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Unrest Sows Seeds for Future Leaders, Opens Eyes of Youth

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Jerome Lyles, 15, wants effort for justice to keeping going. (Richard B. Muhammad/NNPA Photo)

Jerome Lyles, 15, wants effort for justice to keeping going. (Richard B. Muhammad/NNPA Photo)

by Richard B. Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from The Final Call

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.

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Cortly C.D. Witherspoon, Jr. spoke at a rally. Youth are not thugs and the mayor needs to know that he said.

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.”

The city resident was clad in a t-shirt with a photo of Trayvon Martin, the Black 17-year-old who died from bullets fired by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman in Sanford, Fla., in 2012.

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 May 9 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. His back was broken and spine nearly separated from his head in what police called an arrest without force. Six police officers have been charged in connection with his death.

Jerome would like to see continued protests and efforts to change living conditions and government in the city.

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Yo’Nas Da Lonewolf organized events in Baltimore to promote youth voices and unity. Photos: Richard B. Muhammad

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 StopTheKilling.com 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.

When rapper DBoi Da Dome, a popular local artist, called into The Glover Report, which aired over www.wpbradio.com, talk focused on youth and street level efforts for justice, peace and progress. The rapper wants to help promote change and open the eyes of young people. He wants youth to make better choices, enjoy better circumstances, better opportunities and services and he wants more access to young minds.

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Young people are suffering and Freddie Grays’ happen daily in Baltimore, said the hip hop artist. He created a song dedicated to the uprising and police wrongdoing and killings in Baltimore. His powerful anti-police murder song “F–k 12,” may be raw in language but it captures, the pain, anger, fearlessness and daily pressures of life in an urban anthem. “F–k 12, f–k 12! We ain’t about fear!” the song goes. “They killing us without justice!” “Twelve” refers to Baltimore police officers and the song’s narrative expresses outrage over the killing of Mr. Gray and other Blacks across the country. Hands up means don’t shoot, but cops are killing Black people anyway, the song notes. The video includes protests, city officers in riot gear, unrest and scenes from the city’s remaining public housing projects and marches through the streets. Some may not like the curse words, but the police killings and police abuses are real, said DBoi Da Dome. His song is one of several local artists produced in the wake of the Gray death.

“We have to make change happen as a unit and it doesn’t matter who gets the credit,” he said. And DBoi Da Dome added, those with resources and power should not keep those who can reach young people away because of past problems.

My life shows young people alternatives to street life, fast money and fast death, said the rapper. But powerful people are playing games, he said. “We are losing family members in the midst of their game,” the rapper added.

There is great pain affecting youth, especially young Black Baltimore, said Faraji Muhammad of Peace By Piece Baltimore, a group of young activists committed to social justice and work in low income communities.

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 Freddie 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, said Faraji.

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 were “ridiculous.” It started from Mondawmin Mall, where she stood after school.

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,” Ronnae said.

“It was just the whole cop thing that got me hyped,” she continued. Ronnae feels the officers were wrong for not strapping Mr. Gray into the police vehicle for his safety and questioned why he was arrested.

Like other young people interviewed, some who were denied entry into the mall, she said the relationship between youth and police is non-existent. “The cops don’t really acknowledge the young people anymore. They are more like, ‘you just do this, you do that’ and stuff like that. They’re not really showing us the way. It’s like authority, authority, authority. 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,” said the high school sophomore.

“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 for 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.

The word on social media April 27 was that students were going to protest, said Rodney, countering police reports that a violent purge was planned. His mother picked him up and he turned on the news at home to see “young people doing damage.”

He doesn’t approve of the destruction, but it had an impact. “They (youth) showed their feelings and I think the cops will listen. I think they will be like, ‘Be careful.’ ”

If Rodney has an encounter with police he hopes officers won’t prejudge him and draw their weapons. He has never been in trouble—but he still has that fear.

Destiny Broadham, 17, shared some thoughts while walking in Mondawmin Mall. “It was a terrible thing that happened, raiding the places you go every day,” she said. The mall was looted during the uprising. She believes there are good and bad officers. But, she said, there is a problem. “Policemen take their jobs for granted because they have so much power and they think they can get away with stuff,” she said. “Like killing people, you’re not supposed to kill people.”

Activism

Following More Mass Shootings Democrats Introduce Assault Weapons Ban

On January 22, a gunman opened fire on a crowd celebrating the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, California, killing 11 and wounding 9. The Democrats’ proposed Age 21 Act would make it illegal to sell or buy an assault weapon to anybody under 21, bringing it in line with the legal age for purchasing handguns. President Joe Biden has publicly stated his support for the legislation.

