Reopen shuttered rec centers. Put a stop to drug trafficking. Increase job opportunities. Break the cycle of welfare dependency.
The ideas on how Baltimore can better serve its inner-city residents may not have been startlingly new, but they represented the street-level wisdom of young black males -- a group that's seldom heard or heeded.
More than 300 black teen-agers and young men turned out yesterday for the "Minority Male Charette," a two-day, minority male forum that resumes today at the Urban League headquarters at 512 Orchard St. in West Baltimore. The same number of black males between the ages of 14 to 29 are expected to attend today's event, according to the forum's organizers.
"You want to keep kids off the street, give 'em a rec center. You aren't going to keep 'em off the street taking away their rec
center," said Emmanuel Mosby, 16, a ninth-grader at Walbrook Senior High in West Baltimore, during one group session yesterday morning.
He was referring to recreation centers that were closed because of city budget cuts.
Rodney McNeal, 17, a junior at Carver Voc-Tech, also in West Baltimore, said the city needed to do more to keep drugs out of the neighborhoods. "We (kids) aren't the ones bringing them in," he said.
But he complained that police sometimes seem to target the wrong people. "You're waiting for the bus and someone across the street is selling drugs and they (the police) stop you," he said.
Steve Cole, 27, a dropout prevention counselor at Douglass High in West Baltimore, said renovations of vacant houses should be done in part with youths who could make money and be trained. Other job opportunities needed to be created as well, he said.
"There are too many people in our community on welfare. If
you're 15, you can't find a job and make money. But if you're 15 and get pregnant, you get money from welfare," he said, as several in the group nodded in assent.
Gerald Grimes, a youth counselor in the city's Office of Employment Development who was the group facilitator, asked if the group was saying that young girls consciously tried to get pregnant to get on welfare. Emmanuel Mosby said that was exactly what he was saying.
"Boys are scared to go over to some girls because the girls are trying to hold 'em. They tell you that, too," he said.
Cathy Brown, head of the Mayor's Stations and an organizer of the event, noted that young black males got "a lot of attention in terms of crime" but little else. She said the forum was being held as a way for the city's "human service providers to come directly to the population to find out why they're not being served."
The comments of participants would form the basis of specific recommendations which would be given to Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke within 30 days, she said.
For some, the mere fact that the opinions of black youths were being heard was a major step forward.
"All too often, they have people talk about them but they're never able to talk about themselves," said Nathaniel J. McFadden, the former city councilman who brought a busload of youths from Lake Clifton/Eastern High School, where he administers a scholarship program.
"I think this program is great," added Derek Cain, 19, a senior at Dunbar High. "It gives you a chance to express what you feel about different issues. You don't get a chance like this too often."