Film shows kids a way up and out of the street

December 20, 2006|By GREGORY KANE

Marc Clarke, host of 92Q's Big Phat Morning Show, was having considerably less than a big phat morning.

Clarke stood in the foyer of one of the Charles Theatre's several movie houses, wondering if he'd been out of line and gone too far with some comments he had made only moments before. The movie house was packed with scores of boys -- nearly all of them black -- who had been brought to a screening of The Pact, a documentary about three doctors from Newark, N. J.

That's just part of the story. In fact, if the three were just doctors from Newark, there'd be no story. But Rameck Hunt, Sampson Davis and George Jenkins are three black men who grew up poor in Newark's ghetto. At 16, Hunt was arrested on an attempted-murder charge and might have dodged a bullet when the charge was dropped. Davis served time in juvenile detention for robbing drug dealers with three of his friends. (Davis said in the documentary that two of those friends are now dead, and the third has AIDS.)

It was Jenkins who came up with the idea that the trio should form a pact, an agreement that they wouldn't let Newark's mean streets suck the life out of them. They agreed to become doctors instead.

Today Hunt is on the staff of the University Medical Center at Princeton. Davis is an emergency room physician at two Newark hospitals and works at a violence prevention center, and Jenkins is a dentist who recently became the director of minority affairs at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.

Three organizations arranged for different groups of Baltimore boys to view The Pact in November. Richard Rowe of the African American Male Leadership Institute, David Miller and LaMarr Darnell Shields of the Urban Leadership Institute, and Imam Earl El-Amin, co-host with Rowe of the radio show Dialogue with the African American Male on WEAA thought the message in The Pact was so powerful that the film warranted a third showing in Baltimore.

Clarke personally footed the bill for the theater rental. He also paid for the projectionist. Most of the boys in the theater sat quietly, taking in the film's message. But there were a few knuckleheads. Some talked while the film was on. Some talked and snickered. Clarke made it a point to publicly dress down the knuckleheads when the movie ended.

"Some of you wanted to act like asses," Clarke thundered at the knuckleheads. He reminded them that Hunt, Davis and Jenkins came from environments virtually a mirror image of their own, which was the purpose of showing them the documentary in the first place.

"If these three brothers can make it, what's your problem?" Clarke asked, directing his comments more to the knuckleheads than to the entire group. "I don't want to hear no excuses. You have to make the decision. You have to put in the work."

A few moments later, Clarke wondered whether he'd ruined the experience for the overwhelming majority of boys who did pay attention to the film. But he did see a silver lining on the cloud of tomfoolery.

"I think it went real well," Clarke said. "Overall, it seemed like they were paying attention. Ninety-five percent of the crowd were paying attention."

They paid enough attention to correctly answer questions Rowe, Miller, Shields and El-Amin put to them about the film. Most of the boys eagerly thrust their hands in the air when asked to give the names of the three doctors. And what specialty of medicine each practiced. And what percentage of students who enter American medical schools are black.

In between questions, the organizers of the event continued to drive home their message to the boys, who live in a city where the high school dropout rate for black males is disputed, although everyone agrees it is much too high. The message was to stay in school and out of gangs.

"It's amazing how many young brothers think they're gangsters and thugs," Miller said, adding that he and Shields could have gone the route of retaliatory gangbanging after one of their best friends was fatally shot. They chose not to.

"We were walking not too far from here," Miller said, referring to the Charles. Some robbers approached them and demanded money.

"They shot my best friend in the back with a sawed-off shotgun," Miller said. He and Shields responded by forming the ULI, an organization whose goal is to "empower youth and adults to create and launch their own enterprises, and to take greater responsibility for their lives and communities," according to the ULI Web site.

If that sounds like what Hunt, Davis and Jenkins did in Newark, N.J., then you know why Miller, Shields, Rowe, El-Amin and Clarke are committed to having as many Baltimore boys see The Pact as possible. Rowe summed up the goal with one simple message as the viewing ended.

"Young men," Rowe told the boys, "don't join a gang. Join a pact."

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