Civics class: High-school students join Ridge community board

Civics class: High-school students join Ridge community board
Photo by Trey Pentecost

It’s a youth movement!

Two high-school seniors became members of Bay Ridge’s Community Board 10 by Borough President Adams’s office when Borough Hall appointed the newest class of board members earlier this month.

One of the 17-year-olds, a student at Bay Ridge Prep, said he wanted to join the board to bring the voice of young people to a panel shaping civic life.

“What they’re deciding affects young people just as much as adults,” said Alex Pellitteri, who lives in Bath Beach. “The fact that there were no people my age and that that voice didn’t exist bothered me.”

Pellitteri said he has been regularly attending the board’s monthly meetings since last fall, but began following goings-on in local government about two years ago. And he’s been involved with many local political organizations, including Bay Ridge for Social Justice and a stint volunteering for Khader El-Yateem’s Council campaign.

He plans to continue his political education by studying political science at Hunter College on the distant isle of Manhattan beginning this fall, but will live off-campus in Dyker Heights, allowing him to attend board meetings and continue to be a fixture among local activists.

“I’d like to continue to be involved in the community as much as I can, and make change and give a voice to young people and other oppressed communities,” he said.

Pellitteri is particularly passionate about getting involved with the Police and Public Safety and Zoning committees to tackle concerns about policing conduct, illegal home conversions, and race relations in the community.

“Bay Ridge is very diverse, but a lot of immigrants in our community have had experiences where they may not want to trust the government or police, and we have to kind of re-build that relationship,” he said. “I think that housing and racism and discrimination definitely coincide, especially with illegal home conversions. When it comes to that issue we should look at people who are living in illegally-converted homes more as victims of a larger problem, which is the lack of affordable housing, and that we should advocate for tenants rights as well.”

The district manager said Pellitteri was the board’s third member in history who was 18-years-old or under, but that she wished more young people would get involved with the community board because of the opportunities it affords to learn about and get involved with local government.

“I think it’s wonderful for young people to get involved [with the community board],” said Josephine Beckmann. “I greatly enjoy having young people and their perspectives and their insight, and learning about local government and their community and wanting to volunteer.”

A 17-year-old senior at Fort Hamilton High School, Jana Taoube, will also be joining the board, Beckmann said. Taoube could not be reached for comment.

To apply for the unpaid, two-year, appointed position, Pellitteri had to fill out an online application with the Borough President’s office — which appoints members — and then attended a swearing-in and orientation event at Borough Hall on May 22.

Pellitteri said he hopes more teens will follow his lead to put themselves in the room where decisions are made, rather than leaving that responsibility with adults — who don’t always make the best decisions for the youth.

“Young people shouldn’t always blindly trust adults to make the best decisions for them,” he said, “because history shows that doesn’t always happen.”

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.