In an exclusive interview with LittleAfrica News on Friday, September 8th, Mayor Eric Adams discussed schools opening, increased school safety measures, the city’s youth engagement initiatives, the ongoing migrant crisis, and the upcoming African Heritage Month celebration.
Beyond Politics: Embracing 20,000 Migrant Students
Mayor Adams shared the triumphant efforts of his administration to integrate over 20,000 migrant students into the city’s school system since Spring 2022. Despite the attention surrounding the migrant crisis, which has overshadowed other initiatives, Adams noted that his team has achieved “clear victories” in the past 20 months, many of which people previously thought were impossible.
The mayor stated that his administration was committed to providing the best for children and families.
A significant accomplishment that Adams emphasized was the progress made with the newly integrated migrant children in the schools. Many of these students initially struggled with English upon their arrival. However, due to dedicated efforts from the education community, these students learned English and actively supported their immigrant families.
Adams mentioned that Chancellor David Banks and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) formed a special partnership with the state. This partnership allowed Spanish-speaking teachers from different disciplines to transition into roles focused on bi-lingual education without compromising their tenure.
“This was a creative way of complimenting the Spanish-speaking instruction population we have,” Adams commented.
He stated that migrant students from Russia, Ukraine, West Africa, and Ecuador, who spoke various languages, have now become an integral part of the city school system.
The mayor went on to insist that the efforts went beyond mere education. Schools played a crucial role in supporting these migrant students holistically. Coat, food, shoe, and clothing drives were organized to assist these students, turning these initiatives into meaningful instructional moments.
“They did more than just educate,” Adams expressed with evident pride.
He applauded the dedication of the city’s principals and teachers, who he said not only absorbed the influx of students but also thrived amidst the challenge.
“They teamed up with other young people and used this as an instructional moment,” he said.
Despite the political conversations surrounding migration, Adams emphasized that his administration’s primary goal is to ensure that these scholars become an integral part of New York City Public Schools.
“The politics is not their issue. They need to be able to learn. And that’s what our focus is,” he concluded.
School Safety and Project PIVOT to Engage Youth
New York City has boosted its force of School Safety Agents to enhance school safety, with 4,100 currently in place and another 250 preparing to join the ranks.
Additionally, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has amped up its communication efforts, holding weekly discussions with not only public school principals but also those from charter and private schools. These dialogues, facilitated by precinct commanders, aim to maintain a unified and proactive stance toward maintaining safety across educational institutions.
Mayor Adams expressed astonishment upon discovering that prior to his tenure, key city stakeholders rarely communicated with one another. “It was unbelievable to me that the chancellor, the police commissioner, precinct commanders, and borough commanders never, if ever, communicated with each other,” Adams remarked, emphasizing that an integrated approach to public safety should be at the heart of leadership strategies.
Mayor Adams believes in an ecosystem where multiple agencies, including the ACS, Department of Buildings, FDNY, and NYPD, frequently collaborate to discuss safety protocols.
Adams said principals often know when there’s a threat to the community, be it a potential gun situation, gang activity, or bullying.
He noted that establishing an ongoing dialogue will enable stakeholders to be proactive rather than reactive. Instead of over-policing communities, the focus is on enabling school principals to call for special police assistance as required.
Mayor Adams said, “Developing that relationship was important, and it has really bore fruit. We have not had one shooting in the school or on school grounds. Because of this approach, we need to continue to do what we’re doing.”
Further augmenting school safety, the city is set to equip its School Safety Agents with bulletproof vests. Emphasizing the pragmatic nature of such measures, the mayor noted, “Doing public safety is not some simple idealism. There’s realism that’s attached to how you keep a community safe.”
Another initiative under Mayor Adams’ administration, “Project PIVOT,” strives to partner with Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) to engage with youth at critical junctures in their lives, helping them achieve their fullest potential. The project, which began last year, now extends its reach to over 250 schools.
Mayor Adams underscored the inspiration behind Project PIVOT, revealing that the initiative was shaped after discussions with young individuals.
A recurring concern among these youth was the prevalent mental health crisis, manifesting in incidents of suicide and attempted suicide. Furthermore, many desired to foster better relationships with the police department.
According to the mayor, Project PIVOT was established to address these concerns, providing avenues for law enforcement officers to engage directly with students, facilitating constructive dialogues, and nurturing a wholesome environment.
Adams said the project’s goal is to build trust and deter potential violent confrontations, ensuring a safer and more cohesive community.
Ongoing Migrant Crisis
Mayor Adams stated that the “right to shelter” was not designed for the humanitarian crisis of this magnitude that the city is currently facing. Adams said, “Now, the way it stands, someone can come from anywhere on the globe and come to New York, and we have to house them, feed them, shelter them, wash their clothing, no matter how many people for as long as they wanna stay in our shelter system, that doesn’t even make any sense.”
New York City has experienced a significant migration influx since last spring, with financial projections indicating the city might spend an estimated $12 billion over three fiscal years to support asylum seekers.
Adams mentioned that New York’s taxpayers are bearing the burden of the ongoing crisis. However, he emphasized that he cannot prevent migrants from coming to the city.
“It’s against the law. If the buses come here, if the planes come here, no matter what, I have to accommodate them. If I deny them, I’ll be breaking the law. I’m not able to send them any places against their will. Only the national government can deport people. I’m not allowed to do so,” said the mayor.
To alleviate this growing concern, the Adams administration has reached out to the federal government, urging them to expedite work permits for migrants.
Adams highlighted that not allowing migrants to work legally could lead them to be exploited and forced into minimum-wage jobs. He also emphasized that this creates an environment where women could be sexually exploited and might be too afraid to report any form of abuse.
He said, “We’re now seeing more and more sex trafficking and prostitution on our streets. So this is feeding a real crisis.”
Adams said when he made comments at the town hall, suggesting the migrant crisis could “destroy” the city, he clarified that it’s the crisis that could jeopardize the city, not the migrants themselves.
He expressed that it’s unreasonable for someone to be in this country without the right to work, especially given the vast number of available job vacancies. He found it almost ironic that these individuals are being “prevented from working amid such high labor demand.”
He said, “We’re saying the foundation of the American dream is the right to work. We’re saying everyone should have that right to work. If not, you are going to be a drain on society instead of a contributor to society.”
When probed further on the “right to shelter” law and whether his administration considered suspending it, Mayor Adams responded, “I don’t have the power to sign an executive order to suspend. It has to go back to court.”
He emphasized the need for federal assistance in navigating the city’s current predicaments.
African Heritage Month
On a celebratory note, Mayor Adams expressed enthusiasm about the upcoming African Heritage Month celebration he is hosting at Gracie Mansion on Thursday, September 14th.
Adams, who has traveled extensively in Africa, recounted his previous trips, including visiting Morocco, Egypt, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Ghana. He specifically recounted several trips to South Africa, in which he drove from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth via the beautiful garden route and then to Johannesburg.
Adams said, “I look forward to getting over to Rwanda. I’m really inspired by the leadership there.”
Mayor Adams is currently planning to go on a seven country African tour and bringing leaders, as he did with his most recent trip to Israel, to accompany him. Adams emphasized his keen interest in forging deeper ties with Africa and its communities in the future.