This image of Red Hook is one of the many that permanently adorn the halls of the Justice Center -- all of which are the work of three prodigious young people from the neighborhood. Back in July of 2011, we commissioned Lonnell Myers (then-age 15), Edgar Rivera (then-age 15), and Jocleyn Rivera (then-age 16) to capture the depth and vibrance of their community. They spent that summer rendering an evocative series of photographs; their teacher, guide, and mentor was a member of the New York Juvenile Justice Corps, the great Leah Cohen. Leah has since gone on to join the Clinical Department and play a variety of roles at the Justice Center, including parts in the Adolescent Diversion Program, Young New Yorkers, and 14 Shades of Justice, a current collaboration with Brooklyn Arts Council. Indeed, Leah has made innumerable contributions to this place since her arrival in 2010.
But as we prepare to say goodbye (Leah is leaving to pursue a professional opportunity in the arts), I keep coming back to the photographs on the walls.
At the time, Leah was working closely with Elise White, now the Deputy Director at the Midtown Community Court, who was the Justice Center's Director of Youth and Family Justice. Elise, one of the leading lights and boldest minds in juvenile justice reform, was pushing to embed principles of Positive Youth Justice (PYJ) throughout the Justice Center's work with young people, particularly those who were court involved. Immersed in the resulting wave of fresh ideas, the prospect of transforming the interior of the building stood out as a profound and extraordinary opportunity. Although there was/is an undeniable tension between PYJ's call for paradigm-shifting and the dynamics of court reform on the ground, here was a powerful opportunity to bridge the gap and instantiate the Justice Center's strengths-based conceptualization of young people. The results speak for themselves, I believe.
Many, many of the Justice Center's alums have left their marks -- Leah is one of the few who literally left her mark on the wall.