The Bronx, NY

The BRONX story shows how a group of organized youth can be the force behind designing their own high school

The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition was founded in the summer of 1974 to put an end to the waves of fires and building abandonment that was devastating Bronx neighborhoods. NWBCCC organizers helped tenant associations fight rent increases, and campaigned to change State housing laws to make capital improvements more affordable for tenants.

The position of the Northwest Bronx Coalition is clear, “We help people understand that as individuals they don’t have power, but as a group, they do.”

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In the early 1990’s, members saw that education was becoming the main thing preventing people from staying in the neighborhood. Bronx schools were in poor physical shape, highly overcrowded and only about one third of its students were reading at grade level. Their major education campaigns have focused on getting new school facilities built, improving teacher quality and teacher-student relations, and on innovative approaches for youth to have a voice in their own education.

Fernando CarloA main character in the Bronx story is Fernando Carlo, a twenty-year-old New York-born Puerto Rican, who started dropping out of school at age thirteen. Like so many other youth in his neighborhood, he was attending a large, overcrowded high school that was in poor physical condition, averaged close to forty students in a class, and had shortages of books and most supplies. He learned that a few youth were starting to meet in the offices of the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition.

Fernando became a founding member of Sistas and Brothas United (SBU), the youth division of the Coalition, and started to learn what it meant to be involved in organizing, thinking about one of the most important issues to youth – their education. SBU was granted permission to form a design team to create a new small public high school in their neighborhood called The Leadership Institute.

In September 2005, The Leadership Institute opened. They soon learned, however, that the struggle to open the school was just the beginning of their fight. They were not granted the permanent site they had been promised, and today, having been moved from their first temporary location, the school is still sharing facilities with a middle school that is not adequate for the needs of high school students.

Neither Fernando nor SBU has backed away from their vision, or their commitment to learn how to achieve it. As Luz Milanos, another founding SBU member, and current employee at the school, puts it, “We’re fighters, a little fighting school, and we are trying. Right now I think, I guess everything takes time, and now that it is in our third year, I sort of see those changes.”