Group of Bed-Stuy men, We Make Us Better, escorts pedestrians in wake of robberies
By Jake Pearson, New York Daily News
After a spate of recent muggings and robberies, a group of 20 Bedford-Stuyvesant men started escorting people home as they got off the train and are walking through the neighborhood reaching out to young men.
“We’re not the Guardian Angels, we’re not armed,” said Kareem Varlack, 35, a field technician for Verizon and a founding member of the group We Make Us Better.
“We’re about encouraging males to be involved, because you don’t see men in their 20s, 30s and 40s involved in the community anymore, so we’re trying to bridge that gap.”
Once a week – on random evenings – the men walk subway riders home from the Utica Ave. train station. They also sponsored a neighborhood outreach walk earlier this month, stopping to talk to young men hanging out on the corners.
“I’ve been here now 15 years, and I never walk around,” said co-founder Thomas Simms, 41, who works in finance.
“I’ve never done any kind of marching or activism. I deal with the swim team parents at the Bed-Stuy YMCA, that’s as far as I go, [so] this gives me an opportunity to do something in the community.”
The idea for the group came about one night a month ago when Varlack, Simms and others swapped horror stories of friends and relatives who had recently been mugged.
For Richard Beavers, 41, the idea for the group hit home after a friend of his called him in the middle of the night after being robbed – one of 300 robberies so far this year in Bed-Stuy’s 81st Precinct, an almost 10% jump from 2009.
“She was on her way home, came out of the Utica Ave. A train station and made it onto her block when a group of young males approached her and robbed her,” recalled Beavers, who owns the House of Art Gallery on Lewis Ave.
“I decided we can’t have these people terrorizing our young women and children, and we’re not speaking up and making our presence felt.”
The group’s organizers hope to set up a mentoring program soon, and are meeting with local community organizations so they can refer people they meet to special services.
But their main strength is a street credibility that comes with being young, successful black men, said co-founder Titus Mitchell.
“A lot of these youths don’t have a positive male influence,” said Mitchell, 41, director of a nonprofit.
“When I see these kids, I don’t judge them, I understand who they are and what they are, and as black men, we can just talk to them on their level.”