Bronx teens inspired to offer ‘disconnected youth’ hope in their communities

The Renaissance Youth Council is launching a campaign to encourage young people to get involved in their communities.
The Renaissance Youth Council is launching a campaign to encourage young people to get involved in their communities. Photo Credit: NBC / Newsmakers

When 13-year-old Elijah Olivo aged out of after-school programs, he didn’t think he had anything to fill his new free time.

“I just found myself not knowing what to do,” he said. “I would just go to the store, act a fool, or just go out with my friends, go to the park and just chill for the rest of the day, having nothing to do.”

That was until he found the Renaissance Youth Center in Morrisania, the Bronx. Through the center’s music programs and Renaissance Youth Council — which promotes positive change in the community through participation in community board and local police precinct meetings and actions like cleaning up local parks — Olivo says he now has a sense of responsibility and commitment that keeps him coming back to the center.

The youth council, of teens and young adults ages 13 to 24, is now on a mission to help people like them find opportunities to get involved with their communities when after-school programs are no longer an option.

“There are 1.5 million youth in the five boroughs. Many of them are not connected to anything,” said Bervin Harris, the CEO of the Renaissance Youth Center, which he co-founded in 2001.

At a meeting Monday evening, seven members of the youth council brainstormed how to present and execute their campaign to “connect disconnected youth.” Settling on the campaign name “Youth Connect: Journey to Unity Tour,” the group will host events in parks in each borough this summer to energize youth and ideally get them thinking about how they can better engage with their communities.

The youth council plans to provide resources to help teens either get involved with local programs and centers or help them start their own youth councils, all with the goal of giving them opportunities like the ones Renaissance offers them.

Involvement with the youth council has shown 16-year-old Beatrice Cardona, of Mott Haven, that she has the power to influence and help people around her.

“Being here gave me a purpose, which was to give back to my community and to spread messages of peace and unity,” she said.

By getting teens more involved in their individual communities, the youth council hopes to spread positivity for young people across the city.

“It’s pushing the potential out of them to be the next political leaders, to be the next great artist, to be the next inspiration or role model to the younger generation that feels like they don’t have hope,” council member Damarilee Alvarado, 21, of Morris Park, said.

The dates of the youth council’s tour are not officially set, but will likely start in mid-July, Harris said.