BLOG: “We Are Tomorrow’s Adults” – An ICNY Youth Intern on the Importance of Interfaith Engagement for Young New Yorkers
by Dominique Da Silva,
a senior at Avenues: The World School
This summer I had the pleasure of working with The Interfaith Center of New York (ICNY). During the week, I would walk up to the office along Riverside park to attend a staff meeting. Everyone in the office (five or six people) would come together and discuss what they were working on — redesigning the website, fundraising efforts, organizing trainings or panels. After the meeting everyone was immediately back to work and incredibly busy planning the next important event at ICNY.
On Thursdays, I would go to the Harlem Community Justice Center to volunteer, with ICNY’s executive director, The Rev. Chloe Breyer. Chloe and I would sit with other religious leaders and hand out breakfast or supplies and talk to those who were awaiting their parole hearings. This program at the Harlem courthouse is unique to any other courthouse as it helps to reduce recidivism rates in New York by implementing the ideal meaning of restorative justice. It uses a personalized approach with each hearing, creating relationships between the parole officers, former convicts, and their judges. One of the parole officers explained to me that the people within the program were carefully selected and that they were mostly individuals who had committed violent felonies. Although the program seems to be successful, I was struck by how such few programs like this exist across the nation, and how challenging it is to get the program approved and started.
Later in the summer, Princeton student interns organized a panel on restorative justice that was hosted by ICNY to provide supplemental training for the Harlem Youth Court. According to the Harlem Community Justice Center website, the youth court is made up of teenagers who live in New York City and are deeply passionate about improving their communities. These students, aged 14-19, are trained to handle real life cases and serve as jurors, judges and advocates. Rev. Breyer moderated a panel comprised of Imam Abdus-Salaam Musa, Rabbi Andrew Scheer, and Pastor Hector “Benny” Custodio. The topic was titled “Restorative Justice: How Faith Communities Can Heal Communal Pain.”
The panelists, all chaplains at the Rikers Island Correctional Center, shared personal stories that inspired everyone to stay aware, outspoken, and helpful. It made me realize how important it is for youth to care about interfaith engagement in New York City. As we are tomorrow’s adults, one day we will be the people running these programs; therefore, it is important for students to be educated early on about issues of police brutality, and how to restore balance in broken communities. It affects all of us in one way or another and in order for issues to change we all must put in the work. The panelists called out injustice in the justice system and also explained the impact of police brutality and how to restore trust in communities after a tragic impact. I have been to diversity conferences before and have heard individual stories of racism in the criminal justice system, but in this intimate and special setting, everyone was moved.
The Youth Speak Out Conference at ICNY’s Marshall Meyer retreat was when I first saw
major leadership from youth in various faith groups. The stories these young people eloquently shared touched everyone in the room. We heard from Muslims who had experienced abuse in their families post 9/11. We also heard stories of those who took the tragedy as an opportunity to engage in interfaith work: to protect and remove stigma towards the Islamic religion. As I realized many of the faith groups in New York have suffered through so much discrimination, it made me want to be more active in spreading awareness and advocating human rights for those who do not have the voice to do so. Hopefully, I can bring a similar panel to my school one day. It was heartening to hear about these youth groups that have done so much for their faith communities in New York.
When I saw people from different religious groups come together and communicate their journeys with others, it showed me how important it is to reach beyond our own circles of comfort. We need to share our stories in the hopes of coming to a solution about the disturbing issues that more than one community faces. Once we rid ourselves of misunderstandings, we discover a greater awareness. And in the work we take on, the young people of New York City can demonstrate and teach that awareness to our families, friends, and schools.