Public High School Students Fight For Equitable Funding In Team Sports

Originally published on May 8, 2015. 

Host Intro: Over the last 12 years, large, struggling public high schools were shut down in New York City. Over 100 new, smaller schools opened in their place.

This created a gap for smaller schools to form sports programs through the Department of Education. Critics say that it disproportionately affects Black and Latino students.

Now, some of the students at small schools are fighting back.  Charlotte Gibson reports.


It’s Wednesday night around 10pm and the Eagles – a team of high school students from the Lower East Side are playing soccer against the Tri-Boros – a group of men in their 20s and 30s.

SOCCER GAME AMBI: Soccer ball dribbling and whistle blowing

It’s the Gotham City amateur men’s league. And tonight’s match is special.  It’s the last league match of the season.  The 11 players on the field all work together – moving the ball around from player to player.  Coach El Hadji Diope yells in Wolof from the sidelines. Many of his players are from his native country Senegal.

SOCCER GAME SOUND: Coach yelling from sideline

Alex Salas plays for the Tri-Boros.  He says this is the first time his team has played the Eagles.

ACTUALITY SALAS: “It’s great. Not so much because it can get a little physical because they are still young and they are still developing. They have a lot more ahead of them.” (00:08)

AMBI SOCCER CHEERING GOAL: Clapping and cheering over Eagles goal.

The team wins 3-0 finishing off their season: four wins, one loss, and one tie.

Coach Diope says win or lose the boys are just happy for the opportunity to play.

ACTUALITY DIOPE: “They get hyped. They love this game, you know. These are good kids, good students. It’s tough to be a student athlete but they enjoy it. For the love of the game.” (00:12)

Many of these players have been playing soccer since they could walk.  For them, soccer is life.

The problem is that there are no sports teams available for these students at their high school.

Each year the city’s Department of Education distributes $24 million to Public School Athletic League or PSAL. And that funds sports at more than 400 public schools.

But smaller schools – including Manhattan Comprehensive High School where our soccer players attend – is TOO small to get money.

The principal and athletic director from their school scraped together almost $5,000 of their own money to let their students play soccer in an outside amateur league.

Mark Dorman is the athletic director at the high school.

ACTUALITY DORMAN: “They are denying the potential of all the kids throughout the city and that’s unfortunate.” (00:06)

Out of the 480 public high schools in the city, nearly 70 have no sports teams at all.

BRING UP SOUND OF PROTESTS: “Civil rights matter! Civil rights matter!  Let them play!  Let them play!”

A small group of students and administrators from some of these schools have been protesting every Wednesday evening in front of City Hall.

Hassanatou Samake is a old senior at International High School.  She is one of the students that organizes the NYCLetEmPlay protests.

ACUTALITY HASSANATOU SAMAKE: “If we had sports, we will be playing in soccer field, baseball field or basketball field. But because we don’t have sports all we have left is to go every Wednesday at city Hall to protest. So they can hear us, so they can do something. So that next spring, we will be able to play.” (00:18)

ACTUALITY DAVID GARCIA-ROSEN: “Sports is a vital part of an education.” (00:03)

David Garcia-Rosen is the former dean of International High School in the Bronx – another school that lost its funding when it was downsized.  He says there are so many students of color affected, it’s a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

ACTUALITY GARCIA-ROSEN: “Right now, next year, the schools with the white students are going to get a disproportionate amount of funding and access and Black and Latino students are going to get less access and less funding.” (00:10)

Four years ago, Garcia-Rosen tried to save the problem by starting the Small School Athletic League.  That grassroots campaign was money pulled together with individual school budgets.

But, last May, the DOE gave more than $800,000 to the small league on the condition that it become apart of the longer PSAL.  Garcia-Rosen says then nothing changed.

ACTUALITY GARCIA-ROSEN: “On the DOE level I think there is still denial. We tried very hard at discussion and negotiation. The DOE is paralyzed by institutionalized racism that they cannot shake.” (00:12)

The DOE did not respond to repeated requests. In previous statements, they said they’re working on it.  Garcia-Rosen says not fast enough.

Last November he filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.

In March, Garcia-Rosen was suspended for protests outside of City Hall with students.

Council Member Andy King is the Co-Chair of the Black Latino Asian Caucus.  He says he’s ready to do more.

ACTUALITY KING: “I want us to take the politics out of it and do what’s right for these students and children that want to play high school sports.”  (00:05)

Fatou Boy agrees. She is a 17-year-old junior from International High School.  She says this lack of funding is nothing short of segregation.

ACTUALITY BOY:  “So, not having a sport makes me really feel frustrated. Like what do we have to do as a student to get a sport, beside being white or going to a bigger school. What else can we do to get the sports?” (00:14)

The students say they will continue to fight until Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Farina meet their demands.

Charlotte Gibson, Columbia Radio News.

