Youths urged to stop, listen to the music

City residents sing, talk on CD about devastation caused by drugs, violence

October 26, 2002|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

It sounds like a routine TV news story about Baltimore violence.

"Live in East Baltimore. I'm Kia Gentry, and yet another tragedy affects a Baltimore community. Three young girls are shot and killed in broad daylight. Witnesses said a black Jeep drove by firing gunshots, hitting and killing all the girls."

Although Gentry is posing as a newscaster in a mock scenario, the words she speaks on a new compact disc about Baltimore violence ring eerily familiar in a city where homicides now average about 250 a year.

Gentry, 21, a cashier at Sam's Club in Golden Ring, has lost more than 20 friends to violence. She is one of about three dozen city residents who sing, rap and talk about violence and its impact on "Why Cry When No One's Listening."

The CD is the brainchild of David Miller, director of Youth Links, a Johns Hopkins University-sponsored program that develops nontraditional approaches to stopping youth violence, and LaMarr Darnell Shields, co-founder of the Urban Leadership Institute, a Baltimore nonprofit.

Plans are to distribute about 10,000 copies of the CD to children and adults throughout Baltimore, Miller said.

Monday night, at a rally in memory of Angela Dawson and her five children, who died in an arson fire, Miller and others distributed about 2,000 copies.

Copies have been sent to several prominent city and state leaders, including Mayor Martin O'Malley, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People President Kweisi Mfume and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, among others, Miller said.

More will be distributed in higher-crime areas such as Park Heights, Southwest Baltimore and Madison East/Patterson Park, said Larry Dawson, youth development coordinator with The Family League of Baltimore, which helped fund the project.

"It's powerful because it's from their own personal experiences," Dawson said of the CD, which took two years to produce. "I think that youth who would listen to it will really relate to it well."

Art imitates life

The CD includes a shooting victim who talks about the colostomy bag he now wears as a result of his injuries. Another person calls out the names of homicide victims. Children talk about funerals of their murdered friends.

Douglass High School students produced the CD and provided most of the music.

In creating the CD, Shields and Miller spent about 50 hours interviewing nearly two dozen youths, ages 13 to 18, and men on the streets who have been caught up in violence.

On one track, Miller asks why so many African-American people are getting killed. The responses vary. "Peer pressure and things like that," one youth says. "They just shot them up," responds another.

Fresh approach

Miller, 34, has worked for years to help Baltimore kids steer clear of drugs and violence. He said the CD is a fresh approach.

"We realized that most of the prevention-based messages are not reaching urban teens," Miller said. "Slogans like `Put the Guns Down' and `Stop the Violence' don't work because they don't have any street value. In terms of young people on the street, it's not the lingo, it's not the slang, it's not something they respect or can relate to."

The Johns Hopkins University Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence also funded the CD.

Philip Leaf, professor of mental hygiene at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the project "actually came out of youth who we encountered when we responded through our child development community policing program, which assists children affected by violence.

"It became clear in working with the youth that besides their immediate needs caused by the trauma, there was a need related to the long-term effects of persistent violence."

`It's sad'

Gentry has lived with violence since she was 12, when a 14-year-old neighborhood friend was killed.

"He got shot in the head," Gentry said. "He was the first person that I grew up with that I was close to that died from violence."

While Gentry and others were putting together the CD, Gentry's boyfriend, Ronald Lee "Donte" Bowman, 23, was found fatally wounded in an alley in the 1700 block of Nome Ave. in Southeast Baltimore. A police spokesman said Bowman had been shot once in the head.

"I got involved with the CD because I felt as though the kids wanted to see a change, and the CD was a start toward the change," Gentry said. "I have lost a lot of friends to violence. I just hope that there'd be less violence in Baltimore and everywhere."

The CD has potential to make a difference, Gentry said.

"I hope that it will reach the younger kids as well as adults," she said. "I think it's sad that so many people are dying, in Baltimore and everywhere."

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