Speaking their minds

June 15, 2007

Occasionally on this page, we include opinions from around the country and around the world. Today, the views expressed here are from around the corner.

Teenagers from East and West Baltimore, brought together by the civic group BUILD, are pressing for changes in their city in the run-up to the municipal elections.

In many ways, they're just kids: One wants to design video games, another looks forward to a summer at the pool, a third is headed for dance camp, a fourth had to get his grades up to play sports, which kept him out of trouble. But aspects of their lives, of the struggling neighborhoods in which they live, of the gang culture surrounding them, illustrate many problems that persist in the city.

These are the voices of some of Baltimore's most vulnerable citizens, those with the most to gain - and lose.

Kevin, an 18-year-old student at Morgan State University and an ?migr? from the Ivory Coast, says he had an advantage over other kids because he has a mother and a father to guide him:

I've been living in the Oliver community since 1998. Since then, the community is just plunging, everything is just messed up. I go to college now but I feel I have to stick around for my little brother who is 13 because it's easy for him to get involved in things that he shouldn't. The community is not what it should be. It is not what an African-American community should be like. We're not looking out for each other, and it's just not safe around there.

Everybody is just trying to get out. No one wants to stay and build the community back up. We don't have neighbors. My house is here. There's a boarded-up house. So many boarded-up houses.

Many of my friends don't have both their parents there. I actually have my father and my mother, and my father really kept me on the right road. Unlike the other kids, I wasn't going to go and do the wrong things and get involved in things I wasn't supposed to get involved with.

We need more police, but if the police are going to be there to harass us, it won't make much difference. The police need to introduce themselves to the community, so they know which ones are the bad guys, which ones are the good guys.

Ask Jazmin, a 13-year-old middle-schooler, where she lives, and she says, "I'm between houses," preferring to stay with her grandmother because of the violence in her mother's neighborhood:

Like recently, a whole bunch of people, a gang, shot one person. It was more than 16 times. It was right down the street from my house and my friend had just come over, and it was kind of embarrassing to live in that neighborhood.

The gangs, they like to make a mark to show people, so they shoot the people in their private parts and their chest and their heads to make a mark.

I saw the ambulance and I knew it was the Crips and Bloods. One group had blue and one had red on, and they were running different ways.

A consummate gamer who helps produce anti-gang music videos in his after-school program, Tony, 13, says he has lost more than 13 of his family members and friends to violence, mostly gang violence:

To make a long story short, a police officer was driving by and he said that my godbrother was acting suspicious. So he got out of the car and started to chase him in the alley and shot him in his back. And they also said that he was shooting at the police officer, when he is real big and he was running. How could you shoot at somebody that's behind you if you are running away and get shot in your back?

In the summer, I ride my bike and I go to other neighborhoods to see if they are better than where I live, but it was the same or even worse. I've never been out of Baltimore, except Towson.

Sanchel, a 14-year-old student at City College, witnesses the effects of Baltimore's drug epidemic every day on her way home from school:

Drugs are starting to come into my community, and it wasn't like that when I first moved there. At first, there weren't a lot of drugs and violence around my neighborhood. Now more than ever it's drugs. I really don't like it because all it does is bring chaos and more junkies.

When I walk past one house around the corner, it's like a whole bunch of crackheads just sitting there. Around York Road, it's just all junkies, junkies everywhere you turn, and I'm tired of it.

Jasmine, 13, who lives with her grandfather, mother and two siblings, would like a job after school to help her family.

I make sure I place myself around people that aren't in gangs, don't have people related to gangs, because I don't want to be caught up in that mess.

To make my life in my neighborhood good, there would be no gangs, and safer recreation centers. If it were safer, I would go. I would like to be able to swim, play games, meet up with my friends, get up on computers.

You have to be careful. You have to be careful about what you do, what you say, where you go - and you have to pay attention in school.

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