Special to The Baltimore Times
YAP Penn North Safe Streets
As Penn North neighbors gathered for a back-to-school resource fair at Cumberland and Carey Park, the owner of Will B’s Better Bodies, wanted everyone to know that the door to his gym across the street was unlocked. Anyone wanting to use the restrooms was welcome.
Hosted by Youth Advocate Programs (YAP), Inc., the resource fair was also a grand opening celebration for Baltimore City’s Penn North Safe Streets team. YAP is one of the city’s newest Safe Streets partners, overseeing the Penn North team.
“I refer to myself as a trench person. I work right here in the trenches; I live in the trenches. I used right around here in the streets in the trenches; I recovered in the trenches; I’m six years clean,” Will B. said. “I’m so excited about the help with this coming to Penn North— with Safe Streets and YAP— because I kind of felt like I was doing it by myself; well not by myself, but we just needed help and more resources.”
Baltimore Safe Streets Director Dedra Layne explained at the grand opening ceremony how Safe Streets works as a public health approach to reducing shootings and homicides in communities in Baltimore City. Safe Streets staff are men and women who were formerly justice-involved, which lends to their credibility and ability to establish relationships and build rapport to change behaviors and norms of individuals with backgrounds similar to theirs.
“I’m honored to be able to give back to my community; to connect people to resources and tools they need to find success for themselves and their families,” said Penn North Safe Streets Site Director Dennis Wise, who recently returned to Baltimore after spending 38 years in prison.
Wayne Brewton, who like Wise, spent nearly four decades in prison, looks at his role as Penn North Safe Streets Violence Prevention Coordinator as his opportunity to keep his neighbors from suffering the way his victims did and to keep youth from losing their freedom the way he did.
“When I was 17, I went to prison for murder,” he said. “While I was there, my sister lost her life to violence. I started a victims’ awareness program, and that’s what I brought back to my community, so I can help my community heal,” he said. “I want to share my story, to let these young guys know that you can overcome drug addiction, gangism, hustling on the street; because if you don’t, one bad choice can ruin your life forever.”
Penn North Safe Streets partner organization, YAP, is better known for its work with juvenile justice and child welfare systems as an alternative to youth incarceration and out-of-home placement. A Maryland Department of Juvenile Services (DJS) partner, YAP hires neighborhood-based advocates who serve as mentors to help youth identify and realize their strengths and connects families to needed tools and resources.
“As a Baltimore’s Penn North Safe Streets partner, we’re able to extend our brand of empowerment to more individuals and families, connecting them with health, financial, education and other accessible tools and resources. We can also help people find a way they can give back,” said YAP Regional Director Craig Jernigan, who grew up in Penn North.
YAP participants, who are also part of the DJS Green Cadets job readiness program, offered advice to kids and parents attending the grand opening and resource fair, hoping to help young people avoid pitfalls that once led them down the wrong path.
“I’m talking about choices; about the choices that they’re going to make and how it could affect them,” said Tumani. “And if they’ve got something that they’ve got going on, they can just ask me, and I’ll tell them how I would do things different.”
DJ, another YAP participant, led a question and answer session during the Safe Streets grand opening. “Before I was with the YAP program, I used to do any and everything from disrespecting women to disrespecting family and friends,” he said. “I realize with the YAP program and with Ms. [Shantear] Williams, my [Green Cadets] boss to treat people the way you want to be treated and to respect your mother, because you only get one.”
Safe Streets is the first and longest running replication of Cure Violence, an international violence prevention model.
“This is ground zero,” said Will B. “This is where we need the most help. Thank God we have Safe Streets.”