#7-8/31 Days of Giving- Youth Communication and Maysles Documentary Center

Many of you may recognize the man in the picture as anti-crime activist Curtis Sliwa, founder of the Guardian Angels and media personality. Known back in the 1980s as the “Rock,” Sliwa, and his band of volunteers patrolled the streets and subways protecting regular citizens from the criminal harm that was much more common in New York in the pre-Disney days. As a free-range New York City latch-key kid, I had cultivated a sense of protecting my safety. Sliwa never saved me from a crime. He did, however, give me another kind of break–he helped launched my media presence….

There had been a series of knife attacks in New York in the early 1980s. The perpetrator, who, in addition to the streets, would attack on trains, was known in the media as “the subway slasher.” This madman at large inspired the Guardian Angels, a controversial citizens patrol, to increase their presence. I had decided that I wanted to write an article about the organization–so, of course, I needed to interview the “Rock.” One of my school friends said she knew that he lived off a particular subway stop in the Bronx. This was not specific enough. There was no Google for me to use to track him down. In fact, there was no Internet. I would have to track Sliwa down in real life…

One late afternoon, on my way home from a viola lesson on the Lower Eastside of Manhattan, I had noticed a Guardian Angel had boarded the bus I was on. It was over by Bellevue Hospital, where some street attacks had occurred. My book bag and awkward instrument case in tow, I asked the man in the red hat, “how do I find the Rock? I want to interview him.” Looking amused, the young man informed me that Sliwa was actually in the area. So, before the bus driver could pull away, I, a tween armed with a stringed instrument, jumped off the bus, into what was essentially a crime scene, in search of my source. Faster than a Google search, I found Sliwa–and in real life. To my amazement he immediately agreed to let me interview him. I was not more than 13. I’m not sure he knew that.

… Eventually I made it to Sliwa’s Bronx apartment/Office of the Guardian Angels. My school friend came with me. Prepared with my notebook of questions, and boom box tape recorder, I got in line with the other journalists, many of who had travelled from other countries, to have my interview with the “Rock.” He was respectful of me. he treated me like everyone else. he did, however, seem to be suppressing smiles at times. The article I wrote was actual published–and in a real, adult newspaper, The Amsterdam News. But this is just the beginning…

Impressed with my little stunt, a teacher at my school showed me a newspaper that was written by students–kids like me. He knew the man in charge of it and wanted to introduce me–in real life. It was in an gritty loft office in Chelsea (then also a gritty neighborhood) that I had the life changing opportunity to come under the mentorship of the great Keith Heffner, founder of what was then called New Youth Connections (now called Youth Communication) a newspaper written by New York City high school kids. Working with Keith, who later went on to win a MacArthur Genuis grant for his work with youth, helped me find my voice and power through the published written word. His alumni include not only acclaimed writers, such as Edwidge Dandicat and journalists at major media outlets, but people who have taken a variety of career paths who share a spirit of service and activism. Since my days on the beat Youth Communication has evolved to provide resources to educators as well as development programs for targeted populations such as teen in foster care and those with special needs…

The world has changed so today we know that not only journalists need to be journalists. So,today Aglow Dermatology shows gratitude to Keith Heffner and Youth Communication for helping me cultivate the power of the pen (or tablet) to serve and advocate. Join us! www.youthcomm.org

And as I owe two shout outs today, we are also showing gratitude for the Maysles Documentary Center in Harlem. Founded by the famous documentarian, Albert Maysles, who died earlier this year, this not for profit organization empowers the voice through training in the art of documentary filmmaking and through the screening of thought provoking documentary films. It is the only documentary film house in Manhattan north of Lincoln Center. Join us in showing gratitude. www.maysles.org


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