As children gathered at the Ingersoll Community Center for Halloween Eve — referred to as “Mischief Night,” where teenagers engage in pranks and vandalism, in many parts of the country — local dad Eric Manson fretted about his son, Ramel, who was commuting from East New York’s Transit Tech High School, where he’s in the ninth grade.
Even before a recent surge in gang-related activity at Farragut, Ingersoll and Walt Whitman Houses, the three New York City Housing Authority communities that the Center serves, Manson understood that teenaged boys like Ramel are most at risk of being caught in the literal crossfire from kids engulfed by violence.
“It is very important that we show these kids that there’s more to life than gang violence,” said Manson, a community fixture who has been a volunteer and mentor at Ingersoll the past 15 years. “We must teach them spirituality and the value of love their brother.”
Soon enough, Ramel arrived and father and son joined the Halloween ReMix — a free, weekend-long festive celebration hosted by Ingersoll’s community center as a way to keep kids off the streets while providing a fun and educational alternative.
Replete with bouncy castle, cupcakes, candy and games, Friday’s party gave way to a sleep over in the Center, an early morning bus ride to Philadelphia, a tour of Temple University and a visit to “Terror Behind the Walls,” an interactive Halloween experience at Eastern State Penitentiary, then a return trip to Brooklyn early Sunday morning.
Conceived by Tameeka Ford, Senior Program Director for Youth and Community Programs at University Settlement in response to a spike in gun violence on the Ingersoll grounds — including a triple homicide this fall — Halloween ReMix was meant to allow kids to “enjoy themselves, be safe, and take their mind off the things that have been happening in the community.”
Ford, along with Center Director Samantha Johnson and Operations Assistant Ebay Covington welcomed 50 boys aged 12 to 18, plus volunteers and parents to the event, which was also made possible with funding and donations from sponsors such as the Fort Greene Association, the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project, the Brooklyn Nets and Councilmember Laurie Cumbo, who called the Center “a safe haven for positive reinforcement to combat negative influences” on youth of all ages both inside and outside Fort Greene.
For Manson and Ramel, who plays basketball at Transit Tech, visiting Temple and meeting athletic staff and student athletes at one of the Northeast’s best college programs was a chance to think about the future.
“Ramel got a chance to speak with student athletes and ask about what’s the requirement to experience that in life,” Manson, who attended as a chaperone, said. “That’s something I couldn’t give to him.”
Also impressed were the staff at Temple, including Michael Robinson, Temple’s Director of Community Outreach. “I can’t think of a better opportunity on Halloween than to take a group of aspiring youth who are thinking of a better life for themselves [then] to visit an internationally ranked college and learn about what academic options we offer,” Robinson said by phone.
Imani Collins, another chaperone, said that her brother Giovanni Collins, 14, was “very excited — especially for the sleep over,” which offered a chance to bond with friends outside of school at Urban Assembly High School of Law and Justice.
Collins, who works for University Settlement, expressed a stark reality: for Giovanni and his friends to enjoy Halloween they needed to get out of town, literally.
“With a lot of crime and gun violence going on — especially among young men — for him it was the bigger picture: being able to have fun and celebrate Halloween with your friends in a safe environment,” Collins said.
“What I really love about it is that there’s so many people who complain about the [violence], [but] there are individuals who are rolling their sleeves up, getting beyond the statistics, CompStat,” added Councilmember Cumbo, referring to Ingersoll’s innovative response to the problems affecting their community. “And [they’re] saying: ‘What can we do with what resources we have’ to make something happen to bring our young people into spaces with those that love and care about them [and] understand the challenges that they’re facing.”
Manson, recently honored as “Most Valuable Dad” by Ingersoll for his efforts, was clear in his support for Halloween ReMix .
“That’s what made the idea of the trip such a refreshing idea,” he said. “It gave the kids a chance to experience a safe, fun-filled holiday.”