Dayjanae Talks Leadership, Baltimore, and the Power of Why

The Inner Harbor Project has developed a new Leadership Training consisting of 12 paid weekly sessions over three months, taking place twice a year in the fall and spring. After completing the training, Youth Leaders who pass the assessment will be promoted to Youth Associate Leaders (YALs), who receive a pay increase in return for increased responsibilities and opportunities. In addition to bolstering the merit-based promotion and leadership structure within the organization, the Leadership Training will also provide participants with crucial professional and life skills that they will be able to use far beyond their time at the Inner Harbor Project.We chatted with Dayjanae Jones, one of the youth leaders in the first cohort of the Leadership Training, to get her take on the training.  Dayjanae has been with the Inner Harbor Project for almost 3 years. She graduated from Harbor City High School in 2016 and her ambition is to be a cosmetologist.

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Tell me about the Leadership Training so far. What kind of activities did you do?

The first session was leadership types, and the second session was going out and talking to people. Yesterday’s session was about leadership too, but the way [guest speaker JD Merrill] taught it is going to leave a mark on me. He described a car, but made it refer to leadership as a metaphor. He was describing different parts of the car—horn, pedal, all that--basically saying that all the people in the organization, no matter what type of leader you are, you’ll be one of those parts that we need for the organization to be how it is. Like the horn is someone that is being erky at the organization, the pedal is someone that keeps us going--keeps pushing us. It was really helpful. All of us took notes. Celia [Neustadt, Executive Director] even took notes.

What happened in the second session, where you went out in the Harbor and talked to people?

We talked to people about Trump. It was funny. We were playing the “why” game. We came up with the topics, we picked a topic. We would be like, why did people vote for Trump? And we put them in categories. Basically, we had different bullet points on the board—anti-Hillary, stupidity, racism, sexism, and we made a list. Someone would say “stupidity,” and we would say, “Why?” Then we would keep going and keep asking why and push deeper. Like being a four-year-old--why, why, why? The purpose is to dig deeper into the reasons.

We went out and asked people the question, “Why did people vote for Trump?” I was talking to one lady and she said people voted for Trump because they’re dumb, they’re stupid, they’re assholes. I said, “So did you vote for Trump?” She said “Hell no!” She was funny.

What is your take on the situation in the US right now following the election of Donald Trump? How can activist groups like IHP address the current climate?

I don’t know, because I don’t even think he would get along with us. He might like the kind of work we do, but he’d probably be like “What’s the point?” He’s focused on how he can change the whole world, not how we can change the Inner Harbor. He probably wouldn’t be interested.

What kind of leader do you think you are?

I know that I can be hard at times, and when stuff doesn’t go my way I get frustrated, so I think this leadership training will help me out with that. I let my attitude interfere with work. But other than that, I’m a good leader.

Since you’ve been involved with the Inner Harbor Project, have you seen changes in Baltimore City?

Things have changed in Baltimore and in the Inner Harbor. We got numbers to back us up. Things are better--that’s all I know. I’ve been here a minute. There’s probably stuff I’ve been in that I can’t remember unless people bring it up. I love the Inner Harbor Project. I do!

The only thing that’s still a problem is the Gallery. That’s the only thing. At first, [teens] weren’t allowed in there until 5:00, but now you’re not allowed in there at all unless you’re with a parent. The Gallery situation didn’t get any better.

What skills from the Leadership Training will you be able to use outside of IHP in your future career endeavors?

The business part--I can carry that a long way. Knowing how to be professional. Knowing how to be a leader. I never know what life can bring me. I never know when I will have to be a leader again. So I will remember stuff from this training, and it will help me out in many ways.

Deyonta Breaks It Down About Leadership

The Inner Harbor Project has developed a new Leadership Training consisting of 12 paid weekly sessions over three months, taking place twice a year in the fall and spring. After completing the training, Youth Leaders who pass the assessment will be promoted to Youth Associate Leaders (YALs), who receive a pay increase in return for increased responsibilities and opportunities. In addition to bolstering the merit-based promotion and leadership structure within the organization, the Leadership Training will also provide participants with crucial professional and life skills that they will be able to use far beyond their time at the Inner Harbor Project.We caught up with Deyonta Hosear, one of the youth leaders in the first cohort of the Leadership Training, to get his take on the training. Deyonta is a twelfth grader at Edmondson Westside. He plans to attend college next fall and is currently deciding which college to go to. Deyonta plays lacrosse and runs track. He started working at the Inner Harbor Project in November 2016. 

