At Beat the Streets - Baltimore, lessons in grappling with success

The Baltimore Sun
At Beat the Streets, youths learn how to control myself and my character, even when no one was looking"

Twins Mervyn and Bernard Crawford share a Facebook account, share clothes and record a podcast together.

"We share everything," said Bernard, 14, a rising ninth-grader from Baltimore.

And with ambitions of wrestling in high school and beyond, they're doing something else together this summer: attending Beat the Streets — Baltimore's summer camp for area youths, which combines wrestling with academic and character development.

"This takes a lot of hard work," said Lydell Henry, executive director of the after-school nonprofit. "I think through the sport of wrestling, it plays a huge impact on their characteristics and the qualities it takes to be successful in life."

Henry, a 1995 Dunbar graduate who went on to wrestle at Morgan State, co-founded Beat the Streets in 2011 to revive a once-dying wrestling culture in Baltimore City, and about 90 percent of this summer's campers come from the city, with the rest from Baltimore County.

Beat the Streets aims to foster the development of young athletes while promoting honor, dignity and academic success.

Entering their third year in the program, the Crawford twins embody those ideals.

Mervyn, in just his second year of competitive wrestling, placed second in the Maryland State Junior League Championship's 170-pound weight class this year.

Bernard, a Mid-Atlantic tournament champion at 210, has earned a wrestling scholarship to Mount Saint Joseph and credits his success to Henry.

"Coach Lydell taught me how to control myself and my character, even when no one was looking," he said. "Ever since I've stepped on that mat, I've been good" at wrestling.

Off the mat, Henry values discipline, teaches campers to look a person in the eyes when shaking their hand, and holds campers accountable in the classroom by assessing their work weekly.

Eager to give his campers academic experiences they otherwise would not receive, Henry adopted for this year's camp a NASA-developed module that studies the effects of climate change. He brought in six teachers, with NASA's backing, to educate his campers and work on a science project that will be presented at a regional science fair at Morgan State.

In previous years, campers developed robotic hands and prosthetic arms.

"It's our goal to develop a truly holistic program where we focus on the complete child," Henry said.

For high school campers, this means a daily SAT math study session, with standards and assessments to track progress. Middle-school campers learn linear and quadratic equations.

Other classes focus on concussions in wrestling and the safety importance of mandatory ear guards.

"We use a theoretical framework to look at how we can solve issues in the sport of wrestling," Henry said.

Over the years, Henry has taken his top campers to competitions in New York; Virginia Beach, Va.; and Bethlehem, Pa. He hopes the program opens new doors for his campers.

"Before wrestling, I didn't really like anything. I didn't know what I was going to be doing when I got older," said Zaheim Smith, a 13-year-old camper whom Henry described as "one of his best" and who he said "will travel miles on public transportation just to get to camp and better himself."

Smith said his newfound discipline, along with Henry's guidance, has resulted in better grades, which he hopes will allow him to wrestle at Mount Saint Joseph.

Perhaps the highest-profile wrestler to emerge from Henry's camp is Tyshawn Williams, an Archbishop Curley graduate who became the first National Prep School Wrestling Championships winner from Baltimore. Williams received a full scholarship from Southern Illinois-Edwardsville — he's the first wrestler from Curley to earn a full-ride offer — and will start there in the fall.

The Crawfords would love to follow in his footsteps.

For now, Bernard and Mervyn are spending time at WEAA (88.9 FM), a Morgan State radio station, where they shadow on-air talent and organize the music library. It's an opportunity they say they never thought they would have.

Their "Mervyn and Bernard iRadio Show" podcast, which is in its fourth year, gives them an outlet for expression. The half-hour, kid-oriented talk show takes real-world problems and puts them in terms youngsters understand. Among the topics the twins have discussed are body-worn police cameras and the riots that followed the death of Freddie Gray.

"It's the fault of the police, but it's also our fault," Mervyn said. "The whole city needs to take responsibility for what has happened and create change. There are consequences to everyone's actions."

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