Jail, A Harsh Reality for A Lot of Teens

It’s not often one gets to enter a high security prison only to get out hours later. That’s what HarlemLive did recently when we went to present our program to some all male high school classes at Rikers Island in New York City. 

HarlemLive has traveled around the globe showing other communities the power of the web in creating outlets for expression and the journalism process which expands the youth’s view of their world. For the last five years, HarlemLive has provided a teen centered program unprecedented in New York City. Our young people have traveled to Sweden, Rome, and Washington, DC to accept awards for their success at producing a domestic and international award winning state-of-the-art news and cultural web magazine

What made this visit a surprise to us is that we bumped into a couple people we knew. 

While we sat in the principal’s office, many of the guys were filing past on their way to lunch. Through the window to the hallway, one 18 year old teen did a double take as he recognized HarlemLive teen spokesperson, Melvin Johnson. Both grew up in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx. He was incarcerated for being present at the scene of a gang assault. 

The incarceration has changed his attitude about wanting to stay in gangs. What really hit him was his younger brother asking when he was, “going to grow up and start being a real older brother,” who could serve as a role model to his younger siblings. 

After chatting with the young inmate, we got a chance to speak to the principal, Frank Dody. Dody came to work many years ago as a one year stint but stayed on seeing how much in need the teens were of caring adults. There are 10 prisons on Rikers Island housing up to 17,000 inmates. Of the 10, there are 4 that house adolescents and teens. HarlemLive was visiting the Adolescent Reception and Detention Center (ARDC). It houses adolescents who have yet to be sentenced. “They could be here for a day or several months,” said Mr. Dody. 

At the ARDC, most of the teens that are not deemed to be dangerous to the others live in large dorm areas that sleep 50 inmates with individual cots separated by a small locker. There is at least one fight a day, usually about “who’s in charge”, among the youth.

In the classrooms, there are 15 male students to a class. We noticed that the teachers were all male but that many of the security guards in the halls were female. Our visit stirred some excitement as Melvin Johnson, Danya Steele, and Justin Young walked through the halls to the first of three classes. 

Pressed against one of the plexiglass windows that allowed the guards to peer into the classrooms was a young teen. It was a teen who was part of the Urban Youth Bike Corp, with whom HL has collaborated. While most alumni of the UYBC are now attending college, this young man chose a different path and was convicted for two armed robberies. 

The prison personnel allowed the teen to attend some of the classes with the HarlemLive editors as they made their presentations. He was even able to speak to the director of the UYBC by using HL’s cell phone. It seemed our visit and the fact he knew us helped increase his stature with his fellow classmates and teachers. 

We spoke to the teens about HarlemLive possibly working with the teachers and providing an outlet for them to publish their poetry, stories and artwork. Melvin spoke of how his life changed once he chose to work with HarlemLive, a choice that lead to an increase in his skills and self esteem and away from the scene on the streets. Some of the teens acted in the normal classroom atmosphere of “let’s perform for the visitors” while many of the other teens seemed to be extremely quiet and reserved. 

We’re hoping that our message made it to at least one teen and that they find a program or place where they can find their niche in life, where they’ll know they can be a valued and productive member in their community, and aybe even a “real older brother,” to their siblings and friends. 

Sites to view: 

NYC government’s Department of Correction web pages: http://www.ci.nyc.ny.us/html/doc/home.html 

Description of the 10 Rikers Island Jails http://www.correctionhistory.org/html/chronicl/nycdoc/html/jailist1.html

Talking Drum

by Justin Young

With the exception of the Amish, technology transcends all cultures and races . It’s the one thing that binds us all together. It’s diverse in nature and yet speaks one common language. Through the Internet, people from different nations, cultures, and states can get together and talk about numerous subjects. 

Here at HarlemLive we strive to reach out to people across and beyond our nation. So when asked to find a symbol, something that will capture the essence of HarlemLive, Elaine Johnson (HarlemLive advisor) and Richard Calton (HarlemLive Director) came up with the idea of the Talking Drum. 

The Talking Drum (Donno Drum) is used for musical performances and signaling or sending messages. Due to the fact that each tribe has its own language, it was difficult for the tribes to communicate verbally. The drum itself crossed language barriers and served as a common language. The drum, when hit a certain way, gives off a sound that resembles speech. That is why it is called the “Talking Drum”. By using the drum, messages could be sent to far off distances. 

The drum was cultivated primarily by the Ashanti, Hausa, Yoruba, and Akan tribes. And while the origin of the drum remains unclear, it is speculated that the first to use this drum was the Atumpan tribe. 

