OP-ED: Bedford-Union Armory Can Help Close the Achievement Gap in Crown Heights

It's no secret that many young people in Crown Heights don't have access to the same resources and support systems as those in wealthier neighborhoods across the city. But we don't need to keep treating that like it's business as usual.

The numbers tell a story that should inspire us to enact change now. While 95 percent of students in areas like Tribeca and Soho finish high school on time, only around 72 percent of Crown Heights students do the same, according to a study by the nonprofit Measure of America.

How can we do more to close that achievement gap in Crown Heights?

At the Central Brooklyn Soccer Club, we have sought to do this for many young Brooklynites by helping to provide mentorship that empowers them to succeed both in athletics and in the classroom. By tracking the performance of student athletes and giving them individualized tools to address challenges, we can help ensure that a child's educational achievement is not limited by his or her family's neighborhood or income level.

We often find that one of the most crucial components of this work is securing and maintaining high-quality athletic space that is easily accessible to our student athletes, many of whom live in historically underserved communities like Crown Heights. When young people have a safe, welcoming place to play and hone their athletic skills, they become more invested in personal development and are better equipped to build academic and leadership skills that will aid them in high school, college and professional careers.

That is why Central Brooklyn Soccer Club is among the non-profits preparing to utilize new recreational space planned at the Bedford-Union Armory, which is located in Crown Heights but has sat vacant and unused for years. The reality is that, for too long, thousands of young people in Crown Heights and surrounding neighborhoods have lacked these kind of resources, which open doors not only for soccer but also for basketball, track and field and other sports and pursuits.

The Armory's rec center will enable us to expand our programming for Crown Heights youth by providing more direct, hands-on mentorship within the heart of the community. We believe the Armory will play a vital role in efforts to close the achievement gap that still makes it less likely for a Crown Heights student to graduate high school than his or her peers in a wealthy Manhattan district.

If you believe it is time to create new athletic, educational and skill-building opportunities for young people in Crown Heights, stand up and support the city's plan to redevelop the Bedford-Union Armory with a rec center that will positively impact thousands of local families. By working together, we can level the playing field for kids of all backgrounds and ensure a brighter, more just future for our city.

Dario Trujillo is executive director of the Central Brooklyn Soccer Club.