Shawn Johnson, an eighth-grader at William H. Lemmel Middle School, says many of his friends have fallen prey to the temptations of the streets.
He sees the older boys standing on street corners for hours daily asking younger boys if they want to make some easy money.
He sees the clothes and jewelry they wear and the wads of cash they flash.
"And I just keep right on walking when they talk to me because I've got something better to do," says Shawn, 14.
The Baltimore Urban League has kicked off a program that is intended to direct youngsters such as Shawn away from the drug culture. Called "By Our Own Hands," the program will present an anti-drug message coupled with positive images aimed at black youths between the ages of 9 years and the early teens.
During Tuesday's kickoff ceremony, Urban League officials said positive images are necessary to counter the stereotypical portrayal of young blacks as drug dealers and users.
Roger I. Lyons, president of the Baltimore Urban League, said the program will launch a media campaign that will stress many positive images of the black community.
"We have to utilize the things that kids turn to," Mr. Lyons said, referring to a series of television ads that have been produced and soon are to be aired. "Kids look at television, so we have the ads on TV."
Some of the ads show groups of blacks youths talking about careers. Others talk about the uselessness of drugs. One of the campaign's themes is "We have better things to do than drugs."
The program is intended also to increase community activism in the fight against drugs and crime in city neighborhoods, officials said.
Urban League officials said the media campaign is scheduled to run for about four months. However, the anti-drug and positive black image effort will continue when the campaign ends.
Shawn, the Lemmel Middle School student, said he has a friend who recently began to sell drugs.
"I tell him to leave it alone," Shawn said. "He's not really even my friend anymore because of what he's doing. I don't want to hang around with him anymore."