A Bone to Pick: saving baltimore’s Kids

A Bone to Pick: saving baltimore’s Kids


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



 The all-pervasive drug trade is nothing new to the black and poor communities of this city. The acceptance

of drug dealing and the admiration of drug thugs is a new convention that threatens to undermine every sector

of city life. Such a convention was never allowed to thrive in the 1950s. If anything those who dealt

drugs five decades ago made a special effort to keep their drug dealing away from children.



A Bone to Pick: Saving Baltimore’s Kids 

By Amin Sharif


I have a bone to pick with Baltimore’s leadership. It seems that the leadership of this city has lost its memory when it comes to violence and our children. Somehow, they have given the public the notion that this is the first time our children have been under the threat of being killed in the streets, or worse. Let me jog the collective memory of our mayor, police commissioner, and others (black and white), who call themselves Baltimore’s leaders. 

Do these names sound familiar? The Sandtown Aces, the Vikings, the Silver Whips, and, last but not least, the notorious Diamonds. You say you never heard of these names. Well, there is a saying on the streets: “If you don’t know, you better ask somebody.” If you’re black and you don’t the names above, it probably means that you were born in the 1960s or later. Those who know these names will tell you that these were yesterday’s bad boys, gangs that fought to control their turf on the Westside in the 1950s and earlier. 

Of course, the level of violence was different in the 1950s. But one wonders if the gang violence of yesteryear would be destructively lower if kids then had similar access to the automatic weapons sported by today’s drug thugs. What these old gangs did have were zip guns, chains, tire irons, and other weapons of carnage and destruction. Many a gang member was maimed for life by these instruments of juvenile insanity. I know. I grew up hearing many an “old heads” speak of the violence of the era and how lucky they were to survive it. Street smarts. That was what these “old heads” said that they were passing down to us. We listened. Some took heed. Others didn’t. These tales of carnage are still told by “old heads” who come to the famous Sandtown reunions and who stand outside of the Arch Social Club. You can hear them for yourself. Cautionary tales never go out of style for those who live in a city as violent as Baltimore. 

Everyone knows what factors drove young black men to become gang members in the 1950s – economic and racial isolation, a poor educational system, weak family structure and hopelessness. All these factors led youth to the streets. Today only the rigid system of segregation has disappeared. But all the other factors, especially, the sense of hopelessness still plagues too many black and poor children in Baltimore. 

The all-pervasive drug trade is nothing new to the black and poor communities of this city. The acceptance of drug dealing and the admiration of drug thugs is a new convention that threatens to undermine every sector of city life. Such a convention was never allowed to thrive in the 1950s. If anything those who dealt drugs five decades ago made a special effort to keep their drug dealing away from children.

Just as today, city officials and parents bemoan the gang situation. Many thought that young, poor, and black men were socio-paths, inclined forever toward gang activity. The gang violence of the 50s, however, gave way to better economic times. The economic boom of the 1960s moved troubled, young black men from street corners to the assembly line of General Motors, the blast furnaces of Baltimore’s Bethlehem Steel, and the docks of the Chesapeake Bay. With jobs came a sense of self-worth and the desire to enter mainstream society. 

More importantly, there was a new sense of hope that thrived in the black community of the 60s. This new hope was strong enough to make is believe that no barrier could stand in the way of our progress as a race or as a city. All we needed was unity, to pull together, and whatever we dreamed could be achieved. That kind of hope needs to take hold of the city again. Hope inoculates people against despair. When hope has departed, the voices of the cynic only can be heard. Cynicism is a spiritual drug more potent than heroin or crack. Just as crack and heroin eats away at the body and soul, cynicism devours the human heart. It turns that life-sustaining organ frigid. When hearts have been conquered by cynicism, it becomes easy for us to turn away from the hard problems of life.

Whether hopelessness and cynicism can be fought with slick television ads that entreat the citizenry of Baltimore to “believe” in themselves is questionable, even though they were created with the best of intentions. What Baltimore needs to know is that hope is not dead in the city. People of Baltimore need to be able to place their fingers on hope’s pulse and feel it beating strongly. We need to be taught how to cast off the cynicism that paralyzes us. We need works of good faith toward good ends to sustain us in our battle to win back our city. 

