The Harlem Children’s Zone has established a team of street monitors, called “Safety Knights,” to protect students who are walking home from their afterschool programs from neighborhood gangs. The Knights have been deployed along a 10-block stretch, from 125th to 135th Streets, according to a news story in the New York Daily News.
“We’ve had an explosion of gang activity,” Canada told the Daily News. “Kids, for their own protection, can’t walk through certain areas, and it means that you’re almost forced to join one of these neighborhood groups, which is a horrible thing.”
The Knights are easy to spot between 125th and 135th Sts. They wear orange vests, communicate using walkie-talkies and sit bright lanterns on the sidewalk for when it gets dark outside.
When the Knights aren’t standing at their assigned spots, they are working at HCZ programs as tutors, security guards or administrative staff members. Some are familiar faces for the kids who pass through the zone.
While gangs terrorize the streets, Canada doesn’t deny some are right under his nose.
“There are kids in our school who are in gangs,” he said, noting that some of the gangbangers are A students.
“What kind of crazy world do we live in when you get 95 on your geometry Regents, and yet you belong to a gang?” he said. “That’s because all the kids feel like they have to.”
Addressing the issue has not been easy.
The initiative was put to the test the day it started, when a group attempted to attack a student playing basketball in a park along the corridor.
More recently, two people were also shot along the corridor, just 20 minutes after the Safety Knights left.
But the Knights are continuing to protect children, refusing to lose the struggle over the streets.
“The day you don’t come back,” said Canada, “[the gangs] think they won.”