Teens turn out for rap

Rapport: Motivational speakers connected with their audience, but police had a more orderly discussion in mind.

October 05, 2001|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

A noisy, rap-filled youth outreach program in Columbia's Long Reach village this week spotlighted both the potential and problems of talking to teen-agers from neighborhoods afflicted by drugs and violence.

Lured by fliers promising free food, dancing and a freestyle rap competition, about 80 teens - some of whom police identified as the leading troublemakers in the area - crowded into the Long Reach High School cafeteria Wednesday evening.

"It pulled probably every kid in Long Reach off the corners for one night," said Pfc. Lisa Myers, HotSpot coordinator with the Howard County police. "If nothing else, the program showed they do want something to do."

But the motivational speakers hired by county police to run the event had a hard time controlling the audience when talk about drugs and morality replaced the party-like atmosphere.

"They wanted to yell and scream and get everything out," motivational speaker Anthony Dew said yesterday. "Those kids haven't been groomed yet, but we'll work on that."

Police were introduced to the outreach program when Dew, who calls himself Mr. Enthusiasm, and his partner Anthony Murrill, who has dubbed himself Da Metro Man, showed up at a police-sponsored community meeting about crime in Long Reach last month.

Residents at that meeting accused some teen-agers of intimidating them and loitering near the village center. Police, residents and teens have also said that Long Reach has significant drug problems.

"It's a cesspool of vice out here." said LaRoyce Johnson, who graduated from Long Reach High School last year. He said his family moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Columbia to get away from drugs and violence. "Many of these kids are not motivated at all."

Myers said she thought Dew and Murrill, who do outreach in Baltimore City and Baltimore County, might be able to break the ice with the local teen-agers.

"The kids seemed mesmerized by the way they were talking," Myers said after the community meeting where she first met the pair. "That's a rapport that, as police officers, we haven't been able to establish with them."

After a few minutes of music, rap and dancing Wednesday evening, Dew asked the teen-agers to settle down and listen to their message.

"Aw, man. We're about to get preached to," mumbled one teen-ager in the back of the cafeteria.

What ensued was a cacophony of talk that swung wildly back and forth between motivational messages delivered by the outreach twosome and heartfelt impromptu raps delivered by some of the Long Reach teen-agers.

"Stay focused, stay focused," Murrill frequently said into his microphone. But when talk turned to drugs, the crowd's focus crumbled.

"If your friend offered you drugs, what would you do?" local teen-ager Carmen Dixon read from a cue card at the event.

A 16-year-old charged toward the front to answer her question. "If it's green, I'd get high ... " he replied. The audience erupted in cheers and laughter.

One teen-ager rolled and pretended to smoke a giant faux marijuana joint out of a putting green and a white body bag, which had been used as props during earlier motivational skits.

From that point on, the program deteriorated into spats about whether marijuana should be considered a drug and where, if anywhere, it is appropriate to do drugs.

As teen-agers streamed in and out of the cafeteria and broke into their own conversations about the topic, Murrill and Dew had a hard time maintaining order.

"I was impressed, but it'll have to be a little more structured next time," Myers said yesterday. "It's hard to keep control of a crowd that large."

The teen-agers had similarly mixed reviews.

"I know their motives were coming from the heart, but I don't think they planned it very well," Johnson said.

Fifteen-year-old Ryan Morris said the anti-drugs and anti-violence message would take a while to sink in with some of his fellow teen-agers.

"People are scared to learn, scared to get help," he said. "Some people here act like they're not listening, but they are hearing the message. They just don't want to show it."

Myers said that regardless of whether she invites Murrill and Dew back to Long Reach, she hopes to keep a dialogue open with the teen-agers she met Wednesday night.

After the outreach program, Myers said she collected about 11 names and phone numbers of teen-agers who agreed to serve on an advisory committee.

"We want to use the most effective way possible to reach the kids, and if that means using outside people, that's fine," Myers said. "There are a lot of conventional programs out there, but we have such a diverse population that it makes more sense to use something unconventional."

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