Under fluorescent lights and the loud thrums of music, about 70 kids from around the city roller skated Thursday evening inside the Shake & Bake Family Fun Center in West Baltimore.
Community leaders hoped a few hours away from Baltimore’s streets would help get the sixth to 12th graders’ minds off the most recent spate of gun violence that has left several youths injured.
“We want to teach them to deal with their feelings and then be able to resolve conflicts so it doesn’t get to the violence,” said Michael Battle, executive director of Restoring Inner City Hope, a Cherry Hill-based nonprofit known as RICH that that provides resources and outreach in the area.
Battle started organizing the event at the Shake & Bake last week, after watching the news and seeing more gun violence. He said he felt he needed to do more.
There have been four victims under 18 among the city’s 49 reported homicides this year. Nineteen youths were killed last year and 16 in 2020. Since Wednesday, nine people have been shot, two fatally, including a 15-year-old boy who was shot in the leg.
RICH partnered with Terry Williams, or “Uncle T,” the Challenge2Change organization and ConneXions: A Community Based Arts School to bring together kids from all areas of the city. Battle said he felt it was important to “break down barriers” that lead kids from West Baltimore to believe they can’t be friends with those on the east side.
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While most of the time was spent roller skating, noshing on pizza and chugging juice, the kids also listened to Isaiah Muhammad, a speaker with the Nation of Islam, talk about the importance of living life. He said family, not money, is what matters.
“We want to let you all know how valuable your life is,” he said. “For you to have love, you have to have life, and to have life, you have to love yourself.”
Muhammad asked the children to repeat after him: “I am the future. I am intelligent. I am strong. I am a king. I am a queen.”
Troy Whitaker, 15, said he feels events like this help save lives.
“If the kids aren’t here out skating, then the kids might be out here selling drugs,” said Whitaker, a youth mentor in RICH. “Being out of the streets for even a few hours is huge because on the streets, all it takes is a second for a kid or anyone to die.”
Shawn Kennedy, 14, said he was looking forward to meeting new people and making new friends. He also said the room was filled with people to look up to and help motivate you to become a better person.
“This is a great way to get the mind off the killings and bring the community back together and honor the fallen brothers and kings,” he said.