Dusk envelopes the sky as street lamps light the way as men march… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
Its chief organizer says the first 300 Men March — a protest of the gun violence in Baltimore this summer — turned into a 600 Men March, a surprising and impressive citizens' uprising in a city aching and tired from the shootings and killings.
But the next march, scheduled for Friday night, could pack even more punch.
That's what Munir Bahar, the 32-year-old leader of the effort, hopes for: "A large group of black men walking, this time through the hot spots of East Baltimore, without a police escort, to tell the young men on the corners they have to stop the violence."
That's different from what happened in the first march July 5, when hundreds of Baltimoreans — more than expected — marched along North Avenue, five miles east and five miles west. The mayor was there. So were police.
Not everyone will feel comfortable with Bahar's plan for the second event, and many might decide they've already done their part.
He accepts that. This time, Bahar says, the ranks might be thinner, but the message will be more personal.
"I'm counting on those in the small crew of leadership of our group to bring others in to help out, who know how to engage the young men on the corners," he says. "This is going to be more intense than the first march."
To that end, Bahar has been holding training sessions for the past two weeks, getting his comrades ready for some serious face-to-face conversations with the young men they believe to be connected to the violence.
Call it stop-and-engage.
Bahar, a graduate of Morgan State University, is an accountant with a specialty in nonprofits. He is also the operator of a fitness and martial arts center at 904 Washington Blvd. It's called COR ("Committed Organized Responsible"), and it has become the gathering place for the leaders of the march.
In fact, no one is supposed to participate in Friday night's event unless they attend the next training session, at 8 Thursday at COR Fitness Facility. He needs that, Bahar says, to make sure no "loose cannons" — people with a grudge, for instance — get into the mix.
Only approved participants will be told the starting point and exact route of this Friday's march.
Of course, when Bahar mentions East Baltimore, it's a good bet he's talking about Monument Street, Madison Street and the side streets along those corridors. When he says "hot spots," he means places that have seen violence in recent weeks.
One is the corner of North Kenwood Avenue and Madison. Bahar plans to give a small speech there. But the rest of the evening, he and the other men will walk to unannounced areas, stopping to speak with the young men on the corners.
"The North Avenue march had a flow," he says. "In this next one, we're looking to stop and engage the young men and just tell them, 'Look, you have to stop the violence.' They're not going to get speeches, like, 'Hey, stop selling drugs and get a job and pull your pants up.' Not that. That doesn't work.
"And this is not going to be like a '60s protest."
That means no one will be chanting chants or singing "We Shall Overcome."
"That's not how we move," Bahar says. "That's not how you get the younger generation to respond."
The young men on the corners have seen vigils for the victims of violence; there have been plenty of those over the years. The young men have heard — and ignored — preachers preaching and speaking into television cameras.
Bahar is more interested in the stop-and-engage method.
"There are big, complex issues out there," Bahar says, alluding to the drug addiction and drug dealing linked to gun violence. "We're not going to solve all of them. But we're taking the first step to stop the violence, to make these young men conscious of their own safety and the safety of children and women around them. That's what we have to do."
Bahar told police officials he did not want the march to have an escort this time. "Police will be about, but they are not going to escort," he says. "With at least 100 men, we shouldn't need it, right?"
And, of course, a police presence will discourage young men from speaking candidly about their involvement in the kind of activities that get them into trouble, or get them dead.
"This is going to take some time," Bahar says, acknowledging a fact of life — that it's a daunting challenge to sustain such an effort against forces that have become so embedded in Baltimore's culture.
"But we have to change the culture," he says, "and I think this is the way to do this. It takes a few of us pioneers maybe to go in there, get the thorns, get scratched up a bit, to deliver a strong message against the violence."
And it will be delivered in most effective fashion: one-on-one.
Or maybe 300-on-one.
That sounds like a potentially successful ratio. Good luck, you guys.