Angelo N. Richardson's idea to do something for the children in his neighborhood came as he cut hair at his Glen Burnie barbershop.
For months he'd heard their complaints. There was no place to go. Nothing to do. Now, the children have Project Unity, Mr. Richardson's program to give them pride and self-esteem, a knowledge of African-American history and tips on succeeding in school and in life.
"I didn't just want to run a business in the community and feed off of it without giving something back," said Mr. Richardson, 28, owner of Afrolistics Barbershop and Salon.
The program started in June and is geared toward 3- to 17-year-olds. Mr. Richardson, an Annapolis native, spent six months getting organized, getting the red T-shirts emblazoned with "Project Unity." About 14 children and four parent volunteers are involved.
Myrtle Gregory-Spencer, 38, was one of the first parents to help out. Her son, Samuel Gregory II, and daughter, Ashleigh Spencer, 3, are in the program. Mrs. Gregory-Spencer said the program is meant to help the youths "excel in whatever ambitions and abilities they might have."
The children have taken field trips to the National Aquarium and the Science Center in Baltimore, received pep talks, attended career awareness days at Mr. Richardson's barbershop in the first block of Aquahart Road. They've also learned tips on surviving in the work world and dealing with prejudice.
"We're always stressing different things about being an African-American, but not excluding other ethnic groups," said Mrs. Gregory-Spencer, a Mary Kay cosmetics consultant.
Samuel, 15, said some of the lessons he hears at Project Unity are the same ones he hears at home, especially about what it means to grow up black and male in America.
"They have to do a little better to get ahead of the game," said Mrs. Gregory-Spencer.
Samuel, a ninth grader at Old Mill High School, said such talks "make me understand the world a little bit."
Shakeenah Blackstone, 16, an Old Mill senior who works as a cashier at Marley Station mall, said, "They teach you to respect others and to respect yourself."
Shakeenah, who sometimes works as a shampoo girl at Mr. Richardson's shop, wants to attend Morgan State University after graduating.
She hopes Project Unity will keep growing.
"It helps you stay out of trouble," she said. "It gives you something to do other than standing around on the street corner."
Fund-raisers such as the summer yard sale and bake sale that brought in $200 have kept Project Unity going.
Mr. Richardson and others are thinking about asking local businesses for financial help.
Mrs. Gregory-Spencer said she wants Project Unity to last forever, so "we can watch some of [the children] grow up and go into their own careers and come back and help us out."