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The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans
The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

By Stacy M. Brown,NNPA Newswire

Two proposals aimed at curbing the spread of assault rifles were submitted today by Democratic senators Dianne Feinstein of California, and Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

The Assault Weapons Ban seeks to prohibit the commercialization, distribution, production, and importation of assault rifles and other firearms designed for use in military operations, as well as high-capacity magazines and similar devices.

On January 22, a gunman opened fire on a crowd celebrating the Lunar New Year in Monterey Park, California, killing 11 and wounding 9.

The Democrats’ proposed Age 21 Act would make it illegal to sell or buy an assault weapon to anybody under 21, bringing it in line with the legal age for purchasing handguns.

President Joe Biden has publicly stated his support for the legislation.

Biden said that the number of mass shootings declined during the decade that the Assault Weapons Ban was in effect.

“In the 10 years that the Assault Weapons Ban was on the books, mass shootings went down,” Biden remarked.

“After Republicans let the law expire in 2004 and those weapons were allowed to be sold again, mass shootings tripled,” he declared.

Both houses of Congress were urged to take quick action by the president.

According to Biden, “the majority of American people agree with this rational measure.”

“There can be no greater responsibility than to do all we can to ensure the safety of our children, our communities and our nation,” he insisted.

In the House of Representatives, Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline said he plans to introduce a companion bill to the Senate’s Assault Weapons Ban.

Feinstein said assault rifles “seem to be the unifying denominator in the seemingly endless number of horrific shootings.”

“Because these firearms were created for maximum efficiency in mass murder,” the senator noted.

“They have no place in our society or educational institutions. It’s time to take a stand against the gun lobby and do something about getting these lethal weapons off the streets, or at the absolute least, out of the hands of our youth.”

Blumenthal added, as the gunman at the Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park demonstrated just days ago, assault weapons are designed for one and one purpose only: to murder or hurt human beings.

“These military-style combat weapons – built for the battlefield and designed to maximize death and destruction – have brought bloodshed and carnage to our streets and continue to be the weapon of choice in countless mass shootings,” Blumenthal said.

“Guns don’t respect state boundaries, which is why we need a national solution to restricting the ownership and use of assault weapons. Now is the time to honor gun violence victims and survivors with this commonsense action.”

Rep. Ciciline argued that it is long past due to reinstate an assault weapon ban and remove these “weapons of war” from civilian areas.

The assault weapons prohibition “passed the House last year with bipartisan backing, but was blocked by Senate Republicans,” Ciciline noted.

“We need to come together to enact this commonsense, effective, and proven policy to reduce gun violence and save lives. I thank Senator Feinstein for her partnership in this fight and look forward to introducing the House companion bill in the coming weeks.”

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. Named National Co-Chair of No Labels

“As a veteran of the civil rights movement, during the last six decades, I’ve learned a few things about the importance of people working together across lines of race, ethnicity, language, geography, and the things that divide us. I want to work on things that unite us as Americans. I believe No Labels offers that opportunity but also that responsibility to move forward,” Dr. Chavis said.

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.
Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

No Labels, a nonprofit think tank that describes itself as a national movement of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to solve the country’s most complex problems, has named Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. as its national co-chair.

The formal announcement occurred during a Zoom news conference on January 22.

It included welcome messages from Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia), and former Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, among others.

Recording star Deborah Cox opened the introductory news conference by performing a spirited song about No Labels, who created the bipartisan House Problem Solvers Caucus and an allied Senate group that led passage of some of the most important legislation of recent years, including the CHIPS Act, a gun safety bill, and a rewrite of the Electoral Count Act in 2022.

Voiceovers were woven in of former U.S. Presidents from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.

The organization then played a tribute video that included Dr. Chavis’ family and his legendary career as a civil rights leader.

“I’m very pleased to join Sen. Lieberman and Gov. Hogan as co-chairs of No Labels,” Dr. Chavis exclaimed.

“As a veteran of the civil rights movement, during the last six decades, I’ve learned a few things about the importance of people working together across lines of race, ethnicity, language, geography, and the things that divide us. I want to work on things that unite us as Americans. I believe No Labels offers that opportunity but also that responsibility to move forward,” Dr. Chavis said.

Lieberman, a former U.S. Senator from Connecticut, who changed parties in 2006 and is now an Independent, said No Labels is fortunate to have Dr. Chavis on board.

