"We have an officer assigned full time to gang-reduction activity," said Capt. Kenneth Cox, operations commander at the Aberdeen Police Department. "But this won't be a success without community support. These gangs are not going to leave unless we make them leave."
Jeff Hairston, a former teen coordinator at the club who lost his best friend to gang violence, made a compelling plea.
"If you don't spend time with your children, you don't know what they are doing," Hairston said. "The boy who killed my friend was only 17."
Hairston referred to the 2004 killing of Derald Howard Guess, a 37-year-old cabdriver and father of nine, who was killed by a passenger he picked up in a suburban neighborhood.
In March, Wayne Lavon Bond Jr. of Edgewood was convicted of murder in the shooting, a crime that prosecutors said was motivated by Bond's desire to make his mark with a local gang.
Bond belonged to a local gang called 9 Tre Gangsta, a subset of a larger group styling itself after the infamous gang the Bloods, police said.
Nikki Carter, education coordinator at the club, said, "You can't wait until something happens to get active."
Mathis has received so much positive feedback from the awareness event that he is planning a follow-up, possibly at the Havre de Grace club.
As the audience dispersed, police handed out fliers asking for tips and offering to meet with residents in their homes.
"We have to network and help each other," said Jeannette Butler, a Washington Park resident. "If gangs get our children, there will be no getting them back."