Teens maintain dreams, hope

November 27, 1991|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Evening Sun Staff

Ericca Freeman remembers the bruises, the sleepless nights and the thoughts of suicide brought on by a family member who abused drugs.

And she remembers "a whole lot of pressures on me" that made her feel more like an adult than a 15-year-old.

"I used to get into fights with [a family member] because he used drugs and that gave me a real bad attitude. Real bad," said Freeman, now a 10th-grader at Northwestern High School.

In April, Freeman became involved in Drugs Destroy Dreams, a program sponsored by the Urban League and designed to restore self-esteem to youths, primarily black teen-agers from homes or neighborhoods broken by drugs.

Freeman talked with counselors and other teen-agers, sessions that helped her deal with her stress, she said. Her problems at home have eased and, if they occur again, she said, she's learned to "just walk away."

"One thing I learned was how to act like a child again, and not act like a grown lady like I was acting like," Freeman said.

Baltimore was one of eight cities chosen to participate in Drugs Destroy Dreams, said Ronald A. Mills, coordinator of the local program. The national program received $1.4 million from the IBM Corp. for three years. The Baltimore effort also received grants from the City Health Department and the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

The program is voluntary and of no charge to participants.

Mills said his goal is to provide the city kids, ages 12 to 16, an alternative to the drugs and crime to which they often are exposed.

"My thrust is showing the other side," Mills said. "I deal very little with substance abuse when we get together. I show alternatives. I take them on trips. I show them some of the positive images."

The group of anywhere between 10 and 40 teen-agers meet three times a week in the Urban League offices at Mondawmin Mall. Teen-agers are referred to the program from schools, recreation centers and social service centers.

"I have noticed a tremendous change in them as far as attitude," Mills said. "When we first started, they would come in hostile to each other. Now they're at ease and peaceful. They're starting to think things out."

At a recent meeting, a coordinator discussed career goals. Some participants said wealth and boyfriends or girlfriends were essential in their lives. Others said family and health were valued most. One boy said he valued singer Janet Jackson, but after talking with the coordinator and the other teen-agers, decided his planned career is most important.

Norman Robinson, a 15-year-old City College student, said the program is helping him stay out of trouble -- despite the efforts of a friend who seems to have little difficulty finding mischief.

"He's getting into stuff like stealing cars. I can't do that. I'm not going to do that. I've learned to be self-dependent," Robinson said.

Members of the group call themselves the BULLDOGS, for Black Urban Leaders Learning Through the Development of Good Skills. Many of the youths said the program teaches them much about life.

Kenneth Robinson, 13, a Carver Vocational-Technical High School student and future draftsman, said he has learned a lot about the pitfalls of drug use.

"Drugs destroy my dreams. If I let drugs into my life they're going to lead me down the wrong road. It's not philosophy, it's just the way that I feel about it," Robinson said.

Robinson, who has been in the program since its inception, said he has also learned more about what it is to be black.

"I know you have to know who you are, where you're coming from and where you're going in life," Robinson said. "That's what being black is all about. I learned that you have the opportunity to do what you want to do."

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