By Bonney Mattingly
2009 was a turbulent summer in Baltimore City, with more than 40 murders occurring between June 22 and the end of August. On one night alone, 18 people were shot. Sixteen of the shootings occurred in the East Baltimore community where AFSC’s Youth Empowerment through Conflict Resolution Program was working with a group of young people.
We were helping participants in Banner Neighborhood’s Summer Youth Employment Program learn conflict resolution techniques. The shootings made discussions about conflict management and finding non-violent alternatives much more poignant.
I first met Coach Carter, Coach Lil, and Jacob of the Youth Employment Program at the 2008 Youth Empowerment Gathering held in Timonium, MD. Moved by what they learned at the gathering, Banner Neighborhoods asked AFSC to work with them again.
Each summer, six young people are employed through Banner to clean up the surrounding neighborhoods, improve their academic skills and plan for future careers.
Once a week, the crew took a break from the hot streets of Baltimore to take part in Help Increase the Peace trainings.
At first, some members of the group were skeptical, asking why they needed to learn about conflict resolution, because they were "good kids," who were "smart enough to know better."
We spent time talking about how it is more powerful to hear from a peer or a friend the reasons to stay out of the gangs than from a stranger who is not from the community.
One participant told us that she has started to think more before she reacts with anger and violence.
"I didn’t really know I was giving away my power [to make a choice or change a situation]. I just thought I never had power to begin with, so I had to fight back. This training has made me think more before I react."