Residents come to city council meeting with concerns about bullying

By Jeffrey Merchan

After passing 21 resolutions at Monday’s Common Council meeting, members heard from about two dozen residents during the citizen’s hearing. City Manager Matthew Alexander and Councilman Dwight Douglas were not present. City attorney Timothy Kramer filled Alexander’s role. 

The proposed 8-12 week pilot program of the Peekskill Community Kitchen along with $23,000 in anti-violence funding was given the green light by council members. The Community Kitchen is a collaboration between the city’s Youth Bureau, Senior Citizens and the Parks and Recreation departments.  The summer pilot program would be available for at-risk young adults, ages 18-24, and be held in the Neighborhood Center’s Dining Room. It will offer a restaurant-type setting for all residents to gather, socialize, and dine while providing young adults with valuable skills. The council also authorized the city manager to hire grant writers for no more than $10,00 to seek grants for improvements in the Youth Bureau building which is at the former Fire Patrol firehouse next to City Hall and the Nutrition Room space in the Neighborhood Center. 

Authorization of the temporary closure of the northbound right-turning lane on South Division Street between South and Park streets for a traffic test, part of the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, was approved by the council. The closure will occur during July or August 2023 for approximately two weeks. City Manager Matthew Alexander will execute a contract amendment with Barton & Loguidice D.P.C. for $8,900 for the traffic test. Mayor Vivian McKenzie abstained from all resolutions involving Barton & Loguidice D.P.C as she has a project with them. McKenzie is the owner of Kathleen’s Tea Room. 

Citizens Desiring To Be Heard: Gianlukas Illescas 

After finalizing city business, the council listened during the hearing of citizens to moving testimonies from residents and family and friends of Gianlukas Illescas, a Hillcrest student who passed away nearly three weeks ago. “My life is over. The only thing I’m asking for right now is some help for the rest of the kids,” said Christian Illescas, father of Gianlukas. He added that Peekskill police often are unable to help in bullying situations due to the age of those involved. Familiar faces from last week’s school board meeting spoke before the council pleading for help to combat alleged bullying in the Peekskill City School District. “I’m aware that something of this nature needs to be brought up to the school board and I did just that along with my son and a lot of other Peekskill residents just last week. I feel as though we were ignored last week when we spoke and I also feel that nothing will be done,” said resident Jennifer Gordineer. 

Jennifer Gordineer spoke to the Council as did her son Landon.

Many Spanish speaking parents told the council in their native language about incidents of bullying their children experienced. Resident Elena Walker translated for the parents. 

Peekskill resident Marc Laurence spoke of a different approach the council could consider to bring communities together and spread positivity. “Rest in peace to Lukas. I pray perhaps we can have some sort of annual summer event in his name promoting peace, empathy, respect, and compassion,” said Laurence. He referenced sporting events that were held in memory of recent Peekskill students who died; Omarion McKenzie, Joquaim Salazar and Liony Santos. 

Marc Laurence at Depew Park celebration in 2021.

Growing up experiencing difficulties in school and at home, Laurence was always determined to help people rather than following in the direction his environment was leading him towards. Laurence said he has experience helping youth get jobs, stay out of trouble, and has provided emotional and financial support. In the early 2000’s, Laurence worked for the after school program (YES) at the Peekskill Middle School which was one of his first ventures in giving back and helping the youth of Peekskill. “I met a lot of kids that I’m still in touch with today,” said Laurence when speaking to the Herald after Monday’s meeting.

In 2021, Laurence with the help of school board trustee Allen Jenkins, threw a moving up ceremony at Depew Park for 5th graders after discovering the administration had no plans for the students. This event featured over 1,000 water balloons, bubble machines, and food and drinks. Kids of all backgrounds enjoyed a fun day together as well as parents getting to know each other, said Laurence. The success of this event inspired Laurence to propose a similar event in honor Gianlukas to council members. 

“We have to be able to rely on each other as a community.  Something we can all relate to regardless of religion or political affiliation is being a parent. If we want the best for our kids, we have to want the best for everybody’s kids. We need to unite under a Peekskill umbrella. We need to let these kids be kids and learn to have each other’s backs,” said Laurence.

Council Members share condolences 

Mayor Vivian McKenzie and council members were moved by the testimonies they heard and shared condolences with those affected by the death of Gianlukas. I can’t imagine what your family is going through. But this is something we have to work together for as a community. I’m not blaming anyone because I don’t know who to blame or what to blame but I do know that we have to take accountability and take care of our children,” said Mayor McKenzie who became emotional. She added that she meets with Superintendent Dr. Mauricio once a month and bullying will be the number one topic of discussion.

McKenzie stated that lack of communication is an issue in Peekskill. “There are a lot of programs within the city that I don’t think you know about and we have to figure out a way that everyone knows what is offered here.”


This story was updated to reflect the proper spelling of Marc Laurence’s name.