Leadership is more powerful than violence
By Nadia Lesy
Leadership is more powerful than violence. It is possible that young black men, women and police can work together to help their community.
My husband and I, Mani García-Lesy, have created a parkour program called WildRun
(http://www.bullettrun.com/wildrun/) with the help of Bullettrun members Christopher “Falco” Glover and Kareem “Reaper” Small. WildRun teaches the art and discipline of parkour to boys and girls who are part of the the NYPD PSA-1 explorer’s club. Falco and Reaper are members of Bullettrun, a collaborative multimedia parkour arts organization I established in 2009. Recently, I have refined my company’s mission with my husband, Mani, who is completing his PHD in Health Psychology and Clinical Science the City University of New York-Graduate Center (Hunter College). We believe art can foster social change.
The students of WildRun come from the NYPD PSA-1Explorer’s club, an organization created by New York City police officers to help children who live in public housing in Coney Island, Bensonhurst and the surrounding areas served by their precincts. This summer, Bullettrun received funding to offer parkour classes and performance with funding from Partnership for Parks and Citizens Committee at Kaiser Park, in Coney Island.
Why would police officers want to participate in such a program? I asked that very same question, and was told by one officer he needed to do something positive to counteract the mind numbing violence and desperation he encounters everyday as he patrols the vast public housing complexes in South Brooklyn. During our conversation he said, “You know most of the community we serve are made up of good people, many of them are grateful we are there to protect them when no one else cares. It’s always a few bad actors that ruin it for everyone and make our jobs difficult.” I told him, “Well I know a lot of young men in various public housing all over NYC who practice parkour. They live very clean and disciplined lives, just like Reaper and Falco. My husband and I want to do anything we can to support and help them. Why not use parkour as a vehicle, helping children to follow the same path?” The officer liked what I had to say, and we began discussing ways to work together further.
If you met these black, brown, (and white) children you might not be able to imagine the poverty they were born into. It is the type of poverty that has afflicted many like them for generations. Starting with Robert Moses in the 1960s, society began to essentially sentence poor people (mostly black and brown) to live out heir lives in crumbling, public housing. Such “housing programs” effectively isolated entire communities from the rest of a city known for sky high rents and massive, private fortunes.
In June 2016, the first meeting with the PSA-1 officers about WildRun took place in a police van and precinct. Since then, police vans can be seen at every WildRun class, delivering our students. Occasionally, men Falco and Reaper know will walk by and ask “Is everything okay?” Their friends assume that the presence of police indicate something terrible has happened. Falco and Reaper reassure their friends that everything is fine. At the same time, they also understand why their friends would be so concerned.
If you met our Bullettrun members, you may be surprised by the elite level of fitness and artistic talent they posses. It is the kind of knowledge you cannot learn in schools, but must be earned on the streets through singular discipline, passion and vision. My husband and I are working to get more grants and organizational partners to help us expand WildRun programing to other parks and neighborhoods. We are working with researchers from the Saint John’s University Psychology Department to study how these young men (and women), such as Falco and reaper, manage to not only live, but thrive under conditions that too often kill their peers. It would be wrong to say that our relationship with members of Bullettrun is about “helping the less fortunate”. The fact is, working with these young men and women gives my husband and I reason to hope and continue to fight for a better society—to create art and to insist on beauty in this world. These young men are leaders—exactly what our country and world needs.