Nick Mosby bounded along a row of ninth-grade boys at Baltimore's Civitas School with the energy of a football player about to dart onto the field. Citing his own upbringing by a single mother, he urged the young men to aim higher than the temptations of the city's streets.
"If you dream about it, you'll become it," he said.
Mosby, a 32-year-old Verizon engineer and community activist, says he had long dreamed of a career in politics before defeating a two-term city councilwoman in September's Democratic primary.
Now — though he still faces challengers in Tuesday's general election — he has already begun the work that he hopes to accomplish in office, showing young people that a world exists outside Baltimore's grinding poverty and rampant drug trade.
"Too many times, we utilize our children just as itemized lines" in a municipal budget, Mosby said. "But the long-term investment needs to be in our children. We just have to get them early and hold onto them."
Mosby, the former president of the Bolton Park Neighbors Association in Reservoir Hill, has never held political office. He has one more hurdle to cross before he can move into City Hall. Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, whom he defeated by 653 votes in the primary, is challenging him in a long-shot, write-in campaign. Republican Michael John Bradley also is a candidate.
Mosby is endorsed by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake — which Conaway says is evidence he's a "front man" for the mayor's political machine. Mosby says that's not true.
"I'm going to be an independent voice in City Hall, no matter how you cut it," he said.
Mosby grew up in Northeast Baltimore's Northwood neighborhood. He says his mother, who died a year and a half ago, struggled to raise him and his older sister alone. Mosby recalls her picking him up from after-school programs after riding several buses from her job answering benefit questions at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn.
"Statistically, I am not supposed to be here," Mosby told supporters at a summer campaign rally. "A black male taught to ride a bike by his mother, taught to catch a football by his mother, taught to be a man by his mother … I am not supposed to be here. But I am. And all because that potential was tapped by my mother."
Many of the boys he grew up with in Northwood, a middle- and working-class neighborhood of tidy lawns, wound up getting sucked into the drug trade despite the support of loving mothers and grandmothers, Mosby says. On Saturdays, his mother rode the bus with him to the Baltimore School for the Arts so he could take acting classes. He also attended a program at Morgan State University for minority students interested in math and science.
Discussions of youth programs, especially a recent flap over the city's plan to put two dozen rec centers in private hands or shutter them, affect him personally, he says. He says he would push for Hampden's Roosevelt Rec Center to remain under the city's control.
"I grew up at a rec center," he said. "I know how important they are."
Mosby also says his experiences in the city's public school system drive him to work for better schools. His elementary and middle school classes did not prepare him for the rigors of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, he says.
"City schools — they failed me," he said. "We lose so many of our kids, particularly African-American males, in middle school."
That's why Mosby was quick to respond when Civitas government and history teacher Chris Turk invited him to speak to his freshman seminar students.
"I had been following the election and knew he was running to represent the district," said Turk. "He and his wife responded immediately."
Mosby spoke to the freshman class, then returned to talk to a group of boys whom teachers identified as needing additional guidance. Mosby prodded those who said they wanted to be pro athletes when they grow up.
"Basketball player? We threw that out. What else?" Mosby asked student Saiquan White.
"An engineer," said Saiquan. "I'm interested in music and technology and stuff."