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Unrest sows seeds of future leaders, opens eyes of youth

By Richard B. Muhammad/Special to the NNPA from The Final Call
On June 1, 2015

Jerome Lyles, 15, wants effort for justice to keeping going.
Credit: Richard B. Muhammad/NNPA News Service

BALTIMORE (NNPA) – Unrest in a city known yesterday for crab cakes, row houses, marble steps, downtown tourist spots and sports stadiums – alongside struggles with decay, violence and heroin – has captured global attention.

Powerful images of Black children hurling rocks at police officers in riot gear, crouched behind shields, captured an urban intifada inside America. It was a rebellion against oppressive police practices, stifling poverty, subpar education and frustration over bleak futures.

But the children some called thugs and lawbreakers, comments retracted by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, are tired. They are tired of being pushed around and tired of having nothing.

“I just felt like it shouldn’t end after a week of fighting, it should like go on. We shouldn’t just look at this like a month later and everything be just completely gone,” said 15-year-old Jerome Lyles. “We should use this and use Baltimore as an example for the nation and try to actually make some change.”

Jerome’s stepfather brought him to “Bmore Youth Rise,” a day devoted to young people and support for local organizations. The day started with a reverse town hall meeting at Baltimore City Community College, where panelists asked youth in the audience questions and for solutions. The day included a march past their new mural dedicated to Freddie Gray, the unarmed Black man whose death following an encounter with police sparked outrage and national protests, and other victims of police killings. 

Whether in street organizations, official groups or simply joining rallies, marches and protests, young people are having experiences that are awakening them to injustice, racial oppression and social conditions. Many are asking questions, seeking and offering solutions and trying to have an impact.

Yo’Nas Da LoneWolf of National organized B’More Youth Rise to connect the struggle in the city with youth voices and youth leadership.

In less than a week, she pulled together groups across 30 local communities for B’More Youth Rise to complete a mural in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood and offer young people a platform.

“It was an opportunity for the youth to talk, and talk about what really happened, their feelings on how police are dealing with them, and how they see change in their community,” she said. “You can’t do anything in the community without dealing with the people. You have to listen to the people first.” 

In Harlem Park, the day closed with a rally that included national and local leaders and hip hop artists. “We have to make change happen as a unit and it doesn’t matter who gets the credit,” said DBoi Da Dome, one of several performers. He said those with resources and power should not keep those who can reach young people away because of past problems.

Peace By Piece is just a few months old, but Faraji is an up and coming leader in the city. The organization plans to work with a high school in the community where Gray lived and died to develop leaders and community advocates. Peace By Piece also connects with gang members, those out of school and on the streets to help them with education, jobs and services.

The larger problems and patterns of police brutality are systemic and work with young people will range from neighborhood clean ups and clothes giveaways to community education and advocacy, like pressing state lawmakers to pass legislation that holds police officers accountable, he said.

Ronnae Cooper, a 16-year-old student at St. Francis Academy, felt the initial battles between police officers and students near Mondawmin Mall were “ridiculous.”

The day the clashes erupted police shut down transportation at the major hub, closing a subway station and pulling young people off of buses without explanation, she said. That “just made things worse. They were trying to leave.”

“This whole stereotype about us, African-American kids in the city, of us being thugs, I just think it’s unfair. Because it’s not everybody, it was a small group of kids who decided to act idiotic,” said Ronnae.

She continued: “The cops don’t really acknowledge the young people anymore ... It’s not really a friendliness atmosphere around them.  That’s why (young people) feel like they can’t really be around them. They have to run every time they come around.”

“It’s not like the cops really, like my sister said, acknowledge the young people. It’s like the kids are more afraid of them than they are of each other – if one is more dangerous than the other,” said Rodney Cooper, 16, standing next to his twin sister. “It’s like if you see a cop run, that’s why Freddie Gray made eye contact with that cop and he tried to get away. He got nervous.”

“It just says he didn’t want to be near that cop. He didn’t want to be suspect[ed of] anything. He didn’t do anything wrong,” the high school student added.

Rodney doesn’t really fear police but, he said, many young people do. He would like to see changes in the way police deal with people.

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