DaVonte Friedman wanted a better life for himself and other teens in the city.
Last year, as part of a local leadership program for city high school students, the 18-year-old spoke to two City Council members at City Hall, advocating for teens he said lacked opportunities for work and other ways to better themselves in Baltimore. He himself grew up in a troubled neighborhood, had run-ins with the law, but had worked to better himself, earning his GED and applying for jobs.
“He knows the struggles youth go through. He wanted [city leaders] to give youth a chance,” said his mother, Thinell Turner. “I was very proud of him for the change he made.”
But despite his efforts, Friedman was again denied the opportunity to fulfill his dreams. He was one of three teenagers shot and killed in the city during the past week. Police have not released any information about motives or suspects in the cases. No arrests have been made.
Police said Friedman and 18-year-old Des'mon Anderson were killed in a shooting in the the 2400 block of Brentwood Ave. in the Barclay neighborhood in East Baltimore on Saturday night. A 25-year-old man also was shot in the leg. Both teens were pronounced dead at the scene.
Anderson’s family could not be reached for comment.
A day later, another teen, Anthony Grant, 17, was fatally shot in the 2200 block of Christian St. in Southwest Baltimore.
“I never expected to receive that type of phone call about my brother. He was just always so full of life,” Grant’s older sister, Shawntay Stevenson, said after she learned of her brother’s death.
Grant was aware of the risks young men face in the city, she said. Many in the neighborhood know their mother, who is a violence interrupter for the anti-violence program Safe Streets, which hires people with criminal histories to try to stop shootings.
Grant also had recently graduated from the Renaissance Academy, which has lost several young students to violence in recent years, Stevenson said. But he had a plan for the future, she said. He was in the process of enrolling at Baltimore City Community College.
He also had a strong support network in his family.
Stevenson's son Jeremiah, 15, said his uncle was like an older brother whom he looked up to and provided constant support. The two had been together since they were in diapers, Stevenson said. In recent years, they liked to make rap videos, writing lyrics of what it is like to come of age in the city. They also liked to play basketball together.
Over the summer, Grant and her oldest son played on the same team in an annual summer basketball championship held at the Lillian S. Jones Recreation Center in Sandtown-Winchester. Many family members were there to cheer them on.
“It was a really joyous occasion,” Stevenson said.
She said police have not told her what happened to her brother, and she did not know why anyone would want to take his life.
Court records show Grant was charged as an adult for firearms-related charges earlier this year, and that the case was moved back to juvenile court. He had been on the radar of Roca, a new program in Baltimore that seeks out young men most at risk and provides them with educational classes and transitional employment services.
Yotam Zeira, the director of strategy and external affairs at Roca, said staff were aware of Grant but had not assessed him for eligibility.
“The violence that continues in Baltimore is tragic and senseless, and our hearts go out to this individual, his family and friends,” Zeira said. “We are committed to working with our partners in the city to identify, find and work with as many high-risk young men as possible to keep people alive, out of jail and help them lead more productive lives.”
Stevenson said her family and others have lost so many lives to the city’s violence.
“These streets don’t love nobody. It’s very hard to get out,” Stevenson said. “And sometimes, even if you are doing the right thing, trouble will come your way as well.”
Friedman’s mother, too, said she worried about her son’s safety as a young black man in a city where so many are killed every year.
The family lives in the rough Madison Park neighborhood, where Turner said they’ve heard shootings outside their home and many children feel unsafe walking home. She said her son lost two friends to gun violence when he was younger. She said she longed to move to another neighborhood, but that the alternatives in public housing seemed more dangerous.
Her son was not perfect, she said. He had charges as a juvenile. In January, he was charged with having a gun and drugs, court records show. The case was remanded to juvenile court. But Friedman’s brother and mother said they saw a change in the young man.
While he was held on charges, his older brother Tyrone Friedman, 25, said his brother earned his degree, and knew he wanted something better.
“It was a real eye-opener. He wanted to see something different for himself,” Friedman said.
At the CLIA (Community Law in Action) leadership program for city high school students, Ray Conaway, the program manager, said he was impressed with Friedman, whom he found very articulate and thoughtful.
In his application to the program, Friedman wrote that leadership is “to listen, to inspire, and to empower” describing how he had worked to better his listening skills and learning from another person’s point of view, and “using that basis of trust and collaboration to inspire and empower.”
During the summer, Friedman and other teens researched the issue of youth violence, and Friedman “was really a shining star,” Conaway said. Friedman presented their findings to City Councilmen Zeke Cohen and Kristerfer Burnett. Friedman spoke of the city not investing in young people, Conaway said.
“DaVonte had enough conviction and passion to know that he understood how to make a change,” he said.
After completing a robotics program at a community center, Friedman talked to his family about becoming an engineer. He desperately wanted a job, but after having struggled to find opportunities in the city, his mother said, he grew increasingly frustrated. He worked briefly for UPS in Baltimore County, she said, but the hours-long commute was too difficult at 3 a.m.
On Nov. 26, his 18th birthday, the family didn’t have a big celebration. He didn’t want anything, Turner said. Instead, he told her, “Ma, I’m glad I made it to see 18.”
But as his mother worked long hours, supporting the family, she was unable to keep tabs on her son. She would give him cash so he wouldn’t be tempted to go out on the street. She told him she’d always be there for him.
She said she never thought she would bury one of her six children, but that the streets are no place for children.
“There’s nothing for them to do out here. They are going to get their money one way or another. They just don’t give them the opportunity to succeed,” she said.
Conaway said he sees Friedman’s story as an example to other children, showing that there is hope for change.
“It’s a moral obligation to restore hope in our young people. Hope has been taken from their communities, in some cases, from their families,” he said. Friedman, like so many young people have many obstacles to overcome, which he was beginning to do.
The city’s young people, he said, “they push through their circumstances. I pray that we restore hope.”