Being a teacher. The untold side.

From November 2015 til February 2016 I was assigned to Urban Assembly Performing Arts school in Harlem. The teachers in this building  were highly motivated to giving their students a quality education. During my time there I would check late students into the building on a number of occasions I had typed the name Juwan Tavarez into the ATS system. This is the same Juwan Tavarez that was murdered on East 115th Street. (See NYTIMES Article). While, I did not know Juwan like some of his other teachers, I can tell you this much he was extremely respectful toward me and always smiling. My heartfelt condolences go out to his family.

There is another part to this story. This part takes place behind the school’s doors. I am speaking from experience. In 2004, a student of mine was shot and killed in a school yard on East 109th street. For years, while at Manhattan Center I keep his book receipt on my Bulletin board above my desk. Every morning I would look at that and remind myself,” why I am here.” After this student’s death I began asking myself Did I do enough to save this student?  Do I make a difference in the lives of these kids?  How can I prevent this from happening again?

Most likely these are the same feelings some of the teachers at Urban Assembly Performing Arts are having now. They are questioning themselves did they do enough to help Juwan? How can I/we prevent this from happening again?

The truth is there are no answers to the first two questions.

Only time will make the hurt go away.

As for how we can stop this from happening again? I can speak from experience.

Growing up in the same East Harlem neighborhood where Juwan Tavarez was murdered I know the street are unforgiving and cold. I have heard all the empty promises of politicians talking about beefing up police patrols.

The reality is we need to give our kids other outlets besides the street. NYC Parks and Recreation Center for example charge teens 18 -20 a $25 dollar fee to use these center. These same center limit youth hours between 3-5pm. In the 1980’s these centers were free and ran programs like midnight basketball.

In Thomas Jefferson Park pool for example, volunteers like Mike and Negra Rosario started the Gladiators Boxing Club which took over the Women’s locker room during the pool off season and at night during the summer. Many neighborhood disputes were settled in the ring at Thomas Jefferson and many Golden Glove Champions came out of Thomas Jefferson.

Many forget that housing projects like Jefferson and Wagner houses were built for the middle and working class families. Many of these housing projects have community centers and Basketball courts and playgrounds in them. Maybe it’s time the NYCHA ran basketball tournaments like it used to do back in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Better yet maybe it’s time to let the Police Athletics League re-establish some of its old programs. At one time schools like Benjamin Franklin/ Manhattan Center used to allow neighborhood programs to use their gym for Saturday pick up games. Today, to used that court someone had to have the palm greased.

Along side the Wagner houses is the former junior high school 45. This building has a basketball gym and an Olympic size pool. In the mid 1980’s The East Harlem Council for Community improvement ran an after school program til 9 PM three nights a week. Today the building closes at 5pm.

Juwan Tavarez’s death should not be in vain. As teachers we are always lectured about accountability, maybe it’s time we held our elected officials to the same accountability. None of our elected officials will feel the pain that Juwan’s teachers will. None of our elected officials will second guess themselves on whether they did enough to help Juwan only his teachers will.



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