The red, gold, green and black jewelry that hangs from Ysuff Caruth's booth at Mondawmin Mall is not just his livelihood, nor is it designed to simply complement a high school student's slick attire.
To him the trinkets are proud expressions of his African-American heritage, and on the top of his political agenda is the need to spread that pride to Baltimore's African-American youth.
"Many kids come in here during the day," said Mr. Caruth, 45, as customers began to trickle into the West Baltimore mall, just after 10 a.m. on a recent Thursday.
"But whenever I sell them a piece of jewelry, I try to explain what the beads mean. It is important to teach our young ones so they can be proud adults."
As Mr. Caruth delicately hung the handmade necklaces and medallions and set out his intricately molded rings and bracelets, he said he opened the booth two years agoas the start of his educational mission.
And the Trinidad native, who moved to Baltimore in 1983, said he always votes -- particularly for those politicians who share his goals.
Mr. Caruth is among the one-fourth of Baltimore residents wh voted in last month's primary elections.
Only about 28 percent of the city's 321,141 registered voters participated in the Sept. 11 balloting.
However, while shopping or enjoying a doughnut and a cup of coffee at Mondawmin Mall, dozens of people spoke eloquently about a variety of concerns they have about the quality of their lives.
A 24-year-old mother, buying her 3-year-old daughter a bag of french fries, was frustrated by the lack of affordable day care.
A 25-year-old saleswoman who supports abortion rights said she was concerned about keeping abortions available.
An East Baltimore father of seven complained about the lack of recreational activities in the city.
And, although there was not one issue that was paramount in everyone's mind, they all talked about the increasing crime rate.
Elouise English, a 67-year-old Walbrook resident, said that it seems "all the politicians in the world" can't stem the escalating drug-related violence that plagues Baltimore.
"It's going to take a miracle to do anything to change all these drug addicts and alcoholics," she said, while waiting for a bus to take her to her volunteer job at Rosewood Hospital. "I should know because I have two alcoholic sons at home.
"But we need a miracle because there's too much killing going on."
Outbursts of violence have scarred the mall's reputation. Vendors said they have witnessed several gunfights over the years, including one two weeks ago, and they warn customers to look over their shoulders when going to mall restrooms.
But Carolyn Robinson, a spry 63-year-old Baltimore native, said she enjoys visiting the mall.
Located just off Gwynns Falls Parkway, it is easily accessible by bus or Metro, and it caters to its largely black clientele with stores that carry African jewelry, black-oriented greeting cards and books by African-American authors.
"Crime affects everybody's life," Ms. Robinson said. "But the police don't seem to be around like they used to.
"When I was growing up, we had police walking on the streets. They knew you, and you knew them in case you ever had a problem. Thefamilies respected the police and the police respected the families, but all that is gone."
She said she is concerned about Baltimore's problems, but she doesn't talk politics too much because she has begun to lose confidence in politicians.
"They start all these programs when they first get in office, and then they cry broke and cut everything," she said.
"We need more programs for young people and affordable housing for the elderly. But as soon as politicians make it into office, you can never get to them to talk about your concerns."
Sonya Grant, having lunch in a pizza shop with her daughter Dimitris, hasn't bothered to renew her voter registration.
"I keep hearing them [politicians] promise more affordable day care, but I still haven't found [it]," said the Greenspring resident.
Ms. Grant, a single mother who is pregnant, says she works as a cashier and has to pay $45 a week for day care for Dimitris.
Keeping abortions available is Monica Stewart's main concern. She complained that Baltimore's shameful teen-age pregnancy rate would skyrocket if restrictions were placed on abortion.
"I'm pro-choice all the way," the young saleswoman declared. "There's no way the government should tell me what to do with my body.
"We need to make abortions even more accessible so we can get out of the situation we're in now," she said. "That's why we have all these young girls having babies and no fathers for their children."
A young man said that he plans to participate in the Nov. 6 general election and that his main concern was the quality of life of his relatives in public housing.
takes a really long time to get things fixed there, and things need fixing all the time," said Edward Meggett, dressed in a flashy magenta shirt with a wooden ankh, an Egyptian symbol of life, dangling from his neck.