About 250 residents of the Upper Albany neighborhood joined police and firefighters Tuesday evening for a National Night Out Against Crime event at the Wilson-Gray YMCA.
The annual community-building event included plenty of free entertainment and food, but the program also encouraged discussion of serious local issues and stronger police-community partnerships against crime and drug abuse. The Upper Albany event was one of several National Night Out events held around the city on Tuesday.
At the Wilson-Gray YMCA, speakers included teens from the YMCA's summer youth employment program who urged youths to avoid drugs, alcohol and violence. Representatives of local police and fire departments shared safety tips.
As public safety workers bonded with community residents, teens played basketball and young kids ran through sprinklers and did back flips in a bounce house.
"We're around on our bikes, getting in the bouncy house and hanging out with our friends," said Shakyra Asiam, 11, a student at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School.
The program shows that "it's better to have fun and give out hot dogs than dodge bullets," said Carl Hardrick, an employee at the YMCA.
The first National Night Out, in 1984, was celebrated in 400 communities in 23 states. It is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting local anti-crime efforts.
"If a community is going to erase crime, the police department and community need to go in 50-50," said Matt Peskin, executive director of NATW, who created the program in 1984.
Andrew Woods, executive director of the nonprofit Hartford Communities That Care Inc. and local organizer for National Night Out events, said the divide between residents and those who serve them causes difficulties when police and other safety personnel need the public's help.
"Oftentimes there is a disconnect between elected officials or people who provide services to residents," Woods said. Residents "don't think these departments are accessible."
"It's about building those connections with community where it's not around a crisis," said Andrea Comer, the Hartford Police Department's coordinator of the Weed and Seed crime-fighting program. "It's an opportunity to connect with young people [making them] more willing to interact, more willing to inform of [crimes] and help solve crimes when they do occur."
Mayor Pedro E. Segarra, Fire Chief Edward Casares Jr. and Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts made their rounds to the city's National Night Out locations, supporting community policing and crime prevention. The mayor's public safety and community outreach extension program is called On the Beat.
Muhammad Ansari, president of the Greater Hartford branch of the NAACP, also attended.
Clinton Hamilton, interim executive director of the Wilson-Gray YMCA, praised the teamwork behind the city's National Night Out.
"You have a great collaboration with the city, Hartford Communities that Care, and the YMCA," Hamilton said. "It speaks volumes for all of the organizations involved."
National Night Out "helps the youth change for the better, and I would love to see more activities like today happen and stop the violence," YMCA employee Henry Johnson said.
Hardrick, of the Wilson-Gray YMCA, agreed: "We don't think it's done enough, we would like to see it once a month." It shows youth that "you don't have to see the drug dealers, the gangs, the drive-by shootings, the yellow tape."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at