The drum was made out of an assortment of types of trees such as Tweneboa (also known as Twenedura), Bontondie and Edar. The trees used to carve the drum undergo an extensive religious ritual. Before the tree can be cut down, eggs must first be sacrificed to the tree. After that, members of the tribe would then pray to the tree. Akan, for example, felt that the tree was a powerful spirit and must be honored. So they prayed and made sacrifices to the tree for protection from its powers as well as to honor it. When the drum is finished it is believed to house the spirit of the tree. 

Our goal here at HarlemLive is to reach the hearts and minds of people not only in our community but world wide in the tradition of the “Talking Drum.”

Justin Young

Co Editor in Chief / Reporter / Illustrator / Web Editor

As you already know, my name is Justin Young. I was born on October 29,1982, so I’m 17 years old and a scorpio. I am a senior in City – As – School. I have a 1 year old brother, a 9 month year old sister, and a 16 year old sister. I live with my 16 year old sister, my mother and my fat Siamese cat. 

What I do is draw cartoons, I’ve been drawing cartoons since I was five and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” came on the scene. That’s pretty much what started my drawing. For fun I draw, hang out, and play football. My favorite movies are “Matrix” and “Pulp Fiction”. My dream since I was a little kid was to become an animator for Disney and that’s the same dream I’ve had for about 10 years. So my goal for after graduation is to attend the School of Visual Arts (SVA) and later on become an animator for Disney. And that’s all me!

Paper Cuts?

by Justin Young

Dec 22, 2001 – Since December, HarlemLive has been volunteering at the 86th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues) Barnes&Noble Bookstore. In an effort to raise money for the organization, .HarlemLive has been wrapping books for donations. Other groups involved in this program are: the Cerebral Palsy Association of New York State, the East Harlem Tutorial Program, and the Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center.

Relatively new to the gift wrapping profession, the HL staff had a hard time adjusting to the rigorous task of wrapping, cutting, and taping. The ability to build and maintain a website that includes animation, video, artwork, and not to mention compelling stories, does not necessarily require the all-too-simple skills of folding in flaps and carefully aligning the edges. But despite all the paper cuts, books of abnormal size and the occasional gift brought in from another store(!), the HL youth and advisors pressed on.

HL students have devoted their weekends (i.e. cartoons and Cheerios) to the cause of raising more money for their growing enterprise. The money will help pay for HL Stationary, train fare, Reporters Notebooks and office supplies. HL students worked with a diligence motivated by keeping their valued after-school program afloat. 

Justin’s Take
After devoting an entire weekend to wrapping books, I have gained a level of humility never beforeachieved by this lowly kid from the Bronx. I have experienced the customers — their moods, quirks and sometimes odd behavior. I have experienced the customers’ children — their screaming, playing, and mouth-gaping fascination with scotch tape. But it was all taken with a grain of salt, and by the end of the day I could truly say that I enjoyed myself. I got the opportunity to mingle with new and interesting people (don’t forget their kids). I got to experience my first paper cut, and do it all with a sense of meaning and purpose.

Hey, you know what? I think I’ll do it again. I, along with several other HL members, will be trying our hand one more time at gift wrapping this weekend the 22nd and 23rd. From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. We will be trying our best to satisfy all your wrapping needs

Come out and meet us!! Get a book wrapped!

HarlemLive would like to thank Oneika Mays, Frances Kelly, and Deborah Williams for allowing us the opportunity to work and fundraise in their store

Seshat Mack


Hey what’s up with all you out there reading this. My Name’s Seshat mack, and I’m pretty new to Harlemlive as of june 2006. I’m 14 years old . . . .. um, I’m gonna be a junior at Manhattan center for science and math in the fall. I do like to write, my favorite thing being editorials because that’s where I get to make a thesis on a current issue and defend it….   I love to talk and debate, especially over issues that actually matter. When I’m not being censored by my school for “unsuitable content” (when did it become unsuitable to question a certain teacher’s teaching habits?), I’m reading, listening to music, playing
music . . .etc. I don’t watch a lot of television, and I’m not overly fond of rap. I like rock, jazz, soundtrack music, alternative, adult alternative , and reggae. I like to read a lot, especially old stuff…..if you haven’t already, you should try all that old literature, jane austen and charlotte bronte aren’t as stuffy as you think they are…..can’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I’m pretty sure you get the gist by now.   I’m a little ….different but I like to think I’m pretty friendly and I don’t bite…..unless you make me mad.   If you don’t like me, then don’t talk to me (and quit reading my profile!) and then we’ll get along just fine, don’t you think??

