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Community organizers, NBA star Will Barton emphasize positivity after riots

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
"We just want to ... tell the kids that there's a different way we can do things," NBA star Will Barton said.

A day after social media sparked violent protests and looting that spanned Baltimore City, an event promoted online by community organizers and NBA star Will Barton called residents to a city basketball court to channel their emotions constructively.

With the help of Barton's social media message and a citywide desire to erase the violence and destruction of Monday's riots that stemmed from the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, hundreds of city children and families used Druid Hill's Cloverdale basketball court to shoot hoops, dance, and create a positive atmosphere just blocks from the northwest Baltimore neighborhoods that were most affected by the violence.

"We just want to keep things like this going and just tell the kids that there's a different way we can do things," said Barton, a Lake Clifton graduate. "We can do it the bad way … or we can do it in a positive way and get results. That's what I'm striving for. That's what we're striving for."

Barton called city residents to the basketball court on Instagram Tuesday afternoon. He said he joined with the event's organizers, Carlmichael Cannady and Keenan System, not to take people's minds off the violence from Monday night, or the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal cord injury during his arrest on April 12 and died a week later.

Instead, they wanted to keep their minds on it while showing an alternative to violence, Barton said.

"He's from Baltimore, he represents Baltimore and kids look up to him," Cannady said of Barton. "He provides hope. When we aspire to be something positive, it becomes contagious. That's the way of the world."

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Gary Neal, a former Towson star, also attended and donated bottles of water to the event.

Children and parents marked the basketball court with chalk, writing "Keep our city clean," "Black lives matter," and in large, childlike writing, "Safe." In between the lines, teens and elementary-school aged children shot jump shots, and a dance group congregated around center court.

A DJ blared music and, at one point, former Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon took the microphone to encourage the attendees to refocus their feelings on Gray's death towards justice, not violence, and to honor the weeklong city curfew of 10 p.m.

Elaine Jones, 49, said it was on community members to show the city's children that there were other ways to get their message across besides violence. She stood on the side of the street and accosted her friends as they drove by without stopping at Tuesday's event.

"Why you not come up here?" she shouted at one man. "I was cleaning up Pennsylvania Avenue," he answered proudly.

That sentiment, that Tuesday's activities aimed to atone for Monday's negativity, was pervasive.

"If we can unite like this — not even everybody in the city is here — the energy never dies," Keyon Williamson, 23, said. "We damaged the CVS. We cleaned up our mess. Are the police going to clean up their mess?"

jmeoli@baltsun.com

twitter.com/JonMeoli

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