Alayne Francis & Rico Johnson:

Associating, Communicating, Participating

A Year In Their Lives

December 28, 2003|By Linell Smith

One way to measure a neighborhood's accomplishments is to look at what the kids have been up to.

This year, 50 children from Penn-North and Reservoir Hill were very busy, finding new ways to confront crime and poverty.

They completed filming and editing a 25-minute documentary about drugs that includes interviews with a drug dealer, a former drug user, city Health Commissioner Peter Beilenson, City Council President Sheila Dixon and community residents.

They attended neighborhood crime and safety meetings, updating brochures on resources for young adults.

They decorated abandoned buildings on Linden Avenue in Reservoir Hill with bright, inspiring murals.

They designed and placed the sign -- "Get Together Reservoir Hill: Associate, Communicate, Participate" -- on an abandoned lot at the corner of Whitelock Street and Linden Avenue.

They sold inspiring bumper stickers decorated with their artwork.

They sponsored a community movie night and a fish fry in the sculpture garden that they helped create in a playground.

They spread the message about Kids on the Hill, a program that has shown how artistic and educational projects can improve their relationships with one another and their neighborhoods.

Just ask two of the program's elder statesmen:

Why did you paint murals on the abandoned houses on Linden?

Alayne Francis, 16: "That's one of our beautification projects."

Isadore "Rico" Johnson, 13: "We think that deters the drug dealers, makes the community look better. People are always complaining about all the trash and the abandoned buildings. ... I'm proud of the boards [murals on the doors] we did. It took us a really long time. We drew them, and then we used charcoal to outline them on the board. The paint was hardest. Charcoal had so much detail, but the paint was flat. ... The sign we put up at Whitelock and Linden was supposed to have a littler sign where people could sign their names so they wouldn't have to sign them on the buildings. We never got it. Still, there's no graffiti on the sign."

Alayne: "I think maybe it's because it's a very colorful sign and because it's trying to bring the community together, not split it apart."

What's it like to attend neighborhood crime and safety meetings?

Alayne: "When I first came to a meeting, I really wasn't psyched because I knew there'd just be a whole bunch of adults and what would I say that would change their perception of me? I thought they'd talk down to me."

Rico: "I didn't know anybody was trying to do anything to change the things that were going on."

Alayne: "I think we surprised them. When they gave us the information they were handing out, they didn't think we were going to call up and see if it was accurate. ... They didn't know we were going to make a brochure with the correct information to pass out or the little bumper stickers we did."

Rico: "They probably thought 'Oh they're part of the problem.' ... It seems like now we have a voice in what goes on in the community ... I think we've done as much as the adults have.

What's next?

Alayne: "A community conference we hope to do in February. We're going to get everybody in the community together to build relationships between adults and youth. ... Last year, there was a big snowstorm and everybody got out and dug each other out and there was hot chocolate. I'd like to see more cookouts and stuff like that for the community this year. It makes everybody feel good, like they want to be here."

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