More Than a Paycheck

Date posted:7/28/06

by Seshat Mack

In the heart of Harlem, on the third floor of a building on 125th street, work is being done. I look to my left, and see a member of HarlemLIVE diligently working, balancing a laptop on his lap as he creates a PowerPoint presentation on the desktop in front of him. I look to my right, and see a HarlemLIVE reporter editing her interviews with the aid of a seasoned reporter and cameraman. The aura of exertion, of creativity, of learning in itself, is ever-present as journalists work to meet their deadlines, cameramen work to edit their video, and everyone thinks of new topics to interest their readers. At HarlemLIVE, we see adolescents think and act like adults. Instead of aimlessly roaming the streets, teenagers have a chance to develop, enhance, and hone their skills. Is it fair – is it moral? – To take this opportunity, this chance for growth, away from Harlem teenagers because of a minor insignificance in the aesthetics of our building?
HarlemLIVE employees work hard. Why should we be stopped from working, from bettering ourselves and our communities, because of a hole outside our working area? This hole does not jeopardize our safety; this hole does not disturb us; it never crossed our minds until we were told that we couldn’t work here because of it. By telling us that we can’t work at HarlemLIVE, you are, in essence, depriving us of, possibly, one of the greatest experiences of our lives. You are sending us back to the streets; showing us a glimpse of what could be, then slamming the door of opportunity in our faces.

The HarlemLIVE employees that you are attempting to release from the program are putting up a fight. Have you wondered why? Have you wondered why we don’t want to leave? Could it be possible that we want more than a paycheck this summer? We want to stay because we found something more than a job. We found an experience . . . a place where we can do what we like, where we learn and are encouraged to learn, where we learn to grow up and take responsibility. To take HarlemLIVE away from us is an action that should rest on your conscience, because you’re taking away from us the contentment and familial feel that are present . . . . the essence of HarlemLIVE.

Shelise Roberts next to the cracked plaster.

Jason Taylor

Photographer / Tech / Web Editor

Hi my name is Jason Taylor I was born in , Jamacia . I¹ve enjoyed my stay in America . I came to HarlemLive to get a better understanding of life .In my spare time, I love to read books and I a Proctice on my designer. I also like to listen to music. I am beginning to understand more about Harlemlive. I attend the law and Goverment high school .What I want from harlemlive is to improve my typing skills.I love to listen to people i have two brother there name is clifton and Kishawn I love them but some time they can be a handfull I mean they get me in alot of trouble. In my spare time I like to watch movies and play video games. In the Future I want to be a Police office.


Hey Everyone!

Written by Editors

photos by Jason Taylor

HLWorks/At Work 

June 3, 2002

Here’s a little letter to those interested in joining the HarlemLive staff! On Sunday, June 2nd, editors Danya Steele, Justin Young, Jason Taylor, Clinfton Taylor, and a few other HL staff members headed down to Central Park to participate in the annual “Teen Volunteer Fair,” an event juxtaposed with celebrity appearances, prizes, and information on a variety of benefial organizations. We recruited a bunch of great prospects from this event; however if you missed us, it’s still not too late!

HarlemLIVE, in case you haven’t noticed is an online magazine created, edited, and produced by NYC TEENS and abroad. We are journalists, photographers, web designers, videographers, editors, public speakers, and just all around a group of ambitious, creative, and energetic young people who look to make an IMPACT on the scene of contemporary media.

What Makes HL Different?

As most of you have already been told, HarlemLIVE is different from other “youth organizations” in that we are actually a YOUTH ORGANIZATION, meaning FUELED and MANAGED by the YOUTH!!! Most other youth orgs are actually run by adults when you pay attention; the teens are merely pawns in a chess game. They don’t manage, control, or completely produce — anything. That is the very opposite here at HarlemLive. The utter creative freedom you have to express yourself in any way positively imaginable is wonderful. But then again, I suppose you’d have to come in yourself to see. 

Can I Get Community Service Hours? Paid?

Yes, you can. During the summer, our staff gets paid through SYEP (Summer Youth Employment Program) and during the school year, you get community service hours, so no matter what time of year it is, you’re always benefiting from something substantial. Besides this, the contacts, experience, and freedom of creative expression are just extraordinary. You’ll barely even notice you’re volunteering!

So When Do I Start?

This upcoming Monday, June 3rd, we’ll be holding our monthly staff meeting for the month of June. We hold these meetings every first Monday of a new month, and if you’re interested in joining, come on down! It would be fantastic chance for you to come by and meet the staff, get acquainted, get a feel of the place, etc. If you can’t make it to this staff meeting, we’ll be holding an orientation on Saturday, June 8th @ 5pm. Please email us back to let us know which one you can make!

Cya Soon!



HL Address:

301 W. 125th st. & 8th Ave.

3rd Floor

New York, NY 10026


Trains: 2,3,A,B,C,D,1,9 to 125th…

Buses: M60, 100, 101 & BX15

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