Jamario Cantrell, 18, of Florida, was among a group of young people from the Urban League of Palm Beach County visiting Civic Works Real Food Farm for a day of service. They are in Baltimore for the National Urban League's 27th annual Youth Leadership Summit convention.
Jamario Cantrell, 18, of Florida, was among a group of young people from the Urban League of Palm Beach County visiting Civic Works Real Food Farm for a day of service. They are in Baltimore for the National Urban League's 27th annual Youth Leadership Summit convention. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Jamario Cantrell knelt under the blazing sun Saturday, carefully wrapping his fingers around tall weeds that had popped up alongside young asparagus plants at the Real Food Farm in Baltimore.

The 18-year-old from West Palm Beach, Fla., was one of about 260 teens who traveled from around the country to Baltimore this week to participate in the National Urban League's 27th annual Youth Leadership Summit. The century-old civil rights organization will hold its annual convention Aug. 3-6 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

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On Saturday, the teens were dispersed to different improvement projects as part of the summit's "Day of Service," culminating a week of events intended to help build confidence, leadership skills and prepare participants for life after high school.

"We believe that it's important for people to engage in service learning, learning to give back to the community," said Robyn Ince, vice president of education policy and advocacy at the National Urban League.

"We believe it is not only important to be academically successful, but civically engaged," she said.

Cantrell and about 40 other teens were stationed at the Real Food Farm in Clifton Park, where they helped weed crops.

The teens also got a tour of the six-acre farm from Myeasha Taylor, who manages another urban farm at Perlman Place. The food is distributed through Real Food Farms' Mobile Farmers Market, a booth at the 32nd Street Farmers' Market, Community Supported Agriculture shares and some local restaurants.

"We use a lot of hot tunnels for season extension," Taylor told the group, as they stood next to the long plastic structure.

"Why is it so hot?" one teen asked. Taylor told them that the plastic cover helps trap the heat.

"I can feel it just standing in the front door," one young man said.

Space is typically limited at an urban farm, she said, so many of the crops, including cucumbers and cantaloupes, were growing on trellises in the tunnel.

After pointing out a few more crops, Taylor led the group to a long row of wispy asparagus plants, pointing to where the thick weeds had cropped up, and showing them how to pull them out.

"Be mindful of keeping your feet out of the beds," she said.

As Cantrell, worked along a row, he stopped to remove his black-rimmed glasses and rub the beading sweat from his face.

He gently pulled at "all the willowy looking stuff."

"It feels good to give back," he said, especially after spending a week in the city, traveling to the National Great Blacks In Wax Museum and attending a college fair at the War Memorial building, where he met with advisers about scholarship opportunities.

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He said a friend encouraged him to get involved in the Urban League's youth program to "bring me out of my shell."

The recent high school gradate said he will start his freshman year at Vanderbilt University in the fall and aspires for a career in biochemistry.

Andre Thaddies, with the Palm Beach County Urban League, who served as a chaperon on the trip, said many young students gain confidence and maturity through the program by getting exposed to new opportunities, such as the annual summit which is held in a different city each year.

The trip offers "something different so they can get out of their comfort zone," he said.

Gloria Scott, another chaperon with the Palm Beach County chapter, said many of the kids were excited to travel to Baltimore, a place many had never been and experiencing a setting very different from home, such as the city's ubiquitous rowhomes.

"The kids were really excited to see the brownstones, excited to see homes with basements," she said with a smile. "To see something different."

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