Sometimes people can spot an issue before it emerges in the public discourse.
Such was the case for a group of middle-schoolers from the Bluford Drew Jemison Academy in West Baltimore who began writing a play about bullying and gangs long before reports emerged this month about bullying in city schools.
When the puppet show "Live Hard or Die Hard" opened to the rousing applause of third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Fort Washington Elementary School on Tuesday, the Bluford students had plenty of attention from adults as well.
They call themselves the Peace Champions because they are working to persuade their classmates and elementary students to stop bullying and stay away from gangs. Their puppets are animals and insects that confront more than the usual playground problems.
The play's straightforward plot is not a cliff hanger: The spider is recruited by gang members and nearly enticed to join before his friends convince him otherwise. For elementary students let out of class for half an hour, it was a delight.
The students from Bluford, who were assisted in their puppetry by students from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said they haven't had problems with bullying or gangs at their school. Administrators and teachers there, they said, deal quickly with any discipline issues that arise. However, some family members, they said, are involved in gangs or drugs.
Sixth-grader Kobe McCoy, who played the rabbit, said the point is "to show people that basically it leads to a graveyard or jail."
The narrator, Idialyon Helm, 13, said he knows gang members and although he has never been recruited he understands the harm gangs can do. "You are trapped in a box. You can't get out. It is almost impossible," the Bluford eighth-grader said.