Celebration Marks 20 Years of Beat the Street


MERIDEN - Dressed in crimson velvet with her hair tied in an updo, Iya Crockett, 14, looked directly into the camera and worked the microphone like a network pro.

Iya's assignment Tuesday night was to interview parents and youngsters in the Beat The Street program about how it's made a difference in their lives. The interviews will be part of a package showcasing Beat the Street statewide.

Cheyenne Leigh and her son, Chayce Sanders, 8, were willing participants.

"Chayce has been in the boxing program," Leigh told Iya. "He goes on a lot of field trips and college trips. He's got them thinking of this early. They care about the children and want them to do well. And they're on top of the kids and I love it."

Iya and Chayce were only two of dozens of youngsters and 200 adults who attended the 20th anniversary celebration of the popular city youth program that started with a boxing ring on Railroad Avenue and now includes hip-hop dancing, music engineering and mixing, and broadcasting production. It also founded the Back to School Expo, and the Community Garden at the downtown Hub. The event was to honor Beat the Street, its staff of coaches, volunteers and board members who have helped make a difference in the lives of thousands of city children, said presenter and board member Kevin Curry.

"Tonight is about the people who make this organization work," Curry said. "It's a group of volunteers and I'm glad to be on the board. This is a great night to remember the things that have gone on over the years."

Executive Director Larry Pelletier founded Beat the Street in 1994, at a time when gang violence and crime were high in the city. Pelletier said opening a boxing ring after school would provide youngsters with something to do in a safe environment. The coaches, who were also honored Tuesday, became more like mentors and role models and the opportunity to compete in public was eye-opening for many youngsters, Pelletier said.

But not every child who came to Beat the Street was a boxer, and with the help of some new volunteers the organization opened up its hip hop program, which offered its members the same mentoring services, field trips and exposure to different colleges and future career choices. The community garden came later and has moved from the Hub. The Back to School Expo that provides thousands of city youth with back packs was taken over two years ago by the city's fire department union.

But the fatal stabbing of a city youngster three years ago brought city leaders and youth workers together to identify more ways to provide mentoring and program opportunities to young people. After meetings with representatives from the Boys & Girls Club, the NAACP of Meriden and Wallingford, the city public schools, the YMCA, police and churches, the C4R, or Community Crime Reduction program was created.

The groups collaborated with the other groups and centers to provide fitness, boxing, dancing, television production and received two $300 grants over two years from the state.

As Pelletier addressed the crowd, video recordings of children involved in the various programs played on a screen behind him.

"This is a way to let the community know how we're able to work together," Pelletier said. "Everybody has something to share. We're taking them off the street."

State Rep. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, said state lawmakers will see the video and recognize the program as a good investment for the community.

"The money that was sent to Meriden is going to be a great interest within the community," she said. "And these kids are proud they were able to participate and be part of the final product."

Iya enjoys the television production program for the exposure she's getting for a possible future career. She's been to music colleges and on other field trips with mentors that have broadened her horizons, she said. By comparison, Tuesday night's assignment was fairly tame.

"I've taken a trip to Boston and interviewed some of the musicians," she said.

-Mary Ellen Godin - Originally published in Record-Journal (Meriden, CT)

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