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What was the first session of the Leadership Training course like?

The first session caught me by surprise, actually. I thought that it was going to be a larger group, first of all. But then I realized that these were the top-of-the-top people. In the first lesson, we were going over the basics. What is leadership, things leaders do, and then we went over different types of leaders. There are four leaders in total. Autocratic leaders, bureaucratic leaders, charismatic leaders, and democratic leaders. The last thing we went over were qualities of a leader, characteristics that would determine if someone had leadership skills.

What type of leader did you identify most with?

I feel like I would consider myself a charismatic leader, which is one who provides an atmosphere full of support and positive reinforcement. I feel like it’s easy for me to talk to people. I’ve never had a problem starting a conversation. Normally, if I’m in class, if no one knows the answer, I’ll speak up.

Is there a leadership trait that you would like to work on over the course of this training?

Public speaking, speaking in front of a large crowd. It’s not necessarily hard, but it’s not one of my best things to do. It has to be a good environment [for me to feel comfortable].

You are college-bound in the fall. How do you think you could use these skills in a college setting?

I will try to influence things among my peers and guide things on the right path. There are other freshman I’m going to meet, and I’ll be able to influence them to do the right thing from the things that I’ve been taught. The same goes for the lacrosse and indoor track teams—I’m definitely going to be pushing them to do better.

With the election of Donald Trump, the social landscape of America feels like it is changing a lot. How do you see the relevance of the Inner Harbor Project evolving as these changes take place?

I’d say the best thing is to revert back to positivity. Don’t even indulge in the negativity at all. If things get negative at all--that’s not how we do things at the Inner Harbor Project.

Stay tuned for interviews with other youth leaders as they go through the Leadership Training!

Actually Youth-Led, Actually Youth-Created Training for Police

“You can make change for yourself, but that’s not doing anything unless you take people with you,” said Diamond Sampson, facing a classroom full of 48 Police Officer Trainees. Diamond, the Director of Youth Leadership at the Inner Harbor Project, was responding to a question about why she decided to get involved with repairing relationships between teens and police. With tensions running high following the recent police violence in North Carolina and Oklahoma that has further eroded communities’ trust for police officers, the pressure is on. “In my opinion, you can’t be successful if you do not have a trail that leads behind you—a legacy—and leave a mark.” img_7738

Teens from the Inner Harbor Project have been leading Youth Engagement Training sessions since May 2015. This youth-created, youth-led workshop focuses on improving communication, increasing understanding, and building empathy between teens and police officers. Youth Leaders developed the training based on their research into negative interactions between youth and police, which they found often arose due to cultural, physical, or emotional misunderstandings. On September 27, Diamond joined four Youth Leaders, Sam Greah, Kat Carr, Jaz’mean McFadden, and Dayana Wiley, in conducting this workshop for the entire class of trainees at Baltimore’s Police Academy.

Trainees participated in scenarios depicting good and bad interactions between teens and law enforcement, and the Youth Leaders prompted them to point out the differences between situations that escalated and situations that resolved. One trainee identified a problem of interpretation that can lead to misunderstandings. “The difficulty with teens is that they still behave like they’re young, but they’re the size of adults. Officers forget that they are still kids, and teens forget that they come off as grown.”

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Several police trainees pushed back against the made-up scenarios, however, apparently doubting that teens would do their part to embody respect and de-escalate conflicts; one asked pointedly, “Which scenario do you think is more likely?” But the Youth Leaders had real-life stories to share, too. Diamond and Kat described a situation in which they witnessed poor police conduct when they tried to mediate a conflict between teens during a Peace Ambassador shift. “[The officer] told the boy to step back, but he didn’t say how far to step back. Then he got in his space and said ‘Didn’t I tell you to step back?’”

Although the group of trainees was hesitant to condemn the actions of officers (one trainee explained, “If we weren’t there, we don’t know what happened”), they admitted that the communication was clearly less than ideal in that scenario. The Youth Leaders also shared stories about teens being shepherded out of public places by police officers, often with no explanation given for why they had to leave. In these cases, they argued, a calm demeanor and better communication from officers would give teens a chance to show they weren’t doing anything wrong. When teens felt they were being targeted unfairly based on discriminatory stereotypes, feelings of frustration and anger were more likely to escalate the situation.

