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I Was a Teenage Community Board Member

scott stringer smiling at desk

There was a time in New York when the appointment of a young person to a community board made the headlines (or close to it). That was back in 1977, when the word “planning” was still a part of the term to describe the 50-member, unsalaried community boards that represent the city’s 59 districts (there were 62 boards in 1977). Current Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer is a case in point. His commitment to public service spans three decades. Appointed to Manhattan Community Board 12 (Washington Heights/Inwood) at the age of 16, Stringer learned the value of public participation and community involvement at an early age.

In a 1977 interview with the New York Times, a then-teenaged Stringer already had ideas for his community: “My board could be supportive of after-school programs and at least get a committee going — go into schools and organize activities like escort service for old people, cleaning up the parks and all sorts of things (sic).”

Like Borough President Stringer, many young New Yorkers have ideas for their community and are anxious to participate in civic life. Although he broke barriers with his teenaged appointment and as Borough President, has even appointed young community board members himself and considers diverse participation part of a larger puzzle to reform and empower community boards, there are still very few young people serving on community boards throughout the city.

While most community boards have a youth committee which focuses on issues relating to young people, and some boards, like Brooklyn Community Board 14 (Flatbush) actively connect youth to jobs and educational opportunities, few community boards cultivate youth participation during meetings. There are notable exceptions, however. Bronx Community Board 7, hosting two CITI Youth interns for the first time this past year, count on their participation and presented the students with awards at the final board meeting in July. Bronx Community Board 5 sought the participation of their CITI Youth interns in the important 197-a Committee, which was organized to create a comprehensive neighborhood plan. And Queens Community Board 1, in Astoria, valued the participation of their CITI Youth intern so much that he was appointed to the board in 2007, at age 18. Legislation now pending in Albany would ensure that teens as young as 16 could fully participate as community board members.