New Haven neighborhood’s response to killing: unity and demand for jobs
Youth led the march against violence and for jobs, in memory of Tyriek Keyes (pictured center on the banner). | Art Perlo / PW

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A tragedy has given rise to unity and hope in the Newhallville neighborhood where 14-year old Tyriek B. Keyes was killed just blocks from his home this summer.

Keyes, a talented dancer and popular leader of Ice the Beef Youth had just graduated from eighth grade at Fair Haven School. His classmates, family and community were devastated.

On Saturday, Sept. 23 the streets were alive with chants of “Stop the Violence” and “Jobs for Youth” as a diverse crowd of nearly 200 young people, community and union leaders, clergy and elected officials marched with a portrait of Keyes, to uphold the city’s priorities for jobs, youth needs and safety.

Along the march route residents waved from their windows, came out on their porches to shout support, and filmed the procession. Some joined in.

As the march approached its destination, the youth in the front broke into a step dancing routine. Gathered on Bassett Street at the block-long empty building between Watson and Goodyear, calls were issued for the site to become a youth and jobs center.

This building, said Ice the Beef director Chaz Carmon, could be a center for youth and jobs in the Newhallville neighborhood.

Standing next to the portrait of Keyes that marchers had signed, his mother Demethra Telford responded with a song, a message of thanks, and a vow to continue her son’s legacy by working to stop the violence.

The march, organized by New Elm City Dream/YCL, Ice the Beef and New Haven Rising, reflected the results of a summer organizing project in the neighborhood surveying youth about what they would like to see happen in their community. An end to gun violence, jobs and gathering spaces for youth topped the list.

During the second week of canvassing, Keyes was shot to death on the street. March organizer Jahmal Henderson said “the march and rally was a direct response to that young man’s death, and to what we had been hearing all summer from youth in the neighborhood.”

Newhallville is a predominantly African American neighborhood, formed during the Great Migration when the Winchester Sporting Arms factory had advertised in North Carolina and across the South for workers to move to New Haven for jobs.

For decades, the factory was the largest employer in the city and IAM Victory Lodge 609 had the largest union membership. When the factory closed 20 years ago, Newhallville, located in the shadow of wealthy Yale University, went into economic decline. In recent years that has begun to turn around.

The march reflects new organizing in the city. The largest employer is now Yale University and Yale New Haven Hospital. UNITE HERE Locals 33, 34, 35 at Yale University, with the largest union membership in the region, joined in the march along with their community affiliate New Haven Rising.

Their top demand is that Yale hire from the surrounding neighborhoods where poverty and unemployment is highest. This neighborhood outreach by the unions at Yale led the community last spring to come out in support of Local 33 graduate teachers’ long struggle for union representation at Yale.

This summer’s youth survey picked up from a similar survey by New Elm City Dream / YCL six years ago. The priorities for jobs, youth needs and ending violence were highlighted in several large marches and mirrored a massive door knocking effort which elected union members and allies to the Board of Alders across the city.

In 2011 an informal coalition of union and community groups put forward some of their key leaders to run for Board of Alders in the city’s 30 wards. They had, after knocking on doors, found the same top priorities for jobs, youth and safety. This summer’s survey took place as door knocking, led by New Haven Rising, continued around the issues and in support of Mayor Toni Harp in the Democratic primary. She carried the election three to one.

During these six years community organizing and union campaigns, including several civil disobedience actions, have won commitments from Yale University to hire 1,000 New Haven residents including 500 from “neighborhoods of need” like Newhallville.

The march encompassed this movement in the City. Led by Rev. Scott Marks, founder of New Haven Rising, marchers chanted, “We are the movement, the mighty, mighty movement…”

At the 10 am. kickoff behind Lincoln-Bassett School, New Haveners, young and old, took their posts carrying banners with slogans for equality, justice, hope, jobs, and peace.

Ice The Beef’s own “Heartbreakers” quartet sang a beautiful rendition of “Its So Hard To Say Goodbye,” followed by remarks from Alderwoman Delphine Clyburn. Several Alders came to show support. State Rep Robyn Porter and State Sen. Gary Winfield spoke at the ending rally.

The march paused at Newhall and Bassett Sts. for a prayer in memory of Tyriek, led by The Rev. Charles Brewer and Elder Ron Hurt. Keye’s mother, Demethra Telford, assured the crowd that she would fight not just for the memory of her son, but for the protection of all Newhallville children.

“Even when I get justice for my child,” she said. “I’m going to continue to push for stopping the violence. My son’s legacy does live on.”

At the closing rally Scott Marks Jr. representing New Haven Rising, read a quote from Assata Shakur: “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

The Winchester-Newhall club of the Communist Party helped organize the march. | Art Perlo / PW

The Newhall/Winchester club of the Communist Party updated the 2011 New Elm City Dream/ YCL Youth Survey which had been launched when there were a record number of homicides in New Haven. Recognizing that lack of jobs and economic security leads to violence, they organized for “Jobs For Youth, Jobs For All.”

Led by Henderson, surveys were collected door to door every Saturday. Most of the youth who filled out surveys also signed up to get involved. Seventeen people showed up at a mid-August meetup during the annual Newhall/Division St. block party, where the march plans began to take shape.

At the march Henderson said, “This is the first of many, many more actions with our youth, our community, and our clergy. We just want to keep this village growing, connected, positive, and keep making change throughout Newhallville and throughout the entire city.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Joelle Fishman
Joelle Fishman

Joelle Fishman chairs the Connecticut Communist Party USA. She is a Commissioner on the City of New Haven Peace Commission, serves on the executive board of the Alliance of Retired Americans in Connecticut and is an active member of many economic rights and social justice organizations. She was a candidate for Congress from 1973 to 1982, maintaining minor-party ballot status for the Communist Party in Connecticut's Third Congressional District. As chair of the CPUSA Political Action Commission, she has played an active role in the broad labor and people's alliance that defeated the ultra-right in the 2008 elections and continues to mobilize for health care, worker rights and peace.

 

 

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