“Teens are automatically defensive,” Diamond reminded the trainee officers. In fact, the trainees often became defensive as well in the course of the training session. No one—neither the trainees nor the youth leaders—held back, so the conversation got real very quickly. When one trainee asked the youth leaders, “Do you like cops?” nervous laughter rose around the room. Sam stated frankly that he had disliked police for most of his life and had been skeptical that police officers could listen to the community and change their behavior. “The Inner Harbor Project changed my mindset,” he explained. After working directly with police, Sam felt more optimistic about the potential to improve their interactions with teens.

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The Youth Leaders also pointed out that distrust of police altered teens’ behavior around them. Based on their own experiences and the experiences of others, many teens don’t automatically assume that police are there to protect them. Diamond admitted that, even though she knows police officers and works directly with them, she still understands why young people find the uniform intimidating. “When approached, even people doing nothing wrong will think of an escape route in their mind,” she acknowledged. “Typically, when you see an officer, the uniform is intimidating, no matter the size of the officer. Even if you’re not doing anything wrongful, you talk yourself into a bad place, thinking you may have done something.”

Asked what their main frustrations were with teens, several trainees said they felt teens should be more respectful of authority and follow directions without question. “Why hasn’t anyone taught them better?” one trainee asked insistently. The Youth Leaders fielded this question by illuminating the fact that distrust of police didn’t originate with teens—it is a larger cultural force based on lived experience. Mutual respect does not necessarily exist by default. Besides, Kat added, officers shouldn’t make assumptions about teens’ backgrounds. “Not everyone grows up in a great household,” she explained. “There’s not always someone there to teach them. Teens won’t always know how cops would want them to behave, but cops can work toward that in every interaction.”

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The importance of empathy for people with different backgrounds came up over and over throughout the day. An icebreaker exercise run by Jaz’mean revealed that the 48 cadets hailed from states all over the U.S. and even from other countries. Within the ranks of POTs, there were differences of opinion even between trainees hailing from Baltimore County versus Baltimore City. The consensus? Lifestyle differences increase the difficulty of adapting and understanding others’ experiences, which makes good communication even more important. Open-mindedness is crucial for a police force with such diverse backgrounds.

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During the session, a couple of Lieutenants poked their heads in to offer their endorsement and welcome the youth leaders, expressing their confidence in the work done by the Inner Harbor Project. “These are my favorite kids,” said Lt. Olson. “They reduced incidents in the Inner Harbor by 86%.” He said the Inner Harbor Project succeeded because people worked together, not individually, for a better future. Diamond summed up this effect: “By you helping somebody, they can help you down the line. All these connections you develop, they’re more likely to help you because you helped them, especially if you help them when no one else is. You start with yourself, but you build a bigger picture.”

IHP Youth Present at Maryland Out of School Time Network's Annual Conference

“I learned that it’s important to be confident, and that’s how you command attention in the room,” said Justin Campbell, Youth Associate Leader with The Inner Harbor Project. “This is something that will help me as I continue to grow within the organization and speak at more events.” Campbell is referring to the presentation he and fellow Youth Associate Leader, Riceira Graham, gave on Thursday, January 7th at the Maryland Out of School Time Network’s annual conference (MOST Conference) held at Turf Valley Country Club in Ellicott City, Maryland. Campbell and Graham spoke about their work at IHP in a presentation titled “YPAR: Centering Youth as Central Agents of Social Change Through Action Research”

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The MOST Talk, which took place in the Building 21st Century Skills in Out of School Time forum, was presented in an intimate room of approximately 40 audience members.

“It goes back to 2011, when our Executive Director, Celia Neustadt, was returning to Baltimore from college in Southern California. She went to students because they were the experts on the issues at-hand -- not principals or city officials. She taught students about research and professional skills, and told them to come up with research questions about anything important to them that might incorporate into the Inner Harbor,” said Campbell.

From there, Campbell explained, over 40 interviews were conducted with Harbor developers, Waterfront and Downtown Partnership guides, Harbor area business owners, city officials and Baltimore City residents. At the end of that summer, they unveiled their findings and developed the five initiatives the organization works on to this day.

“The research findings in 2011 showed five major areas of tension in the Harbor. Youth versus youth, youth versus officers, youth versus store owners, not having a safe and inclusive space, and not having a positive outlet,” explained Graham.

