Taking the punch out of tough kidsOrlando Yarborough knows...


August 14, 1994|By Laura Lippman

Taking the punch out of tough kids

Orlando Yarborough knows what to do with a tough kid -- invite him to hit you.

Three years ago, Mr. Yarborough, recruited by Parents Anonymous as a volunteer, walked into a middle school to confront a group of boys who had been identified as hostile and violent. The students -- members of rival gangs -- began fighting, indifferent to Mr. Yarborough's polite protests.

So he yelled -- "YAH!" -- a yell he uses in his martial arts classes, and the boys quieted down. He then made them an offer: "Each one of you guys take your best shot at me, punch me as hard as you can. Anything except spitting."

It wasn't exactly "Grasshopper, snatch this pebble from my hand." But it worked.

"From that time on, I had their attention," he says. And Mr. Yarborough, a 48-year-old businessman who thought he didn't have time to be a volunteer, had found his niche with Parents Anonymous' A.C.T. program -- Adolescents Coping Together.

Mr. Yarborough, who grew up in Baltimore City's Lafayette Court housing project, thought he knew something about hard times and tough circumstances. But these were angry youngsters, from homes beyond one's most sordid imagination.

"I had never met these kinds of kids, except on the TV news," he remembers. "They had no respect for adults and they hated each other."

As a volunteer with Parents Anonymous, and also in his own Essex fitness center, Mr. Yarborough is often the only man in these young people's lives. He has been trying to recruit other men to do similar work. "Everyone likes to talk about how bad kids are," he says, "but what are the adults doing to change that?"

Marc Sober controls one of Baltimore's finest movie collections. And seeing them -- or even borrowing them -- is absolutely free.

As head of the Pratt Library's Audio-Visual Department, Mr. Sober's film collection numbers almost 9,000. Nearly 4,000 are 16mm, the format of choice before video came along.

The collection includes movies, documentaries, short subjects, science films, instruction tapes and just about every other genre imaginable. Most are hard-to-find titles not available in the average video store -- the Pratt's supply of popular videotapes comes under the purview of its fiction department -- but among the 16mm films available are such classics as the "Wizard of Oz" and "It's A Wonderful Life."

All can be borrowed with a library card. (Occasionally, movies are screened in the Pratt's auditorium.)

Mr. Sober, 44, didn't start out to work in the audio-visual department. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, with a degree in library science from the University of Maryland, he interviewed to become a reference librarian in 1977.

But the Pratt hierarchy, apparently knowing he had worked with the Baltimore Film Forum, had other things in mind.

Like any true cinephile, he's happiest when his knowledge can be put to use.

"I still love getting satisfied customers," he says. "When somebody brings something back and says, 'I thought this was good, thanks for recommending I take it out,' that's great."

Chris Kaltenbach

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