By Sarina Trangle
They are incensed by the reception at the 113th Precinct, disturbed by the unemployment among young black men and concerned about health disparities.
But United Black Men of Queens County Inc. sought to tackle these issues with petitions for longer school days in southeast Queens.
At a Saturday town hall meeting on the state of the black males, the nonprofit theorized that improving education would be a wise step toward strengthening black boys’ prospects and, consequently, the future of families in southeast Queens.
“We call on the mayor of the city of New York to make every school in southeast Queens an extended learning time school. As the city has it now, there’s a competition for this,” said political lobbyist Patrick Jenkins, while noting wealthy districts have been able to hire grant writers for such applications. “We should not have to compete. This is where the need is.”
Extended learning time is a national model that seeks to have public school during the hours working parents cannot supervise them while incorporating arts and athletics into the additional academic hours.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the petitions, which urge his administration to have the city Department of Education open schools in southeast Queens from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Close to 60 filed into The Harvest Room in downtown Jamaica to discuss the state of the black male after listening to clinical social worker Rodney Pride talk about black families, Jenkins lecture on education and glaucoma specialist Dr. Daniel Laroche discuss health.
Jenkins ticked off statistics illustrating test score and graduation rate disparities between black male students and their counterparts and noted that black youth are 2 1/2 times more likely to be suspended than white students.
“We are sending our children to a school system and culture that has not changed in over 100 years,” Jenkins said.
Laroche emphasized that education leads to higher incomes, better health insurance coverage and longer lives.
And Rodney Pride, a clinical social worker who assists foster children and spearheads a mentoring initiative, honed in on ways to strengthen black families. He encouraged attendees not to forget that there are pockets of poverty dispersed among the many affluent neighborhoods in southeast Queens and urged professionals to take on local interns and staff.
“Three out of four boys that you may see hanging on the corner, who want to work in many instances, can’t work,” Pride said of men in public housing developments.
He suggested this sometimes leads them on the wrong path, saying, “To put food on the table, they got no other recourse than to look to take from the haves.”
Once the United Black Men opened up the forum for comments and questions, concerns with the criminal justice system percolated. Multiple speakers called for electing a black district attorney, criticized the local police precincts and referred to the march in Staten Island paying tribute to the father of six killed by an officer’s choke hold.
“Go to the 113th Precinct, where citizens are treated like we’re criminals,” the organization’s president Donald Vernon said of the precinct’s approach to general walk-ins and security setup. “We cannot even walk in the station house. We got to be kept in a little box.”
Vernon said future town halls would focus on criminal justice, health and other issues facing the community.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle at 718-260-4546 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.