Our Communities

In East Harlem and the Lower East Side, African-American and Hispanic youth triumph over challenges with help from AFJ.
On The Lower East Side, gentrification has not eradicated the poverty and crime that hurt African-American and Hispanic youth.
On The Lower East Side, gentrification has not eradicated the poverty and crime that hurt African-American and Hispanic youth.

Avenues for Justice’s primary objective is to halt the revolving-door cycle of incarceration and poverty for youthful offenders primarily in the Lower East Side and East Harlem. In 2018, AFJ expanded its service area to include all of Manhattan.

A study conducted by a University of Buffalo faculty member found that nearly 75% of inmates in New York State prisons come from seven neighborhoods in New York City – two of those neighborhoods being our service areas, East Harlem and the Lower East Side.

Black and Latino Males: Fighting the Trends

In 2013, the NYC Young Men’s Initiative report, led by the Mayor's Office, presented dismal statistics about young Black and Latinos. Compared to young Asian and White males, Blacks and Latinos are:

  • 50% more likely to grow up in poverty and nearly all foster care children are Black or Hispanic
  • Twice as likely to drop out of high school
  • 90% more likely to be suspended from school, arrested, jailed or murdered.
  • 60% more likely to be unemployed

Most of these young people lack a secure family foundation. In these situations, drug dealers and gang members open the doors for misguided youth. Eventually these doors lead to prison.

Avenues of Challenge

Teenagers in poor neighborhoods often see crime as the most effective way to get ahead. Their decisions often get them into trouble, and arise from four persistent problems:

  • Concentrated Poverty: Statistically, poverty adversely affects the young. In East Harlem, people live in poverty at a rate twice that of the city as a whole
  • Family Instability: Youth in low-income communities are more likely to experience unstable families. Young parents, single parents, or other guardians are often subject to financial constraints that limit choices and negatively affect youth.
  • Failing Education: Only about 50% of kids in Lower East Side schools graduate. In East Harlem, the number is 54%. Factoring out one or two of the better schools, graduation rates on the Lower East Side are around 20%.
  • Drugs: Drug trafficking fuels gang activity, prostitution, unchecked access to firearms and a compelling alternative to legitimate employment.

Together, these daunting factors create an endless cycle of crime and incarceration, as U.S. prison rates soar way beyond those of any other country in the world. There is, however, a way to break the cycle-as Avenues for Justice proves every day.