This is the start of a semi-weekly series which will profile the prominent individuals of Morningside Heights, Harlem, and the Upper West Side. For today, Spec interviewed Iesha Sekou, the CEO of Street Corner Resources, an organization with aims to help kids re-think gang involvement and violence.
The halls of Harlem Renaissance High School are filled with music. It’s everywhere---there’s a recording studio where students are rehearsing with a full band. Somewhere, someone is painstakingly practicing the same song on the piano. Whitney Houston can be heard faintly down the hall.
Iesha Sekou said this is one of the things that keeps students coming back here.
“Our idea and goal is to get young people to change their way of thinking and being, and we do that through music, dance, voice and activism,” she said.
Sekou works with a group out of the high school called Street Corner Resources, an organization which engages at-risk youth to re-think gun and gang violence. Harlem Renaissance High School is an alternative program for students who had a hard time in traditional school settings.
The group has done a wide variety of activism work, ranging from lie-ins to represent victims of gun violence to demonstrations in courthouses. They’ve even worked with the Rev. Al Sharpton with a project called Occupy the Corners, where members patroled dangerous areas to help prevent violence.
Sekou said Street Corner Resources gives students a reason to come to school.
“It gives them something to look forward to.”
She looks forward to seeing her students too. It’s clear that the young people she works with mean the world to her.
“My mind is with a girl who was in Saint Nick Houses on Saturday night, and she was killed,” she said. “You wanna know how many dead kids I’ve seen? A lot. It feels horrible. Often times I sit with parents while their kids bleed out.”
Sekou said a lot of her work is focused on defusing violence in day-to-day situations. She gave the example of a student who came to her after discovering his girlfriend had cheated on him with his best friend.
“That kind of situation can lead to gun violence if we’re not engaged and tuned in to what they’re saying. We go to where they are and we talk to them,” she said. “Sometimes it helps. Sometimes you’re able to talk the gun out of their hands.”
Sekou serves as a role model for a lot of kids who might not have anyone to look up to.
“Violence is just bred in the community. It comes from people not being fed properly. If they’re hungry for violence, they’re hungry for something else and usually it’s love. We try to give that here.”
The love Sekou puts into her work with her students is immediately apparent.
We ran into a student of hers in the hallway who told her he was feeling stressed.
“Baby, I don’t want you to feel stressed,” she told him. “If you’re feeling stressed, come talk to me.”
When we walk across the street to get coffee, her mind is still on the young woman who died last weekend, a 24 year old with two children. She’d done some work with Street Corner Resources in the past.
“These kids, they rely on us to be here,” she said.