Community Heroes: an in-depth series on the lives and impact of people giving back to our global communities.
Tiffany Bender & Alize Beal, Co-Founders of Y.U.N.G. Harlem
Base Of Operations: Harlem, N.Y.
Why are they Community Heroes: Y.U.N.G Harlem is an organization created by Bender and Beal to address the needs of young Black people in and around Harlem and to provide “positive leadership” by way of guiding them towards college and solid careers.
In response to a deadly spate of violence in Harlem in the summer of 2008, then college freshmen Tiffany Bender and Alize Beal co-founded the Y.U.N.G. (Youth Under New Guidance) Harlem organization. Together, Ms. Bender and Ms. Beal employ a hands-on approach in turning around the fortunes of young Black men in Harlem and have aims to expand their outreach efforts across the entire city.
“Young Black men between 14 and 24 make up just 2 percent of the population, and they make up 20 percent of the homicides in this area [Harlem],” explained Bender. “That’s crazy to me. It’s happening in the mecca of Black culture and I want to do what I can to fix even a little corner of it.”
Y.U.N.G. Harlem’s programs are focused on creating a bridge between three key areas: the community’s youth, young professionals, and local businesses in the area. The organization works primarily in school settings, offering lectures and encouraging students to consider higher education. Y.U.N.G. Harlem also works in some of the city’s housing projects, urging schoolchildren to finish high school and apply to some of the vaunted Ivy League schools as well.
“We’re going to the project and telling kids not only do you need to finish high school, but you need to apply to these Ivy League and private schools because they want you just as much as you want them,” said Bender.
The organization also wants young professionals to move back to the area and not just take up roots, but also carve time out of their day to provide tips and tools to the youth in hopes to inspire them as well.
Y.U.N.G. Harlem, like many well-meaning groups of a similar sort, are plagued with funding issues and aren’t able to provide the level of support they would like. Currently, the group awards $500 scholarships to go toward college textbooks. For a time, Bender and Beal were paying for the scholarships with their own money. The scholarship winners also are assigned mentors comprised of volunteers that come and speak to the students on a variety of topics related to higher education.
The group is working with a class of seniors now in the famed New York borough, and will assist them in obtaining outside scholarship money in their respective fields of interest. There is also a push to see the program spread further than Harlem in a few years.
“In five years, we hope to change Y.U.N.G. Harlem into Y.U.N.G. New York, because what’s happening here in Harlem is happening in parts of Brooklyn, in parts of The Bronx, in parts of Queens,” said Bender. “We want to make it a greater New York effort.”
Bender and Beal are currently set to launch a GoFundMe project to raise capital in order to complete the paperwork necessary become a 501 (C) 3 nonprofit organization. Y.U.N.G Harlem also has an ambitious goal of sending five of its students to Harvard University.