El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 Provides Affordable Housing for Artists But Does Not Solve Affordable Housing Issue

Originally published October 9, 2014

Gothic gargoyles perch over decorative terra cotta. Copper-clad cupolas rest atop a steeply pitched roof. A delicately outlined central stoop rises from the middle of the H-shaped building. These are just a few of the unique, exterior details exhibited on the abandoned East Harlem PS 109 schoolhouse. Amidst these artifacts, a large blue plastic sign on a fence surrounding the building reads, “Affordable Housing For New Yorkers: For more information, visit or Dial 311.”

Photo // Charlotte Gibson
Photo // Charlotte Gibson

With the help of Artspace, a Minnesota-based non-profit real estate developer dedicated to “artist-led community transformation,” in collaboration with El Barrio Operation Fightback, a local non-profit organization dedicated to the housing, economic, and social service needs of East Harlem, PS 109 transformed from an abandoned Gothic revival schoolhouse to an affordable housing unit for artists and their families in the matter of two years.

El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109’s mission is to serve the East Harlem community by creating permanently affordable housing for people and families committed to the arts in a neighborhood constantly threatened by gentrified real-estate developers. The project aims to preserve the essence of El Barrio by reserving at least 50% of the units for current residents of East Harlem.

“East Harlem is not like other communities. We are going through our own transition and PS 109 highlights the needs of the community. This is another piece of the puzzle. Another piece for making East Harlem a destination location for the Latino community. An opportunity to experience the flavor of El Barrio,” says El Barrio Operation Fightback Executive Director Gustavo Rosado.

The $52 million dollar conversion project broke ground two years ago on October 2, 2012 with the help of funding from Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, State and Federal Historic Tax Credits, and other city, state and federal sources. According to Artspace Asset Manager Jennifer Marmol, over 15 New York City organizations and agencies help fund this project, including NYC HPD, NYC DCA, and NYC Council.

Currently, Artspace and El Barrio Operation Fightback are in the process of reviewing 52, 352 applications for the 90 unit apartment building, with the hopes of moving in residence by the end of November.

“Many of our applicants grew up here in East Harlem and we are trying to make our best effort for the people in the community,” says Marmol. “We will start with preference-based applicants, i.e. mobile, hearing, visual impaired, and then move on to community members and municipal employees. We have reserved 57 spots for these preferences.”

Dedicated to serving the needs of the community, El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 offers apartment units affordable to low and middle income community members based off of East Harlem’s total median income of $30,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Rents will range from around $500 to $1,000 a mont depending on unit and family size and total income. From studio apartments to two bedrooms, each unit intends to be a “live/work” environment equipped with high ceilings, large windows, durable surfaces and wide doorways to accommodate and foster the creative process of its residents.

Since the project broke ground two years ago, Artspace and El Barrio Operation Fightback have received support from Community Board 11 and political advocates within the community.

“Artspace has to be commended because their vision isn’t just a gimmick, but they are committed to artists and their families,” says Community Board 11 District Manager Angel Mescain-Archer. “It’s the challenge that our community faces. We have a large population of folks whose median income is around $30,000 and they need somewhere to live, but they can’t afford their options.”

However, many local residents remain skeptical over the development of another affordable housing option.
For East Harlem native Brendan Marmolejos, applying to another affordable housing development wasn’t even an option because he knew he’d ultimately get rejected like the rest of the people.

Marmolejos says he doesn’t necessarily identify as an artist but he would have liked to be given the chance to apply and live in a place that’s affordable and not “the projects.”

“I am skeptical because with all of these affordable housing developments, there are always pitfalls and stupid reasons why you don’t get in, like if you don’t have gray hair or aren’t seriously living on the streets. I feel like Artspace is a small step in the right direction but right now with gentrification happening, all of the original culture and people are being pushed out of El Barrio,” says Marmolejos.

Only 0.2% of the applicants will receive housing in El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109. For many East Harlem residents, they will receive denial letters within the next few weeks from Artspace and will have to prepare for the next application process.

Those rejected from PS 109 will have the opportunity to be put on the apartment building’s wait list, in the hopes of receiving an opportunity in the future to live in the artist community.

Rosado says his organization is dedicated to the people of the community and they will continue to fight for affordable housing.

“We are trying to give the people some hope. If they missed the window on Artspace, another window will open,” says Rosado. “Right now, we are helping people apply for the Yomo Toro Apartments in East Harlem.”

The Yomo Toro Apartments offer 88 newly constructed units on 222 East 104th Street in East Harlem. El Barrio Operation Fightback and Rosado are currently working with individuals and families who meet the income and household size requirement to apply to this new housing unit.

Ultimately, Rosado believes that the efforts of affordable housing developments such as Artspace and Yomo Toro cannot compete against the private developers in the community.

“We are advanced as non-profit organizations and developers but we are not going to be able to stop private developers. The major difference is that we are not for profit and they are gaining something from their developments because they have the money,” explains Rosado.

