Codes & Covenants

My hope for this project is that in creating a space for a conversation on “codes & covenants” street based youth of color – many of whom are queer, trans, and/or experiencing homelessness – will begin to articulate an agreement between themselves, with and for their community. They will come up with their own covenant.

With this in mind, what does covenant look like for this particular population of folk? What is the purpose of such a covenant? If “community safety” is the intended outcome, then what does community safety look like to them?

I. Start the conversation, start with what they know:

I’ve heard that there is a “street code” or set of ethics.


1. Street code:

A code created for the hoodz to live by; street laws that require members or supporters to follow; a code of pride.

Example: “A man pulls up in a car to an adversary. He shoots the man outside of the car, and a stray bullet kills an innocent girl. Punishment for breaking a street code out of unconsideration will result in how those in the streets want to settle it.”

2. G Code:

The G Code stands for Gangster or Ghetto Code. It is generally used to describe the old gangsters, the street veterans, who are from the ghetto or the hood as some like to call it. To be born in the G Code is something to be proud of…

Example: “We don’t talk to police, we don’t make a peace bond, we don’t trust in the judicial system, we shoot guns. We rely on the streets, we do battle in the hood, I was born in the G Code, embedded in my blood.”

Or as one of the youth said to me the other day, “snitches get stitches.”

  • What other codes have you experienced? (hospital codes, color codes, police codes, pass codes, codes of conduct, etc.)
  • What rules or codes do you live by?
  • Where does this “code” come from?
  • What is the purpose of the code? (example: “To not get caught,” Dexter; safety and security)

3. Rules vs. Agreements

As we start to think about these codes, they begin to sound more like rules. Once this is established one of the youth was quick to point out the fact that one of the issues with rules is that these are typically “one-sided.” It is as if one person gets to decide and then impose this rule, which is based on a particular set of social norms, and everyone else is expected to obey without question.

I see this happen a lot at home or in schools – parents, guardians, or “authority figures” get to make up rules that may or may not respect all parties involved. This often makes following the rule damn near impossible. Instead, I encourage them to consider the language of agreements instead of rules. What can we agree to do together? Can we agree on mutual respect – recognizing that we may need different things from someone to feel respected?

Agreements emphasize mutuality, that is, our power to compromise and work together;  while rules on the other hand seem to emphasize one’s power to dominate and control an other.

Take some time to talk about rules vs agreements

3. Covenants

covenant |ˈkəvənənt|noun

an agreement.

  • In law this might look like a contract drawn up by deed or a clause in a contract.
  • In theology, a covenant is an agreement that brings about a relationship of commitment between God and a people. The Jewish faith is based on the biblical covenants made with Abraham, Moses, and David. See also Ark of the Covenant.

 Covenant = an agreement between parties; an agreement with intention.

4. Community Safety Covenant

Community safety has become a hot topic in my mostly white neighborhood  – when the Broadway Youth Center, which serves street based youth of color – again, many of whom are queer, trans, and/or experiencing homelessness – moved to its current location at Wellington Ave UCC neighbors had strong, fear-based reactions.

Since then they have asked the BYC and WAUCC to consider hiring security, posting security cameras, etc. When we said NO this resulted in several community meetings, a proposal for a Good Neighbor Agreement, and a zoning board hearing (see previous post: Take Time to Celebrate for details).

As part of the conditions of the Good Neighbor Agreement, WAUCC, BYC, and the alderman’s office entered into an agreement that emphasized open communication, cooperation, and accountability for all parties. Well, except for our neighbors.

In other words, we have not YET covenanted to work together to make this community safe for all. So, the agreement that is in place often feels more like rules and these rules do not necessarily make our whole community feel safe.


II. Activity: Communal Brainstorm

What does community safety look like to you?

This is what some of the street based youth of color came up with:

Community safety looks like…

  • Less police
  • No more racial profiling
  • No more shooting
  • No more “passing” (or transpassing)
  • Queer competent people
  • People letting go of their false sense of security
  • Investing in communities of color

This lesson plan was inspired by:

A Chicago tumblr called: “Community Safety Looks Like…”

photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/8/14)
photo by Sarah Jane Rhee (3/8/14)

…which was inspired by the Morris Justice’s community safety wall project in NYC:

In two weeks, we will gather again and turn our “Codes & Covenants” conversation and brainstorming session into an art project. Stay tuned!

Real T,



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