More than 40 men began an overnight, 35-mile trek to Washington Sunday evening — a demonstration they hope will bring more attention to the epidemic of violence in Baltimore and other cities around the nation.
The members of the 300 Men March, a grass-roots group that recruits city youth to walk the streets denouncing the hundreds of killings in Baltimore each year and the apathy that often follows, planned to take their message to the National Mall, where they will arrive Monday afternoon.
Munir Bahar, the group's founder, said the walk to Washington measures about four times the group's previous longest march, a 10-mile hike across Baltimore on North Avenue in July. With breaks along the way, he said, the journey, the distance of which is longer than a marathon, should take about 20 hours, and end at about 2 p.m.
"It's symbolic of what we're willing to do to address the violence in our city," Bahar said. "The solution is simple. We need to go above and beyond." More than 200 people have been killed in Baltimore so far this year, with May and July each seeing more than 40 homicides.
The men stretched and relaxed in Carroll Park in Southwest Baltimore before departing just after 6:30 p.m. to the cheers of their mothers, sisters, girlfriends and wives.
Munir Bahar sat on the back of a pickup truck and addressed the group, who stood around him. He told them they need the mindset of an army if they are going to prevail.
"It's not going to be comfortable," he said. "It's not going to be easy. It's not going to be convenient. ... As long as we have bodies dropping and young people killing each other, we need to do more."
Djenaba Bahar, Munir's mother, said she works for the CollegeBound Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping city students go to college.
"A lot of the students killed in the city go to our schools," she said.
Munir Bahar pointed to 10 teenagers among the 42 preparing to walk: "Any of these guys could be on the streets right now."
Nearby, some of them ran in the park, throwing a baseball and a football.
"Save your energy!" an adult shouted to them.
City Councilman Brandon Scott, the group's highest-profile member, stretched his legs as they waited to leave. He drank water and got a good night's sleep to get himself ready for the march. "I ate a whole watermelon," he said, with a laugh.
Scott said he wasn't worried about the final, grueling stretch in the hot sun Monday afternoon.
"Adrenaline's going to carry you at that point," he said.
Eric Grine, a team captain, said no diet or sports drink could prepare the marchers for what they were about to do.
Their mantra — "We must stop killing each other" — is their driving force, he said.
"The culture of violence, the culture of gun violence, is ripping our country apart," he said.
Tammy Stinnett, 41, couldn't believe it when her husband, Sean, told her of the plan.
"I thought he was crazy. I don't even like to drive to D.C.," she said. "To walk to D.C. is a whole other level."
Stinnett understands, though. The Coldspring woman said the group's work is "very important to the community."
"They're reaching out," she said. "I'm very proud of what he's doing."
Sean Stinnett, who serves as a spokesman for the 300 Men March, said the group expects the march to help "broaden our message."
Ideally, he said, they'd like to meet with President Obama, as their initiative correlates with the president's My Brother's Keeper project, which connects young people to mentoring, support networks and skills to find a job or go to college.
Osa Obaseki, 30, showed off his new haircut — a fade, with the number 300 shaved into the right side.
Scott said he wants the nation to see the men in Baltimore who want to stop the bloodshed.
"We need to present ourselves to the entire country as a model," he said. "We're highlighting what's going on across the country, and we need concerned men in particular to get involved."
"It's not just about money," he added. "It's also about human investment and human capital. And the best thing about that is time."
Bahar echoed the sentiment, denouncing not only the killings but also those who sit by and complain about it.
"People expect the murder rate to go away by sitting on the couch," Bahar said. "If it's business as usual, it's murders as usual."
At about 8:20 p.m., the group made it to Elkridge, where they were met by former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Councilman Calvin Ball and others, one of whom held a "Welcome to HoCo, 300 Men Marchers" sign.
Ulman said he came out to show his respect for the group's desire to make a difference. He joined the group, marching along with Scott and the others for a stretch of Route 1.
"It's not going to just be leadership. It's going to bubble up from the community," he said. "To see folks coming out in a positive way is tremendous. So we wanted to bring the welcome wagon, let them know they have friends."
Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.