El Barrio’s Artspace PS 109 remains vacant until the end of November of this year.

Q&A With Ex-Bank Robber Thomas Edwards

Originally published on September 10, 2014

On January 31, 2014, 55-year-old Thomas Edwards was released from Sing Sing Correctional Facility in New York, after serving a 21 year sentence for bank robbery. From the age of 12 to 55, Edwards led a life of crime. Looking back, Edward says, “three people died, I was arrested twice, for a total of 26 years, and I robbed over 20 banks.” Not to mention, at one point, Edwards was wanted and “on the run” in four states for withholding thousands of dollars worth of cocaine and hundreds of guns in his possession. While in the “box,” otherwise known as solitary confinement, during his second sentence in prison, Edwards says his major turnaround was when he decided to not do crime anymore. It was during the 46 day stay in solitary confinement that Edwards changed is life for the better. Through the grace of the Exodus Transitional Community in East Harlem and the Executive Director Julio Medina, Edwards is now seven months free of his criminal past and has started a new life as a mentor to young, criminal adults through the Exodus Common-Unity program.

Photo // Charlotte Gibson Thomas Edwards sits at his desk at the Exodus Transitional Community on Wednesday, September 10, 2014.
Photo // Charlotte Gibson
Thomas Edwards sits at his desk at the Exodus Transitional Community on Wednesday, September 10, 2014.

Q: Where did you grow up? And how did your childhood shape the rest of your life?
A: “I was born, and for the first 8 years of my life, I spent in Alabama, so I am basically a country fella. I came to New York when I was 8 or 9, to Brooklyn, New York, and I had some problems at home with my stepfather and I kinda gravitated towards the streets and eventually was put in a juvenile detention center when I was 12 for three years.”

Q: Where did you go and what happened after your were released from the juvenile detention center?
A: “My mother had moved to the Bronx at that time, but the situation wasn’t really conducive for me living with her, so it was more or less a base, so I had kinda been drifting around. And because I had already been living in the streets, I was already familiar with the ways of the streets and I could survive there. So that’s what I did for quite some time.”

Q: Why, at such a young age, were you drawn to the streets? What did the streets provide that you did not receive inside your household or at school?
A: “Many times I went to school, 4th, 5th, 6th grade, with black eyes, bruises, and after a while, I didn’t get any help there so I just stopped going. And I got more help from people in the streets, They were just more concerned about my well-being. When a kid is out at 3 or 4 in the morning, there are no social workers or school teachers out. But you know what is there, drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes, con-men, stick-up men, and you know, they showed me concern and compassion.”

Q: You mentioned your stepfather earlier, was he one of the reasons you turned towards the streets to look for compassion?
A: “Well, he was very violent. And I would reciprocate most of his violent ways because I was the only male in the house other than him. And, I got most of what he could give. And he taught me a valuable lesson that violence could be used. And I used violence in my life.”

Q: Until what age were you living in the streets?
A: “Well, pretty much all my life. Because I had learned how to hustle in the streets at a young age, I was allowed to stay at different places because I could produce. I didn’t make a change in my life until I was in prison. It was my second time in prison. Both times, I went to prison for bank robbery.”

Q: When did you get caught for the second bank robbery and can you explain the incidents from that day?
A: “At that point, I am running from the law in New York and New Jersey and I am a person of interest in North Carolina and Virginia…I am pretty much wanted in a bunch of places…in 1993 January, 29th, it was a bank robbery on Broadway. And I guess, 94th street and somewhere around there, that is a shame I don’t exactly where. That was the day, everything that could go wrong, went wrong. The bank rob had been planned for a couple of weeks, I had cased it out. It was a simple plan. And we had a guy that was new and his job was to count in M-I-S-S-I-P-P-I-S, when you get to 90 M-I-S-S-I-P-P-I-S, it’s time to leave no matter what happens, so we figured, we have 90 seconds…but on this one, the new guy made people get on the floor and someone outside saw it and they went to a police officer at the stoplight…so everything that could go wrong, went wrong that day.”

Q: How is it possible that you only faced 21 years for the robbery, when you were wanted in numerous states and the robbery case was connected to a murder that day?
A: “I didn’t think it was possible. I got the sentence and my lawyer who worked with me for over two years on the case, asked me how I felt..And I said, ‘I don’t want to die in prison. You don’t know how long I am going to be in there, you can’t tell me that I am going home today. This is it for me. And that’s how I kinda felt. I didn’t have any other options, so what could I do. When they talked about a plea, I said yes, everything but the murder. I don’t kill innocent people. I am aware of the fact that I caused this, that I was a factor in this but I was too far removed to take the blame for this. I felt like if you were going to charge me with her murder, charge the gun makers because they make far too many guns for law enforcement, charge my stepfather and many other people in my life, make them all my co-defendants. And that’s what I felt. But I never felt that I was a victim. I put myself there.”

*Edited and Condensed