Keeping kids from becoming 'baby thugz'

A couple of months ago, I wrote a story about Malcolm Majer's encounter with "baby thugz" on the old Falls Road. Mr. Majer, a young artisan who designs and makes cool things with metal in a shop in midtown Baltimore, took a stone to the forehead while riding his bike to work one afternoon in August. The stone came from one of a bunch of children, boys and girls who appeared to be between 9 and 13 years old, on the side of the road, near the Baltimore Streetcar Museum.

Mr. Majer called 911 from his cell phone and, while waiting for cops to arrive, decided to follow the children as they walked up Falls Road. Some of the kids had swim trunks and towels; they appeared to be on their way to one of the city's public pools. Mr. Majer stayed on his bike and spoke to the kids as they walked. He chastised them. He lectured them.

"I understand kids being kids," Mr. Majer told me, "and I only have a bump and a scratch on my forehead. But I guess I wanted to do the adult thing and let them know this was not acceptable behavior, that they live in a place where laws apply, and that there are laws against what they did. I was hoping the police would come, I guess, to scare them. …"

"'I didn't do anything," one of the boys said.

"Well," said Mr. Majer, "tell your friends what they did was wrong. And, by the way, it's not OK for you to stand by and let your friends throw stones at somebody."

Mr. Majer kept following the group and talking to them. Finally, before they turned to take a shortcut to the swimming pool, three of the kids said they were sorry for what had happened and shook Mr. Majer's hand.

I gave the guy props for what he did.

Others saw it differently. Reaction to the story was snarky and cyncial. Mr. Majer was lucky he didn't get killed. Mr. Majer was wasting time and breath in trying to counsel "baby thugz." Mr. Majer is naïve to think that 10-year-olds in Baltimore are impressionable; they're calloused, jaded and beyond hope.

Pretty grim stuff, delivered in the midst of Baltimore's long, hot summer of high-profile violence — the stabbing death of Hopkins researcher Stephen Pitcairn in Charles Village; the shooting of Milton Hill, the 71-year-old church caretaker from the Oliver neighborhood — and the contentious Jessamy-Bernstein state's attorney race.

Most of the comments on Mr. Majer's actions were posted anonymously on this newspaper's website. Some arrived by e-mail.

A follow-up column, in which I suggested that adults do something about "baby thugz" instead of just writing them off as a lost cause, brought even more jeers. "It'll be interesting to see how many tax-paying, productive citizens will be harassed, murdered, and maimed by these baby-thugz on their journeys to prison or death," one reader wrote.

But here I am, issuing the challenge again, and this time I'll offer the snipers and cynics specific information.

The Baltimore City Mentoring Initiative is a public-private partnership of the mayor's office, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Maryland and the Maryland Mentoring Partnership. They have a waiting list of 235 children who need mentors. The children live in McElderry Park, Belair-Edison, Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, Central Park Heights, Cherry Hill, Harlem Park and Poppleton — communities with historically higher rates of juvenile crime.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced a push to connect the kids with mentors last week: "This initiative represents a call to action for those that work and live in Baltimore City because our children need adults to step up and volunteer to serve as role models, guides, and friends."

The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Comcast, East Baltimore Development Inc., the Baltimore Community Foundation and the Greater Baltimore Committee are all behind the effort. The Johns Hopkins Health System has agreed to identify matches for 82 of the children by staging recruitment sessions and encouraging its employees to get involved.

If you want to try to change the life path of kids in some of the city's most troubled neighbors — if you think you have time, or even if you don't — go to this website for more information: http://www.bmentors.org. Or you can always call Big Brothers Big Sisters at 410-243-4000, and ask for Leon Henry.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He is the host of Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM. E-mail: dan.rodricks@baltsun.com. Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DanRodricks

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