Article13 Carroll Park Cookout200

Children line up to have their face painted by De Bowman at a community cookout in Carroll Park on June 20. The event’s lead organizer was Eric Bowman, a member of the Bloods who has dedicated himself to uplifting his community. (AFRO Photo/Roberto Alejandro)

The DJ played clean versions of hip-hop hits from the golden era to today. Children had their faces painted before hitting the dance floor to whip and nae nae to the entertainment of older relatives. There was free food, school supply giveaways, and local residents signed up for assistance with utility and other bills.

It was your standard community event on June 20 in Baltimore’s Carroll Park, except that its lead organizer, Eric Bowman, did not belong to a church or a grassroots advocacy organization. He is a Blood, an unapologetic member of the notorious street gang who is nonetheless determined to show that there is more to gangs than making a living on the streets.

“What I am (a gang member), that’s me, I was raised in it, I was born in it, that’s me doesn’t mean I have to be negative and I’m not,” said Bowman. “But no, I’m not going to change who I am. Just because I am a Blood doesn’t mean that I interact with negativity and stuff like that, because I don’t. I know what it is to be there, and I don’t want to be in there. If you actually want to change things, you want to elevate, you want to move forward, you have to change the way you think.”

Charles Littlejohn is a Piru—a gang closely affiliated with the Bloods—but said events like the cookout organized by Bowman are important because they show that there is more to gangs than violence and negativity, and that they can be a positive force in the community, especially where youth are concerned.

“We’re taking a stand,” said Littlejohn. “It’s not about us anymore, it’s about the generation that’s under us, our kids. We don’t want our kids to grow up the way we grew up, or have to go through what we’ve been through. So we’re just trying to give them a different outlook to let them know that the route that we took, they don’t have to take that route because there are more choices and there are better opportunities out there for them than there were for us.”

One community member, Lorenzo, came to the cookout to find out whether he could assist with the event and earn community service hours towards his probation requirements. Like Littlejohn, Lorenzo spoke of the importance of events like this being organized by persons who have lived the street life and the impact that can have on youth.

“ need more of this right here, to show them that there’s more out here than just the streets and what’s going on in the streets,” said Lorenzo, adding, “That’s what we need more of to show these kids that there’s more to living than just what they’re seeing on the TV. That TV, that’s fabricat living…This right here, what they’re doing in this park right now for the community, now that’s living.”

Bowman agreed, saying he understands that he is a role model and that kids look up to persons like him.

“We’re role models. So they look up to us, why not give them something positive?” said Bowman.

Maryland Senate majority leader Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City) made a brief appearance at the cookout, and spoke of the importance of different communities having the chance to get to know each other as they work toward the betterment of the city.

“It’s always good when we are mixing, integrating, talking with each other, sharing opportunities with each other,” said Pugh. “It’s important for us to see each other in different lights, and as I said during the unrest in Baltimore, what people saw was a microcosm of Baltimore. We have the very rich, the very poor, Black, White, but all of us working together is going to help make a better Baltimore.”