A day to reaffirm children's faith in adults, themselves Youths get a chance to see they're not alone in their needs, fears, concerns

June 02, 1996|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Even if they had dragged their feet about attending the Stand for Children rally, the youngest participants later said the message was not lost on them: The spotlight had been theirs.

"I guess I'm happy they put something like this together, because it tells children that they care about them," said Idrissa Peterson, 14, swaying as teen singers performed larger than life on screens erected along the Mall.

For many, the rally was a day in the park: cartwheeling children, flag-waving marchers, petition-pushers, T-shirt peddlers and sunbathers. For a vast number, however, something more private and intense was going on. Many youths were attending as recipients of social services provided by hundreds of private and publicly funded programs.

Their T-shirt logos spoke of their needs: children of drug abusers, victims of neglect and rape, high school 12-step programs, soup kitchens, clubs for teens who are gay or bisexual, help groups for former gang members. To be sure, there also were environmental action clubs, young Democrats and future business leaders. Head Start tykes played with peers from other states as parents compared notes on their programs.

For many children, the day reaffirmed their faith that grown-ups will help them overcome all obstacles. Some adults in the crowd said they brought their children not only to participate in a historic event, but to let the youths discover they are not alone in their needs, fears and concerns.

Idrissa Peterson was too far from the Lincoln Memorial to see the stage. But he watched as the screens filled with teens giving musical and spoken testimony about "beating the odds" of disability, bad neighborhoods, poverty and family troubles.

A student at Harlem Park Middle School in West Baltimore, Idrissa had discipline problems that recently landed him in a Woodbourne Inc. program. Counselors at the private, nonprofit organization teach children self-control skills before returning them to city schools.

He hopes to attend Dunbar or Roland Park middle schools in the fall to catch up and go on to high school. "I'm ready to go, but it's my behavior: I have to start being more respectful to my mother and learn how to get my temper under control," he summed up.

Some of his fighting is sparked by the teasing he gets at school because his family's faith is Muslim. Some goes deeper, but RTC basically, he's a kid for whom many have hope, said his Woodbourne escort at the rally.

"To bring him here is to show him the world cares. Maybe in his small community he may not see it, but there is love and he needs to see it and here it's all around," said Clarice Bryant, who manages Idrissa's case at Woodbourne.

She squired him through the crowd to the Maryland booth, where there were handbooks explaining the state school exams and brochures for social services. By 2 p.m., Idrissa was wearing six different rally buttons, stickers and ribbons on the front of his blue Woodbourne T-shirt. The largest proclaimed, "Take a Stand for Maryland's Children."

"I believe every child has a right to a life of love and happiness, good parents and ambition and most of all morals," Bryant said. "Being here today says, 'Give our children their foundations back.' "

Pub Date: 6/02/96

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