Event seeks `unity among young people'

Solutions to violence, drug use to be examined

November 02, 2001|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Letia Bennett and DeRay McKesson know that plenty of Baltimore youth do well in school and steer clear of trouble.

But the teen-agers worry about their peers who have had scrapes with the law, are using or selling drugs, or have become parents.

So tomorrow, Letia and DeRay, both 16, will participate in Youth Explosion 2001 in hopes of finding solutions to many of the problems that can envelop youth.

One thousand people are expected to attend the second annual event, which targets ages 13 to 21 and will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Highlights will include a Peace Walk, which will begin at 3:30 p.m.

"The purpose of the Peace Walk is to show unity among young people in Baltimore City," said Lamarr Darnell Shields, who organized the event with Darlene Walker and David Miller. "At the end of the march, the young people will present Baltimore City with a resolution on how to [help] stop youth violence."

Teen pregnancy, the transition from childhood to adulthood, how to apply for grants and the importance of education will be among the topics discussed, but ending youth violence will be emphasized, Miller said.

"I think that it is imperative that we really begin to provide more opportunities for young people if we realistically want to reduce violence in Baltimore City," Miller said. "The only thing the youth have here right now are the street corners. Most of the agencies don't provide the kinds of creative programming that attract people ages 13 to 21."

Statistics from the Maryland 2001 Kids Count Factbook, produced by Advocates for Children and Youth, show that in 1999 the violent crimes arrest rate for children ages 10 to 17 was 108.7 per 10,000. For nonviolent crimes during the same year, the rate was 236.5 per 10,000.

Letia, a junior at City College, said, "I feel like there's a lot of violence and negative things going on because people are misunderstood. A lot of young people just want somebody to listen, and as a result of nobody listening, they tend to display their anger in ways that aren't acceptable."

DeRay, a junior at Catonsville High, agreed that more activities are needed. "I think that youth don't have a lot of opportunities to learn what's going on outside their communities," DeRay said. "This conference will ... provide them with a leadership experience."

Youth Explosion 2001 is being sponsored by Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition Inc. and Urban Leadership Institute. Last year's event attracted about 600 participants.

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