The presentation gave an overview of IHP’s five programs that offer solutions to the areas of tension: Peer Mediation, Youth Engagement Training, The Harbor Card, Code of Etiquette, and the Peace Ambassador Program. Graham works for the Peer Mediation program, while Campbell works for the Harbor Card program, and both were recently promoted to Youth Associate Leaders for the work they’ve done.

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In addition to informing MOST Conference attendees on the youth-led work IHP is doing, this experience also gave our youth leaders another outlet to build their professional and public speaking skills.

“This was a positive experience and I felt important being able to talk about the work we do and represent the Project,” said Graham. “The audience seemed to be engaged and asked a lot of questions after our talk.”

The IHP youth leaders will continue to speak at events like the MOST Conference, where they are able to network with leaders of other organizations, gain exposure for The Inner Harbor Project, and build confidence in their abilities to present to a crowd about the positive work they’re doing in Baltimore.

 

IHP Youth Leader Selected as Panelist at the 2015 Congressional Black Caucus Convention

The Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) train rolled out of Baltimore’s Penn Station at 8:10 am last Friday, September 18th. Inner Harbor Project Youth Leader Tiana Samuels was on board, dressed professionally and looking over her notes as the train made its way to Washington, D.C. She had been invited to speak at Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee’s forum at the 2015 Congressional Black Caucus Convention at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Tiana practiced her introduction on the train while IHP Executive Director Celia Neustadt listened and offered advice on public speaking and nerve-calming techniques. By the time the train hit D.C., Tiana had nailed her introduction and her confidence was growing.

The panel on which Tiana was speaking -- the second of the day in the Criminal Justice Legal Issues Forum -- was called Strengthening Relationships & Bridging Gaps Between Law Enforcement and Minority Communities, and is a topic of conversation IHP youth leaders advocate for on a daily basis. The first panel consisted of many notable guests including William Murphy, the attorney for Freddie Gray’s family, as well as Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland, and Keith Alexander, Crime Reporter for The Washington Post. The panel focused mostly on exposing wrong-doings within the criminal justice system through recounting personal experiences, most notably Reed-Veal’s emotional account of her daughter’s recent death in a Texas jail cell.

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When the first panel wrapped up, the Congresswoman encouraged the room to stick around for the second panel, which consisted of Baltimore School Police Deputy Chief Major Hamm, Sergeant Anthony Turner of the Houston Police Department, Stephanie Mosquera, teen member of the Teen and Police Services (TAPS) Academy, Leslie Wright of the Baltimore City Teen Court, University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, Jason D. Williamson of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Criminal Law Reform Project, Brittany Packnett, the Executive Director of Teach for America in St. Louis, and IHP’s own Youth Leader Tiana Samuels.

The second panel started off with a strong appeal from Major Hamm, who experienced police violence first-hand at the age of 15 in Baltimore before becoming a law enforcement official for the city. His testimony to the work being done to close the gap between police and teens within Baltimore City Schools was a natural segue into Sergeant Turner’s introduction of the TAPS Academy.

“Police officers stereotype youth, and youth stereotype police officers,” Turner said. “This program allows us to even the playing field, to interact with these police officers with effective communication so you can help to not only prevent officers from hurting youth, but also youth from hurting officers, and youth from hurting other youth.”

Serving as proof of the work being done was panelist Stephanie Mosquera, a 17-year-old who was sent to an alternative high school in Houston after a dispute with the Houston PD.

“I used to hate police, but now I see TAPS is fulfilling its goal – I have a good relationship with officers now. I can approach officers with respect, and I get respect back. It basically just came down to communication, and I understand it now.”

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The TAPS conversation was a seamless lead-in for IHP’s Tiana Samuels, who scrapped the introduction she had rehearsed for an hour on the train and instead spoke from her heart about the essential work being done by IHP youth leaders. After explaining that The Inner Harbor Project is a research-based model for social change where teens come up with solutions to fix the tensions in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, Tiana spoke specifically about the Youth Engagement Training she conducts with officers.

“I work with the Youth Engagement Training team, which is a program that teaches officers communication, empathy, and respect. And one thing that’s important about that is that your first impression is always remembered, and instead of coming across as saying ‘shut up and sit down’ or anything like that, you always want to come off as appropriate to get the right reaction from someone else.”

Tiana spoke about how the team conducted extensive research, analyzed it, and concluded that officers were one of the main sources of tension that made teens feel excluded and not accepted in the Inner Harbor, and this research spurred the conception of the Youth Engagement Training program which piloted in November 2014.

