By: Patricia Trutescu
National Action Network recognizes that several young members within the surrounding communities have an opinion or a thought about a political, economic or social issue that affects their environment. This organization believes in promoting one standard of justice through respectable community involvement, decency and equal opportunities for all. Most notably, this organization welcomes youth to participate in initiatives that encompass these values.
This week, Carib News spoke with the President of NAN Youth Move, Brandon Bennett to learn about how the youth are involved in NAN and how they have been active in their own communities.
As a 15 year old Wadleigh High School student living in Harlem, Brandon describes his work in NAN Youth Move as something he has wanted to do since before he got to high school. According to Brandon, his job entails, “Attending events with the Regional Director, Victoria Pannell; accompanying her to any meeting Ms. Pannell attends; recruiting youth for NAN Youth Move; and bringing certain events, both ones by NAN and those outside of the organization, to Ms. Pannell’s attention.”
These immediate job descriptions however, don’t even begin to describe the inspiring work that Brandon has done with NAN Youth Move. One of the group’s most notable accomplishments involve putting a stop to the drug trafficking in the neighborhoods near the House of Justice on West 145th Street. Brandon explains:
“We held a march in that area. NAN, including Youth Move, came together with the church in that neighborhood to put a stop to the public drug trafficking. The church would often tell us that they could “smell the drugs” on their streets, and they wanted to do something to address it and hopefully stop it.
“So far, since the march, the area has definitely seen an improvement. There hasn’t been a single case of drug trafficking since.”
Additional ways in which NAN Youth Move become involved with the wider New York City community include addressing environmental, health and unemployment issues.
“During the Occupy Wall Street movement last year,” explains Brandon, “we went to the demonstration for ‘Sanitation Detail’ – where we helped clean-up the places that protestors inhabited.
“We also created National Post Office Day, in response to the Post Offices that were in danger of being shut down and all the jobs that would be lost. We in Youth Move organized an incentive where all members encouraged their classmates from their schools to write a letter or send out a package at their local post offices in order to increase activity at these local offices and help them bring in some money.”
A future incentive for this year at NAN Youth Move includes convincing all the New York City public schools to go green. Brandon says:
“Many schools are not economically friendly. Several schools don’t put soap or paper towels in their bathrooms. The kids also destroy property in the bathrooms and the school staff more than often don’t care.
“We are trying to encourage these schools to clean up their hygienic facilities to prevent the spread of colds and sicknesses.”
During his experiences so far, Brandon has not yet come across a challenge he couldn’t handle. He says:
“I usually do what I can and stay determined when an obstacle stands in my way. For example, I went to a local school on 135th Street where Victoria Pennell’s mother asked me to talk to the school’s detention center. It was 7pm when I went and I was afraid most of the students wouldn’t be interested in listening to me. Then, as I went forth with my task, they started to show interest.
“They initially thought I was 20 years old, but when I told them I was actually 15, they became excited. They were happy to have someone of their age, as opposed to the same adults they see every day, come to them and talk about actively getting involved within the community in a positive way and showing them that they can do something to get out of the detention center.
“They voiced their excitement multiple times.”
The help that NAN Youth Move provides for others entails more “youth on youth” interaction than “adult on youth.” While adults within the different communities that NAN represent want to be involved in the lives of the youth most of the time, Youth Move helps bring adult community members relief.
“The community’s response is ‘they don’t want the youth to solve all the problems in their communities themselves’” states Brandon. He continues to also note that while the youth can sometimes become “too smart” and passionate, the adult population “have been waiting for a time like this: one where the youth can articulate and speak about issues.”
New York City is composed of several organizations that encompass something similar within their own missions. Brandon emphasizes, “Having a national platform to work on differentiates us from other youth organizations. NAN wants to bring their mission to people of the younger generation to understand what is going on in their own community.”
This objective is carried out into ongoing strategies like informing the youth how to register to vote, and inviting them to participate in responsible and worthwhile activities. Brandon has helped NAN Youth Move take this objective even further and with the help of Regional Director, Victoria Pennell. His experience with NAN remains insurmountable to anything else he’s currently experienced.
“Sometimes I don’t know how to comprehend it,” Brandon says. “Before I started with NAN, I had always wanted to express the way I feel about issues in my society and have listeners respond positively. Now, that I speaking in public places and on channels like the radio, others are starting to recognize it. I’m starting to see the results now.”
Brandon’s accomplishments are very inspiring for both the youth and adults in the community. No matter how much Brandon achieves with NAN Youth Move, he is humbled by his experiences. He discusses some of the most important lessons he has learned as President of NAN Youth Move:
“In the future, when an obstacle appears, I will try to think of ways to get around it instead of beating it head-on.
“During my time in school, I have become inspired by revolutionists in the past century who have inspired movements through non-violent means. Gandhi is one of my favorites.”
The famous quote by Gandhi, “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” resonates with Brandon. He claims, “I want people to remember the knowledge of these revolutionaries and what they stood-up for. They were ahead of their time once and I don’t think their causes should ever be forgotten.”
Brandon encourages NAN’s mission of helping the youth improve their environment by working with society. Mrs. Rodney, the publisher of Carib News has seen some of the positives NAN has created in communities all over New York City. She says:
“Brandon has reached out to the youth on a phenomenal level. Based on the training he has received, he reaches out to young people age respectfully and effectively. The organizational and communicative skills he has gain respect from all individuals in any situation.”
Tamika D. Mallory, who was first, brought to NAN by her parents in 1991 (two of the organization’s first members) now works at the organization as the National Executive Director. She claims that NAN “Gives young people the opportunity to lead and work.” She adds, “Our strategy is to take on projects we and those in the next generation care about, and help them lead.
“Here at NAN, we believe every young person has the potential to be a leader. We work to give young people the opportunity to hone in on their skills while giving them room to grow, and” – most importantly – “make sure the youth can lead beyond NAN.”
Brandon is already taking what he has gained at NAN to greater heights. This summer, he hopes to travel to Jamaica, his father, General Smiley’s – from the reggae duo Michigan and Smiley – native country. Here, he would like to connect and reach out to the youth of his culture.
Until preparations for college come into play, Brandon will stay committed to what NAN represents. He concluded:
“Youth Move is more than a group, it is a family. We encourage anyone and everyone to join. If you wish to voice an opinion about an issue but are too hesitant or simply don’t know how to handle it, we are here for you.”