BY VICTOR PORCELLI
Like many streets around the city, Avenue D in Brooklyn has litter: empty bottles, cigarette butts and plastic bags often collect on the greenery lining the sidewalk.
But on August 5, the street was also lined with children from Park Slope’s MS 88 carrying rakes, brooms and garbage bags as part of an effort by the afterschool program LEAP and local community activist Hercules Reid to clean up the street.
“We’ve been talking about civic-mindedness, so the kids have been looking at different issues that have been occurring,” LEAP Program Director Claude Joseph told Brooklyn Reporter. “The goal is to move it from me sitting in a classroom studying about these things, to having a hand and a stake in what’s happening in my community.”
Funded by the Department of Youth and Community Development as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s afterschool initiative, LEAP — which stands for Learning through an Expanded Arts Program — has sought to start productive conversations on issues like immigration policy and gun violence with students. Joseph said after researching different community issues, the program was looking to translate that research into action, which is where Reid came in.
Having already hosted three different community cleanups, Reid visited MS 88 to talk about his initiative and, afterwards, many of the students expressed interest in participating in a cleanup of their own.
“We picked doing a cleanup because Hercules came to our school and he would tell us about how much trash is on the floor,” Denzel Bhabor, an incoming eighth grader who got involved in LEAP after hearing about it from his older brother, told Brooklyn Reporter. “And then we decided to do something about it.”
On Monday they did, working to clean both sides of Avenue D from 44th to 46th street.
In attendance were State Assemblyperson of District 41 Helene Weinstein and City Councilmember of District 45 Farah Louis, whose districts include East Flatbush. Joseph said it was important to have women leaders show the kids that “representation comes in all forms.”
After Weinstein spoke to the group prior to the cleanup, Joseph made a point to call out one of the girls in LEAP’s leadership group, telling her “people in government don’t need to be male, they can be you.”
Weinstein said she hoped the cleanup would instill in the kids a sense of organization and activism when it comes to community issues like sanitation.
“The reality is, when you have a neighborhood that’s a little bit cleaner, people care more,” Weinstein told Brooklyn Reporter. “East Flatbush is a really great community and as I said to the kids, ‘the garbage didn’t grow here, somebody put it here.’”
Louis echoed the assemblymember’s emphasis on the importance of having young people involved in these efforts.
“Starting with the youth is the most important component, because we have to educate our young people on why the environment is important to us and how we can keep it sustainable,” Louis told Brooklyn Reporter.
Reid said that he’s looking to partner with the LEAP program in schools across the city and have similar efforts like this cleanup throughout Brooklyn. He said that having kids take action will hopefully make them more active members of their communities as adults.
“I’m trying to do the best I can,” Justin Valera-Lopez, who’s going into 7th grade, told Brooklyn Reporter. “‘Cause, like Hercules said, it’s our job to clean the neighborhoods because this is where we live and this is our planet.”