Munir Bahar, perhaps best known for his 300 Men March anti-violence initiative, has spent the better part of the past 13 years working to help youth avoid the sort of pitfalls he fell into while growing up in Baltimore. He has developed a program called COR for Kids, which he has begun teaching at area public schools. Bahar is looking to the community for help to fund an expansion of his facility in Pigtown, to keep his after school program viable in a city desperate for youth-oriented programming.
Bahar grew up in Baltimore, moving here from Houston when he was four years old. His teenage years were marked by problems with the law and disciplinary issues at school.
Suspended in the sixth grade, expelled in the seventh, and permanently expelled in the eighth, Bahar received his first charge at 13 for shooting a boy with a BB gun and served nine months in a juvenile detention center around the age of 16 on various charges. Ever resilient, Bahar would go on to graduate high school and enroll at Morgan State University, but his personal conduct continued to be a problem.
“After my second year, I actually went away again for about four months, and then came home,” Bahar said. “I was 20 years old, and that’s when I started Brother to Brother . . . Said I’m not going back and I’m going to help some other young guys from falling down those same traps I fell into.”
Brother to Brother was a mentoring program for teenagers that Bahar ran from February 2002 until December 2006. It was his first attempt at running such an initiative, a crash course in how to run an organization of this nature and the challenges that come along with it. Among the biggest challenges: finding financial support for his efforts.
“At that time, everybody was talking about the young Black male. The young Black male, that was the hot topic. But I wasn’t getting that financial support,” said Bahar, noting that though his program was developed by a young Black male to help other young Black males, nobody seemed interested in opening their wallets about the problem.
Though frustrating, the lack of financial support has not slowed down Bahar, who in 2006 put Brother to Brother to bed, and then combined a recently discovered passion for martial arts and physical fitness with his youth advocacy to create COR, which he launched in 2007.
COR for Kids, one of a number of programs Bahar developed under the COR umbrella and is taking into Baltimore City schools, uses physical fitness to impart healthy habits and the three values of the COR acronym: committed, organized, and responsible.
“We are a community health organization,” said Bahar, who wants to send a clear message to the city’s youth that one’s social location need not be the final word in one’s health outcomes. “We are trying to prove that . . . despite economic challenges, or socioeconomic challenges, or cultural challenges, good health is still affordable to any and everybody on this planet just by maintaining some baseline behaviors,” said Bahar.
COR is about making responsible lifestyle choices, such as limiting the amount of soda one consumes. But it is also about being responsible for oneself and one’s behavior, and the health and fitness foundation of COR serves to help young people control their impulses and avoid some of the violent outbursts that can be all too common amongst the city’s youth.
“We understand that correlation between health, or bad health, and emotional instability which leads to a lot of the violence that we have. We have a lot of violent acts that just happened randomly because people aren’t balanced on the inside. Why? Because of your diet and lack of physical activity.”
Bahar has brought his COR curriculum to Baltimore area schools this month, beginning with Patterson Park Public Charter School, where he and his team are working with 100 kids. In June, Bahar had to shutdown the afterschool COR program he runs in Pigtown, but hopes the revenue stream from teaching the curriculum in the schools will enable him to start the afterschool portion back up again.
He is currently working to raise funds to renovate a vacant building in the Pigtown area of Baltimore, a construction project he has saved money on by learning to do a lot of the work himself. Do it yourself has become a bit of a mantra for Bahar, who insists on a presentation more polished than COR’s finances generally allow, but has achieved it by learning things like website development and construction on the fly. “People talk so much about what Black men aren’t doing. So as a young Black man that is doing, I find it very ironic the lack of support that we get. People say we need rec centers. Alright, we’re building one, and we need a fraction of the cost to build it. People say we need places for the youth to go. Well, we have that, but folks aren’t supporting.”
Anyone interested in making a tax exempt donation to COR’s building renovation fund, may do so at www.corcommunity.com.