"Kids are looking for alternatives to violence and want to latch onto positive messages," Ruby-Beth Buitekant says. The New York-based law student and community organizer started working with teens through Youth Organizing to Save Our Streets, a program she ran via the Crown Heights Mediation Center that aims to educate at-risk young people about the alternatives to gun violence and promote community-building and independence. "We challenge young people to come up with their own projects," she says. In practice, these projects can involve creating posters and artwork that promote anti-gun messages and that have been displayed in a Brooklyn gallery, taking to the streets to hand out pamphlets about how to reduce violence, and painting Crown Heights store windows over the holiday season with messages of peace. The organization also offers "confidence-boosting activities" like information on "ways to find work and options to go back to school," Buitekant says.
What's nearly as important as the programs being offered, she adds, is the ability to connect with teens on their own turf: social media. "I am absolutely obsessed with Twitter," she says, noting how useful it is with organizing activities in the community. And if she's looking to reach students, she'll often find them on Instagram. But timing is key. "I use my G-Shock to figure out when the kids are out of school so I should post something to Instagram versus when it's the time of day that adults are at work and I can use Twitter," she says. Plus her watch comes in handy when she's working on projects outdoors. "The G-Shock is really durable and can help me even if it's snowing or sleeting," she says. "When you want to connect with somebody you go to their office and for a lot of folks we're working with, their office is the street."