The children are left waiting for some answers from the adults


November 26, 2008|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,

Kenneth Morrison's mother dealt drugs and hasn't been seen in years. His father dealt drugs and just got out of prison. His brother dealt drugs and was stabbed to death three years ago on Malvern Street near O'Donnell Heights.

Morrison escaped the street corners in Park Heights, is double-majoring in social work and education at Coppin State University and, at the age of 23, he runs a youth program at the Pimlico Road Arts and Community Center.

The young man is working diligently to help others get jobs and stay alive. He doesn't want to be thought of us lucky, or as one who beat the inner-city odds that say he should be on the corner, locked up or dead by now. And don't ask him to talk taking the high road while his friends and family crashed.

"I had a brother who sold drugs, and that's how I ate every day," Morrison told me. "If it wasn't for drugs, I wouldn't be here doing this right now."

Too often, it's not as easy as making a simple choice.

I met Morrison on Tuesday night at a community center owned by two churches that have combined forces to create the Holy Nativity-St. John Development Corp. at Pimlico Road and Cold Spring Lane. Ken was leading a group of residents organizing a youth summit planned for March.

They are working with teens between 13 and 18, an age group for which there are few programs, but Ken had to cancel a meeting a week ago because of poor attendance. The kids came. The adults didn't. This week, he invited only the adults, to make sure they were committed before he brought the teens back.

More than a dozen people showed. The discussion was lively and timely. There has been a killing a day in Baltimore for the past week and a half, including a 14-year-old charged with fatally stabbing a 15-year-old classmate at William H. Lemmel Middle School and a 14-year-old shot and killed in Brooklyn.

They talked about familiar problems youngsters face: gangs, lack of interest in school, not enough to do, no jobs. For the summit, Ken and the others agreed that local business owners need to come with job applications. And there has to be someone there to teach the kids how to fill them out.

It's an ambitious undertaking, and the group is certainly dedicated. They are community leaders - the head of a drug rehab center, a minister and a teacher, a counselor and a businessman. But the organizers are the same faces that seem to appear at every meeting in every part of the community. Each serves on a half-dozen committees already, preparing neighborhood crime walks, Thanksgiving baskets for the needy and so on.

The problems and solutions aren't new, either. "This all has been said before and before and before," said Park Heights resident Viola Bell. "The problem is, it is just talked about and there isn't enough initiative to make it happen."

They need more help. This is precisely the message Morrison is trying to send. The community has to step up for others the way it stepped up for him.

It wasn't Ken's parents or brother who steered him away from drugs and crime. It wasn't the school or his teachers. It was the after-school program that he now leads. It was a member of his neighborhood church who practically adopted him. That's why he was so mad when the adults didn't show.

"I was embarrassed sitting there watching the young people at the table who were excited about the possibility of creating a powerful change in their community, and we were forced to basically table the meeting due to poor attendance," he wrote in an e-mail to members. "Our children are looking at us for answers and guidance. When we do not show up for them, there is another older male or older female from the street who will."

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