A Baraka success story

Profile

Teenager talks about his life-changing experience at the school in Kenya

August 03, 2008|By Makeda Crane | Makeda Crane,Sun reporter

UniSun recently caught up with 18-year-old Devon Brown, one of 20 boys from the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in Baltimore who was chosen to attend the Baraka School in Kenya, a two-year experimental boarding school that was supposed to separate the students from their city lives in hopes that they would focus on their education while in Africa.

Brown is one of the success stories from the program. Last spring, he graduated from the Academy for College and Career Exploration. Later this month, he will attend the Maryland Institute College of Art on a full scholarship from the Abell Foundation, which also sponsored the Boys of Baraka project. He plans to major in film production.

Brown was the kid preacher featured in the 2005 documentary The Boys of Baraka. Although the school closed after one year due to political unrest in Kenya, it altered his life, he said.

Unlike many of his peers, Brown had the support of his grandmother, who encouraged him in his passion for preaching in the pulpit of Zion Baptist Church, which he began doing at an early age.

However, Brown was in no way lacking in challenges. When he entered the Baraka School, he was grappling with the anger he felt about his mother's continuing battle with drugs and the lack of a consistent relationship with his father. Also, growing up in East Baltimore presented limited opportunities. Many in his neighborhood fall "prey to the streets," often becoming middle school and high school dropouts.

Some go to prison or meet an untimely death before reaching adulthood. Brown's short-lived time at the Baraka School was just enough to give him a new standard by which to live. He became empowered to lead a more positive life, he said.

On his Africa experience He remembers how excited he was when he got accepted into the school with four friends. When he stepped foot in Kenya, it was unlike any experience he had ever had.

"Africa was beautiful; you'd walk outside and you'd see giraffes," said Brown, who was 12 at the time. He reminisces on how breathtaking mountains like Mount Kenya were.

Brown recalls being surprised when he realized that Africa had malls and swimming pools.

"Church was off the hook," Brown said, because he had the opportunity to play the drums during service.

Brown said that during this experience he gained basic life skills and learned to constructively deal with his anger.

About the transformation Mary Humes, Brown's grandmother, "the rock" in his life, saw the transformation in Brown when he returned from the Baraka School. "He displayed more self-control and channeled his anger through taking on leadership roles," she said. "He stopped letting the outside issues bother him. He has a special anointing on his life."

Becoming a leader Brown's schedule has become quite full, as he has become a sought-after speaker. He recently returned from Highline Community College in Seattle, where he spoke to hundreds of students about his life experiences in East Baltimore and at the Baraka School.

"I'm just doing me and being who I am," he said. "I found out that I was made to be a leader and that I was someone that is needed in the community, and I'm still learning that."

In May, he spoke at the governor's mansion in Annapolis to kids who recently graduated from truancy court. In June, he gave a speech at a ceremony dedicated to Football Hall of Famer Lenny Moore.

Brown also organizes the Charm City Community Blockfest in his East Baltimore neighborhood every summer, sponsored by the Abell Foundation, which offers free health screenings and activities for youths and provides other community resources.

At this year's Blockfest, he invited employers and an apprentice program to set up booths so that young people in his neighborhood could start to see their options for a better future.

His mentors "I used my resources to help me," said Brown. He credits his accomplishments and success to the support of his grandmother as well as to mentors such as Katie Curran O'Malley, the wife of Gov. Martin O' Malley, and Richard Burton, an actor who portrayed Shamrock on the HBO series The Wire, which is based on Baltimore street life. Burton is president of and Brown is co-founder and vice president of Shyne, a television talk show that will address youth issues and focus on education and entertainment. The show is expected to air on the CW network beginning next month. Brown will co-host with Burton.

Future plans When asked if he plans to pursue preaching as a career, he said that "preaching is my lifestyle" and that he plans to continue "ministering the word of God through the use of films and music to inspire people."

Personal philosophy "I cannot afford to mess up. I'm chasing after success but it's not about me," Brown said. He believes that there is an urgent need for leaders to "shape and mold" young people in Baltimore. "If we could grab the minds of the youth, we could change Baltimore City. If we could unify our children, we could unify our city," he said.

The legacy he wants to leave "I want people to say, 'Devon Brown was one of the greatest movie producers of this time; he was a man of integrity. He showed love and he helped the community.' "

Devon Brown lives in Baltimore and is working on his autobiography.

makeda.crane@baltsun.com

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