The children of the New Elm City Dream youth group joined adult volunteers Monday evening in a Valentine’s March for Love, Jobs and Peace, led in part by Ward 1 Alderman Sarah Eidelson.
About 50 local residents, including members of New Haven-based immigrant rights group Unidad Latina and Yale’s Students Unite Now, gathered at the People’s Center before walking down Howe Street to Kensington Street in the march. The attendees cried “This is what democracy looks like!” calling for justice for minority groups and more job opportunities for youth. They dedicated the march in part to Tramire Miller, a baby shot and wounded in a drive-by shooting in October 2012 on Kensington Street.
Eidelson accredited the march to the organizing efforts of New Elm City Dream, a youth coalition that attempts to combat city street violence and works with children as young as age 3. Thirteen-year-old New Elm City Dream member Areliz Marks knocked on neighborhood doors with her family to spread the word about the march and encourage community members to participate over the past several weeks. She said the youth often attend public Board of Alderman hearings in hopes of creating opportunities for their peers within the Elm City.
“We need you to keep holding us accountable,” Eidelson said to the children. “The recent shift in youth participation at city hall has been extraordinary.”
Elm City Dream’s ongoing survey of 328 local youth between ages 10 and 25 indicated that over 60 percent of respondents do not have access to a community center. Eidelson’s major priorities as chair of the Board of Aldermen’s youth services committee have included the renovation of the Dixwell Q House and the Goffe Street Armory as spaces for youth to socialize and gather. Seventeen-year-old Montell Wright said New Elm City Dream presented him with opportunities to make friends, mentor younger members of the community and find a support group.
“A lot of our youngest ones want to have a voice,” 17-year-old New Haven resident and organizer for Elm City Dream Capria Marks said. “It is great to catch them while they are young to give them this mindset.”
After signing petitions for youth job creation and receiving packages of Valentine’s Day sweets from the children of Elm City Dream, Ward 10 Alderman and New Haven mayoral candidate Justin Elicker said it is a critical time to address the agenda of existing youth organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club and Youth Rights Haven in order to engage youth in activities that reinforce positive behavior and keep them away from street violence. More than half of the individuals surveyed by Elm City Dream said that they or people close to them had personally been affected by an act of violence in New Haven.
Elicker also said the youth committee’s creation of an inventory of children’s programs has been helpful in establishing a baseline for city funding allocations for youth services.
“Personally, I’m done with austerity,” Kenneth Krayeske, administrator for the New Haven Democracy fund, said of funding for city youth services. “There is nothing more compelling than supporting jobs for urban youth.”
Roughly 28 percent of New Haven County’s population is under the age of 19, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.