Councilman hopes `neighborhood night out' will discourage violence among youths

Family-oriented event held at National Aquarium

October 07, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. is holding events - including neighborhood meetings and family entertainment nights - to bring his Northeast Baltimore neighborhood together to discourage youth violence.

In August, Harris, a first-term Democrat who represents the 3rd District, organized a community forum to discuss the summer's surge in homicides. About 900 people attended the "Stakeholders Solution Summit" on Aug. 9 at the War Memorial Building near City Hall.

On Friday, Harris distributed free passes to the National Aquarium in Baltimore to help attract 200 people to his "Neighborhood Night Out" at the aquarium.

Young people from the Winston Middle School Jazz Ensemble performed inside the aquarium as families from the district viewed marine life, held live urchins and starfish in their hands, watched a dolphin show, and mingled over snacks.

`Positive resources'

Harris said he is planning more events like this - perhaps a get-together at a city recreation center featuring players from the Baltimore Ravens.

The point, he said, is to encourage families to have fun together in healthy environments in the evenings - such as attending sporting events, or events at the aquarium or museums - so that teen-agers don't get into trouble and perhaps fall victim to violence in the streets.

"What I'm trying to do is promote the positive resources we have here in Baltimore," Harris said. "This is the first of many types of activities I'm planning to try to get families together to do healthy things. It's trying to take a holistic approach to preventing violence."

Preventing violence also was the theme of his summit Aug. 9, which was attended by Mayor Martin O'Malley, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy and others.

`Put families first'

The event was inspired by a summertime spike in juvenile shootings that by last month pushed the city's homicide numbers above the goal of 175 that O'Malley had set for the entire year. At the summit, dozens of speakers brainstormed about creative ways to keep kids out of trouble.

One of the solutions they devised, released in a 40-page report after the event, was to hold "neighborhood night[s] out" to bring families together in the evenings.

Several young people who attended Friday night's event thought it worked well.

"It sounds like a cliche, but it really is important to put families first," said Donta Jones, 16, an 11th-grader at Polytechnic Institute. "To have such an atmosphere with peace and tranquillity is a good thing, especially when you look at the city we live in."

Kevin Williams, 12, a seventh-grader at Winston Middle School who played drums in the jazz band Friday night, said he hoped his music would inspire other young people to take up instruments rather than get involved in street life.

"I hope we can inspire the children to go follow their dreams and be successful in whatever they want to do and believe in," he said.

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