There are real heroes in our city. There are those who rise every day to do works of good faith toward good ends. We shall speak of our heroes now and in the future. We shall make it known that by their actions our heroes help hop to stand on her own two feet in our city. We shall show all who have eyes to see that hope walks hand-in-hand with our smallest and most vulnerable child, our troubled teenagers, and with our elderly.

Let me tell you about one group of heroes of hope who stand side by side. They are the employees of the Baltimore City detention center, who, under the leadership of Commissioner Lamont Flanagan, have selfishly given of themselves since 1990 to run a mentoring program at Johnston Square Elementary School. Each school day, volunteers from the Detention center report to the Johnston Square Elementary School and are involved in everything from assisting teachers in the classroom, to counseling, and recreation. They even help stack books in the school library. When school is over these mentors hurry their young charges over to the Frederick Douglass After School Program, which is a part of the Living Room Foundation.

There out of the reach of drug thugs, the students are involved in such varied activities as sailing and boating, woodcraft, gardening, and computer skills. These activities are also prepare them for college and the job market. These children have learned how to prepare their own newsletter, an activity that improves their communication skills. Every month the children of Johnston Square go on field trips to such places as the White House, the Great Blacks in Wax Museum, For McHenry, and Morgan State University. These trips broaden the horizon of young developing minds. Moreover, the entire mentoring experience exposes these children to real, obtainable goals and positive role models, These role models give the children encouragement – the strength, the love, and the hope to succeed in the harshest of the urban environments. 

If Baltimore leaders were smart, they would learn from what is going on at Johnston Square Elementary? They might establish an office of Child Security and author a mentoring program in every elementary, middle, or high school? Why not give any city employee who wishes to take part in such programs a half day or full day off to do so? Or give Inner Harbor developers and other businesspersons tax incentives for funding such programs. We would make mentoring a mandatory part of the work-study programs. We could make mentoring a mandatory part of the work-study programs of colleges and universities. By doing so, we could foster a thousand – no, a million –works of good faith toward a good end. The political pundits and cynics will of course say that the use of mentoring programs to solve the drug and violence problem in Baltimore is too simple a solution.

How can being with our young people and talking to them do any good, one may ask? The simplicity of mentoring will make such a program work. Children are hungry for the attention of an older, caring person. Many of us used to have older persons to guide us through the difficult years of growing up.

In Baltimore’s inner city five decades ago, we were men who went out to work every day. We had older men – “old heads” – who looked out for us, nourished us, and passed their wisdom on to us. What was this activity but an informal kind of mentoring. There are no statistics to tell us how many of the last generation were saved by such efforts. But there are many black men nevertheless who will give testimony that they indeed were saved from “the streets” by the good works of such men. The best and final argument for mentoring programs is that if our children are with us then they are not with the drug thugs of the city. If their hands are in ours, they cannot be used to pass the poison of drugs on to another soul. If our children are safe in after school programs, then they are not on the streets where a stray bullet can maim them or otherwise harm them.

 The choice is ours. Will we go forward with our children at our sides, or sit by and continue to watch a generation slowly die. Until the people and the leaders of this city choose to act and talk about the problem of our children and violence, I have a bone to pick with them.

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Super Rich: A Guide to Having it All

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Russell Simmons knows firsthand that wealth is rooted in much more than the stock  market. True wealth has more to do with what’s in your heart than what’s in your wallet. Using this knowledge, Simmons became one of America’s shrewdest entrepreneurs, achieving a level of success that most investors only dream about. No matter how much material gain he accumulated, he never stopped lending a hand to those less fortunate. In Super Rich, Simmons uses his rare blend of spiritual savvy and street-smart wisdom to offer a new definition of wealth-and share timeless principles for developing an unshakable sense of self that can weather any financial storm. As Simmons says, “Happy can make you money, but money can’t make you happy.”

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