One by one, 14 young boys came forward and signed a piece of paper -- the paper they hope will change how people perceive them and how they perceive themselves.
The boys, all of whom have either been suspended or expelled from county schools for fighting, signed an agreement Wednesday night at Mount Moriah A.M.E. Church acknowledging their past behavior and promising that fighting would not be a part of their future.
"What happened shouldn't have really happened," said 15-year-old Teon Hall. "We shouldn't have been fighting at all. It was just stupid. We don't even know what we were fighting for."
Teon was among eight boys expelled and two dozen suspended from Annapolis High School during the past year. Many of the expulsions and suspension came as the result of two March fights at the school, in which the police were called in to make a number of student arrests.
The fights generated controversy among teachers, who feared working with the students, and community members, who felt the school system overreacted.
"People were calling these kids animals," said Annapolis psychologist Orlie Reid. "These kids aren't animals. I know they're not. If [the school system] would just take the time to talk to these kids, they'd see these kids aren't the animals they've been portrayed to be."
To correct the public's perceptions, Reid organized a weekly group meeting at the church for students involved in the fights.
Many occurred between residents of two public housing developments, Eastport Terrace and Newtowne 20. Students from Annapolis Gardens also were involved in the dispute.
The weekly meetings, which began in April, have allowed students from all areas to "call a truce" and meet each other on neutral ground. A basketball team has been formed from residents from Eastport Terrace, Newtowne 20 and Annapolis Gardens. Tutoring sessions for the students are to begin this summer to prepare them for re-entering school in the fall.
Nearly half of the students have been told they will not be allowed to return to school in the fall. But Reid said he is working with the students, parents and school system to appeal that decision. He said the boys' sincere effort to improve their behavior should allow them back in school.
But the boys and their parents believe their race -- all are black -- has played and will continue to play a part in how the school system perceives them.
"The school system could have dealt with these boys," said Dorothy Hammond, whose 15-year-old son, Troy, was suspended in March. "They could have dealt with them the same way they deal with the white kids. But as soon as blacks get into a scrap, they throw them out of school.
"I really believe they don't care about these boys. And I think they don't care because they're black. All these boys needed was somebody to talk to them. The school just didn't want to do it," Hammond added.
Reid told the young men that many people may "sell them short" and make them doubt themselves because of their past troubles. It is important, he said, that the boys seek support from each other instead of fighting each other.
"Do you believe you're as capable as I believe you are?" Reid asked the boys.
"Yeah," they answered.
"Are you going to prove it to me?" Reid asked.
"Yeah," Teon said. "If you just give us a chance."