's mutually beneficial, if it's a cause that we're championing and we both look better then, fine," he said. "We won't just do it for no reason."
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