Brian Coyle programs hope to empower youth


In a neighborhood that hasseen its share of violence in recent years, the summer programs at the Brian Coyle Center, are aimed at the Cedar-Riverside youth in an effort to improve their behavior when they become adults. The programs include educational, recreational, and service learning such as volunteering and community services.

Youth coordinator and FANS, advocate at Brian Coyle, Tally Washington said the summer programs are intended to empower middle-school and elementary students to make positive changes in their community and keep them from engaging high-risk behavior.

“We are trying to give mentorship and guidance to the younger children,” Washington said. “We have got to help before they get crazy when they are 18 plus.”

So far, approximately 85 children, between the ages of five and 15 participate in the programs.

Washington said the programs have changed because of funding and staff turnover.

“We are trying to change a whole structure of our programs so we can have our grants meet with what we need for our kids,” Washington said.

Children who are between age 5 and 10 are allocated into a day camp that runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To be in the program, each participant is charged $10 every week.

Summer Crew — a new name that came in replacement of last year’s Jumpstart because of donor requirements and to reflect on the work that the program does — is a program for children who are between 11 and 15 years old. They are admitted with a $15 fee for the entire summer.

About four years ago, Washington said children participating in such programs used to earn money just for being part of the program, rather than paying. However, the shortage of funding forced the center to charge parents a fee.

Abdiaziz Farah , a member of the youth staff, said it’s unfortunate that they are asking parents for money, which they might not have.

“But it is the only way we can run the programs due to the economic recession that’s taking place now,” Farah said.

Still Washington said the center is improving because of the new structuring of the programs.

“The reason we are trying to put so much funding into younger kids is so they can be great role model individuals later on in their lives,” Washington said.

Ben Marcy, president of the West Bank Community Coalition said he thinks immigrant students in elementary schools have a better chance to succeed than those who are older.

Even when there were three homicides in the neighborhood and several non-fatal shootings, Washington said the teenagers and young adults don’t need programs that keep them off the streets.

“They cannot relate to the programs we have because they have grown out of it,” he said, “They need mentors.”

Located in a troubled neighborhood

Over the past several years, Cedar-Riverside became well-know for its East African immigrant community, with many relating the crimes to Riverside Plaza residents — home to thousands of Somalis.

It was last year when The Cedar-Riverside community faced a dark web of murders — three homicides, all occurring within six months.

Even with the reputation of boasting the leading community of immigrants in the Twin Cities as it carries on a protracted history of racial and cultural diversity, the violent episodes tarnished Cedar-Riverside neighborhood’s reputation.

Abdullahi Abdi who was 18 in April 2008 was shot to death while sitting in a car at the back of Freewheel Bike Shop alley. No one has been taken into custody for Abdi’s murder.

Twenty-year-old Joseph Sodd III was stabbed to death a month after Abdi’s burial. The police have not charged anyone with the crime.

Augsburg College student, Ahmednur Ali I was gunned down in September 2008 after volunteering at the Brian Coyle Center on his way home. Police placed Ramadan Abdi Shiekh Osman , 17, into custody on Sept. 26 charging him with second-degree murder.

But later prosecutors discharged the case against Osman because eyewitnesses would not testify.

Washington said a lot of people within the community know what is going on, but they chose to keep their mouth shut.

“The violence will continue to escalate until the community speaks up,” he said.

Washington said people don’t see potential in the immigrant kids that hang around the neighborhood, they see them as trouble makers — a remark Farah agrees with.

“Many of the kids that come to the center attend high school and even college,” Farah said. “They are planning to pursue a career that interests them and do not worry much about the stereotypes held against them by people who do not come to the center.”

Somali and other community leaders discussed the factors that contributed to the violence and gang-membership.

Director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, Omar Jamal , said it’s because the young people in the community have a high rate of dropping out of high school and many of them are unemployed.

Jamal said language and cultural barriers result in young immigrants not assimilating with the larger society.

“There are confusions of identity crisis,” said Jamal. “They have grown up in America, they don’t know a lot about their culture and language. At the same time they don’t consider themselves as Americans. They are caught up in the middle.”

Marcy said young adults may have been trapped in gang-membership due to cultural barriers and financial difficulties.

Though the Coyle Center doesn’t get funded to create programs for people over 18, Washington said they open up their doors for young adults to keep them off the streets.

The center provides the young adults work readiness training skills, like how to write a résumé and the learning of basic computer skills.

Jamal said the Coyle Center won’t be effective for the young people because the same kids that are put in the programs one day, are hanging out with “gangsters” soon after that.

Washington said very few people use the center as a place to hideout as a refuge from trouble.

He expressed concerns because a lot of the parents are not explaining to their kids the benefits of the program and instead they force them into it.

But why he participates in the program doesn’t matter to Khalid Abdi , 12, who has participated in the summer programs at the center since he was 6 years old.

Abdi said he “loves” this year’s program more than the previous years.

“It’s just that I feel like it is more fun this year,” Abdi said.

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