“Based on his history as a civil rights leader and the kind of person he is, I’m thrilled. Dr. Chavis has always been a bridge-builder and will bring civility, which is sorely needed in our government and our country,” Lieberman asserted.

Hogan, who served two terms as Maryland governor, also congratulated Dr. Chavis.

“I’m thrilled to congratulate Dr. Chavis and welcome him to No Labels. I know Dr. Chavis will be a great addition to the leadership team of No Labels,” Hogan stated.

“He shares our commitment to bringing people together to achieve common sense solutions for all Americans. Having worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Dr. Chavis knows what it means to fight for freedom and respect for all Americans, and that’s exactly what No Labels stand for,” Hogan concluded.

Manchin, the conservative-leaning Democrat, said he got involved with No Labels more than 12 years ago because the organization works to unite America.

“We’re still working to unite this country,” Manchin declared.

“What we’ve done in the last two years in a bipartisan way because of No Labels has been [major].

“So, I’m thrilled to have the experience of Dr. Chavis and the wealth of knowledge he’s gained over the years that he’ll share with us to help make us a more perfect union.”

In welcoming Dr. Chavis, Senator Susan Collins, Maine’s longest-serving Senator, lent her voice.

“As a highly respected civil rights leader, his service alongside Sen. Lieberman and Gov. Hogan will help move our organization and nation forward,” Collins insisted.

“Dr. Chavis has dedicated his life to championing equality and encouraging our nation to live up to its ideals. He believes in American unity, democracy, and opportunity for all.”

Dr. Chavis said his life’s work had taught him that if everyone works together, divisions can be overcome.

“And when we overcome divisions, we make progress,” he insisted.

“I believe we need to restore bipartisanship in the American Congress. We need to restore bipartisanship at the state legislative level.

“We need to restore bipartisanship at the local and municipal level. Americans today are worn out with all the divisions and looking for a way forward. No Labels offer that way forward.”

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COMMENTARY: Prayer is Your Power

Terrible things happen to good people often. We live in an unjust world with people making decisions that are informed more by profit than people. We cannot take those principles into our relationship with God. We must believe that “… all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

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Prayer is about faith. It is believing that God hears us.
Prayer is about faith. It is believing that God hears us.

Faithful Utterances

By Dr. Froswa Booker-Drew | Texas Metro News

This week, a friend informed me that she was following the ambulance to the hospital with her husband. Her husband was going through a major health crisis. She wasn’t the only one who reached out—a friend’s mother had unexplained pain and another friend contacted me about her friend’s son who was hospitalized with pneumonia. Each of them asked that I pray for them.

I consider it an honor to pray for others. Prayer is powerful and I love that I have a group of friends who I can turn to that I call the “prayer warriors” that when I send a text to lift up the concerns and issues of others before God, they go into battle mode.

Prayer is a weapon and I think many of us don’t understand its power until we need it. For many of us, it’s a routine, something that’s more about religion than it is about relationship. We have gotten prayer twisted as some exchange solely for stuff. God is not a celestial Santa Claus dropping off gifts. Prayer is an opportunity to go before to God sincerely in relationship. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.

Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:5–8)

Prayer is about faith. It is believing that God hears us. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) I realize that my prayers are even more powerful when I am in relationship with others seeking God: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matthew 18:20). It’s dangerous when we see prayer as a way to manipulate God into doing what we want. There is nothing wrong with bringing your requests before God but it’s important to check our motivation and intention. It’s also important to know that just because God doesn’t answer our prayers in the way that we want does not mean that God doesn’t love us.

It doesn’t mean that God does not hear us. It does not negate the omnipotence or goodness of God, either. We must believe that God is able. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) It’s easy to blame God when things don’t go the way we want them to—”the rain falls on the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:45).

Terrible things happen to good people often. We live in an unjust world with people making decisions that are informed more by profit than people. We cannot take those principles into our relationship with God. We must believe that “… all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) …. God is concerned with our hearts, with people and cares for us even when things don’t go the way we’d like. I can report that all of the individuals we prayed for had excellent results.

God is good! Yet, I realize that this isn’t always the case. Prayer is powerful. God wants us to have this daily form of communication. 1 John 5:14, tells us: “And this is the boldness we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Don’t use prayer just when you need something. Just as all relationships require consistent communication for growth and results, the same is even more important in our relationship with God. Prayer is a powerful partnership with God that can move mountains when we believe!

Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew is the host of the Tapestry Podcast and the author of three books for women. She is also the Vice President of Community Affairs for the State Fair of Texas. To learn more, visit drfroswa.com.

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