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“We were kind of skeptical about how police officers would feel about us training them, but we’ve trained over 100 officers and 98% percent of them said it would influence how they approach teens going forward.” In conclusion, Tiana added, “One thing I want to say is that there was an officer from the Inner Harbor Unit, and after we trained him he got very emotional and he explained that it’s been over 40 years that he’s been a police officer and he had never before had a positive interaction with youth. He also explained how happy he was for our program, and it kind of made me feel like I was doing a really good job. Where I come from it’s not really a positive environment, and to be around that and to be around positive people and spread positivity towards police officers and see that police officers are actually human, just as we are, because I feel that some people look at a person in the uniform without seeing them as a mother, a father, or anything else.”

Ending her address by emphasizing that if you consider how your words and actions will affect someone, whether it’s an officer, a tourist, a peer, or a stranger, Tiana expressed her belief that empathy and respect are at the core of creating and spreading positivity -- the first step in solving the issues discussed by the Criminal Justice Legal Issues Forum.

The forum – specifically the second panel – consisted of activists who work everyday to create programs and lay the groundwork that will assist in resolving many of the societal issues we face, and have been facing at an alarming rate recently, by educating United States citizens from all cities and backgrounds on the importance of inclusivity and communicating with one another in an effective way. The Inner Harbor Project utilized the opportunity to inform the public – not only attendees of the conference, but also the audience tuning into C-SPAN – on how it’s working to foster harmonious coexistence in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Teens Lead 40 School Officers in Youth Engagement Training

Forty Baltimore City Public School police officers are seated at tables in the library at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute first thing on a Monday morning in preparation of a Youth Engagement Training session. The mood is understandably heavy as tensions between officers and youth have been steadily rising in cities across the country, recently peaking in Baltimore as a result of the death of Freddie Gray. Five teens from The Inner Harbor Project stand in the front of the room with the hope of sparking meaningful discussions and paving the way to a new style of thinking that, if followed, will help alleviate the pressures felt by both officers and youth in the city. The Inner Harbor Project led its first Youth Engagement Training session in May 2015. A youth-led training created by the organization’s teens through extensive research on root issues, the goal of the program is to build mutual empathy and understanding between officers and youth. IHP Youth Leader Brionna Nicholson starts the discussion by asking each officer to introduce him/herself and state the travel destination they’d most like to visit – an exercise meant to ease the mood in the room and relax the participants before jumping into the session.

“This class is basically about communication and how to talk to people, how to get their attention, how to ease tension without getting aggressive and how to come to an understanding just by talking,” IHP Youth Leader Larry Alexander states.

IHP’s year of research before constructing this program concludes that improving communication is a key element to bridging the gap between teens and authority figures. The officers’ responses in the discussions are based on interactions they’ve had with teens both in their work and their personal lives, and the communication breakdown is evident as they share stories about the mistrust and fear in youth that stems from a misconception about the role officers play in society.

“If I had to go to a house to break up a fight between parents and a little kid saw me acting aggressively to do my job, there is a fear instilled in that kid and growing up they will automatically associate that with police,” an officer explains to shed light on the matter. “They had a negative experience when they were young and it turns into anger as they get older.”

As the discussion continues, officers share past interactions and are prompted to think about why teens don’t like cops. An officer in the back volunteers, “It’s a learned behavior. If parents say ‘don’t talk to cops’, then children will say ‘don’t talk to cops.’ That’s the uphill battle -- for us to try to get them to see that every cop is not bad. We know we got some bad cops, but every cop is not bad, just like every student is not bad.”

The second part of the training focuses on building empathy and leading with respect, but in the BPI library today it’s clear that empathy and respect are not immediately reciprocated. As the session continues, trust is built and officers begin to feel comfortable sharing more openly, and although the youth are leading the training based on a curriculum they developed, the open forum promotes two-way discussions on topics that offer insight and ultimately educate both parties.

“Ever since we’ve been doing these trainings, our outlook on the officers has changed. Instead of listening to what our peers say and what news networks say, we get their side of the story. Now that we’re building a relationship with these officers we know that they’re not evil. We know they could very well be our next door neighbor, the person driving next to us, or another person on the bus,” IHP Youth Executive Leader Adrian Hughes explains. “We know that the badge and the uniform does not make them a bad person.”

