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Baltimoreans march to support youth fund

Mary Rose Madden
The Frederick Douglass High School band leads the way

A Baltimore City Council committee unanimously approved Tuesday a $12 million youth fund for programs throughout the city.

But before that, dozens of community advocates, parents and young people rallied in front of the Penn North Kids Safe Zone, a community center in Sandtown created after the riots following the death of Freddie Gray, and marched to Frederick Douglass High School, where the council's Education and Youth Committee met.

The Frederick Douglass marching band led the crows through the streets of West Baltimore, past onlookers who stood on their stoops or on the sidewalks to watch.

There was Rodney Faust, 51, who grew up in Edmonson Village.

"When we came up, the boys clubs took us on camping trips, to baseball games, football games. They did a lot with us," Faust remembered. He said the police ran the boys clubs and let them in at eight in the morning to play basketball, shoot pool or play cards.

Gary Crum, 32, was walking past with his two-year-old son, Kaison. Crum is a community advocate in East Baltimore. He said they are "always fighting for money" to fund the activities his groups want to organize.

Erika Alston-Buck says she quit her job as a publisher after the riots to do more for her community and became founder and director of the Kids Safe Zone. She did it with private donations, she says, but the youth fund could help her's and other grassroots organizations that don't typically receive grant and foundation money stay afloat.

Many of them are "operating out of basements of homes, out of churches, out of corners of recreation centers," she said. "Because we're working in quiet silos, we don't fit into the wheelhouse of traditional foundations."

City voters approved a measure last year to create the fund and City Council President Bernard "Jack" Young submitted the legislation to distribute the $12 million. Tuesday he thanked council members who helped get the youth fund on the ballot.

Councilman Zeke Cohen said this was the beginning of "a new era of ushering in investment" in communities that have experienced racial and economic inequities.

Congressman Elijah Cummings grew emotional as he recalled his days as a Cub Scout in Baltimore when his den leader didn't have money to buy supplies.

"Miss Dia said we could do knots, but don't have any rope," he said. "Then she took down her clothes line and used that rope to teach us how to make knots."

With his voice quivering, Cummings said the youth fund money would send a message.

"In Baltimore, we respect our children and we want to invest in their destiny. We want to make sure our hand prints are on their futures. So, this is a faith event. This is a faith in our children. This is a love event where we tell them that we love them." 

The full city council is expected to vote on the legislation next month.

Mary Rose is a reporter and senior news producer for 88.1 WYPR FM, a National Public Radio member station in Baltimore. At the local news desk, she assigns stories, organizes special coverage, edits news stories, develops series and reports.