Remembrances and vigils in the wake of the murder of Michael Mayfield two weeks ago are beginning to fade into memory. In the aftermath, leaders in the Baltimore community are calling for a more community-based and sustained effort to address the issues that drive violence.
David Miller, chief visionary officer and a co-founder of the Dare to Be King Project, an organization that supports groups providing services to boys of color, stressed the need for early intervention – identifying aggressive and problem behavior at the elementary-school age level and getting parents and other professionals involved. He is also calling for improved access to mental healthcare services in Baltimore city.
Miller would like more resources funneled to groups and organizations already operating within communities affected by violence and that possess credibility with area residents. Too often, he lamented, outside groups, though well intentioned, are limited in their effectiveness by a lack of history with the communities they seek to serve.
Adam Jackson, CEO and co-founder of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a policy think tank engaged in advocacy and educational efforts in Baltimore, pointed out that too often violence is thought of in a vacuum rather than within the context of the social conditions that underlie violent behavior.
"We don't really think about the way we can arrange our communities in such a way where people won't engage in violent behavior," said Jackson. "If we increase their quality of life, people, generally speaking, will be less likely to engage in violent behavior."
Like Miller, Jackson would like to see more anti-violence efforts undertaken by organizations founded and operated from within the community.
The Rev. Ronald Covington, pastor with New Victory Ministries, works with young people and their families. He feels one of the biggest problems is the lack of a concerted effort to address violence in the city. "It's a sustainability issue," said Covington. "We can't have a great program this summer and the violence stems, and we don't follow up with something positive in the fall, spring, and in the coming years and months."
For Covington, ensuring that anti-violence efforts do not see their effectiveness limited by gaps in initiatives requires that both community-based organizations as well as outside groups be involved. "We need people from outside who have resources, we need people inside who know."
Marshall "Eddie" Conway, a former leader in the Baltimore chapter of the Black Panther Party and a life-long political activist, spoke about the lack of hope that often makes violence a viable option for many young people. "It's a fatalism that comes from seeing so many of your friends die," said Conway.
Through Friend of a Friend, an organization he founded, Conway addresses youth audiences and noted that "somebody needs to bond with them that cares, that they can see that these people care, that they can understand that there is a possibility of transitioning beyond that age that they see as a block, a glass ceiling to them."
Conway, in his efforts with youth, stresses the importance of knowing one's history, believing that it is difficult to envision an expansive future when one cannot appreciate that they are also part of a current that stretches far into the past. "If you don't know who you are, you don't know your history, you don't know where you came from, then you can't make a determination of where you want to go," said Conway.
While a sense of hopelessness may often contribute to the violence that continues to afflict Baltimore city, everyone who spoke to the AFRO focused on solutions, betraying no sense that they viewed the problem as intractable. "We got to intensify our work with young black males who are most at risk for violence," said Miller. "We can turn this thing around but we got to do things differently."