By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The city needs to take a stronger hand in dealing with troubled teens and young adults, according to Councilmember Mathieu Eugene, who has introduced legislation to create a special task force to look into the issue.
Under Eugene’s bill, the city would put together a task force to study the challenges that are preventing young people from ages 16-24 from staying in school or finding jobs.
The task force will be composed of 25 members, including experts from the Department of Youth and Community Services and the Department of Education.
The panel will be mandated to provide the mayor and the council speaker with a comprehensive report that includes an analysis of what obstacles prevent disconnected youth from obtaining the education and skills that employers require and the policies and programs that affect their progress.
“This important legislation will help us improve the services we are providing to young people, especially disconnected youth," said Eugene, who is chairman of the council’s Youth Services Committee.
Eugene (D-Kensington-Flatbush), who defined disconnected youth as young people who are neither working nor enrolled in school, said that approximately 172,000 youths in New York City fit that description.
“We always say that the next generation is the future of this city, and because of that, we are obligated to do everything that we can do to provide them with the best opportunities that they need to become productive citizens,” Eugene said.
Eugene, who has served as chairman of the Youth Services Committee since 2014, said the city should be doing more to help children and teenagers enjoy a better quality of life.
His history of helping keep kids off the streets dates back more than 20 years.
In 1994, Eugene founded a nonprofit organization called Youth Education and Sports (YES) after a chance encounter with a young man on Flatbush Avenue.
“He had a big knife. He was just 12 or 14 years old,” Eugene recalled in a 2015 interview with the Brooklyn Eagle.
Eugene stopped the boy on the sidewalk to talk to him. “He said he wasn’t going to use the knife to attack anyone. He just wanted to be able to defend himself. I said to myself, ‘He does not want to be a criminal.’ That moment was the beginning of my organization,” Eugene told the Eagle.
The boy with the knife became one of the first members of YES, Eugene said.
YES offered sports programs like basketball and martial arts. Eugene also added music, dance and art programs. The organization operated out of several sites, including church gymnasiums. There were after-school programs, as well as a Saturday program that ran all day.
“Young people couldn’t wait to come in,” Eugene told the Eagle.
Citing his duties as a councilmember, Eugene no longer plays an active role at YES.
But as chairman of the Youth Services Committee, he often invites program directors to come and testify about issues facing the city’s young people. “We have a moral obligation to provide young people with the resources to be the leaders of tomorrow. Otherwise, we will pay the consequences later on,” he said.