The final topic of discussion in today’s training includes a role-playing exercise in which the officers and teens act out real-life scenarios while utilizing what they learned earlier in the session. Some of the officers are hesitant to participate, seemingly unwilling to engage. Others, like Officer Betty Covington, volunteer and prove that the relationships being built today are meaningful and impactful, and that these relationships are what will help change the dynamic between officers and youth. Today’s session is IHP’s first to focus exclusively on school officers, and with summer coming to an end the timing is imperative to the success of the training.

“It’s vital,” Officer Covington of Digital Harbor High School says of the Youth Engagement Training. “We know what we need to work on because we are actually hearing it from the youth, and we’re working with the youth day in and day out in the schools.”

The dialogue shared in today’s training between officers and youth enlightens the room to the origins of the issues in our society, and Youth Engagement Training provides a place where moderators and attendees are free to openly share thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Each training is one step closer to IHP’s mission of being a model for social change by coming up with solutions to the core issues surrounding race, class, and culture that divide or society. Since the training sessions began just three months ago, 98% of officers have reported positive feedback and say that what they discussed in the session will have a huge impact on how they interact with youth in the future in order to avoid conflict and ease tension.

Inner Harbor Project youth leaders train 46 cadets at the Police Academy

during the Police Academy's first ever youth-led cultural competency training.  The Inner Harbor Project's Cultural Competency Team spent a year developing and piloting a training for police officers, private security personnel and bus drivers on positive ways of interacting with youth. The training is a synthesis of original research IHP youth conducted to understand the tension between young people and police in Baltimore and successful trainings by other youth organizations like New Lens.

The course has three modules focused on fostering empathy by changing how authority figures interact with youth.

IHP has trained 46 cadets, the Lexington Market and Inner Harbor Police Unit.

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Larry Alexander, one of the youth leaders on the team, describes what it's been like to le_DSC7082masterdesatFad the trainings:

I am a part of the Police Training team also know as the Cultural Competency Training team. I have personally led three police training workshops so far: two with the Inner Harbor Unit and one with the Lexington Market Unit. The conversations we had went deep as we began to understand how the officers really felt about everything that has been recently going on in Baltimore City. They were opinionated, honest and open to answering our questions. In return, we answered their questions honestly and openly. I feel as though we all came to an understanding of how we felt about the recent events in the city.

Really, the workshops feel a little bit too short to me. In one class, when I was wrapping up, the officer said “No, it’s ok, we can keep going.” I wished we could continue, but then I started to think, “What if we ran out of things to talk about, then what? Would we then start discussing each other’s day? Who knows." I'm like a fish in the ocean, I just go with the flow. But so far I believe that the classes have been pretty good! Everyone has an open mind to everyone else's opinion and listened to the way others felt about things.

One memorable thing was when one officer said, “I never get to just talk to kids like this and it’s refreshing.” I feel that way too. The reason why officers and teens don’t get to communicate is because we [teens] no longer have structured ways to talk to officers. When I was younger, everyone went to the PAL center (Police Athletic League). During every single class, someone brought up how the kids and officer’s communication was better when we had them around.

To finish this off I want to include that when I was younger I didn’t really know any people that hated cops; they honestly didn’t mind when they were around. They didn’t mind the kids hanging out with them at PAL centers and they honestly felt safe when they were around. Maybe I'm just from another era, but to me when we lost those centers the communication started to break down and cops stopped being just normal people and became something evil in the eyes of the community. Maybe we should bring back the community events and Recreation/PAL centers. Just a thought.

Police officers who have participated in previous trainings have said:

“It’s unique to sit down and actually talk to young people.”

“I feel live I’ve been to church. I feel refreshed.”

“Throughout my twenty plus years on the force, this is the first time I’ve gotten to sit down and actually talk to young adults about how they feel.”

Support IHP's Police Training Team 

Day After Update

Thank you so much to everyone who has reached out to make sure we’re all ok and to wonder how you can help. I am hopeful about the future of Baltimore because of the overwhelming outpouring of support I have felt from everyone. Here are some updates on our end. Our plans for the future are by no means set in stone. I’m sure they will evolve as we learn more and can figure out how we can be helpful. We will be posting updates on Twitter (@innerharborproj), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/TheInnerHarborProject) and our website www.theinnerharborproject.org <http://www.theinnerharborproject.org> .

  1.  First it’s important for you to know that yes, we are all safe and ok! 

  2. All Baltimore teenagers are welcome today at our space.  We are located at 616 Water St. Suite 318. We will be open until further notice.

  3. We are extending recruitment for another week. IHP was in the process of recruiting new youth leaders and peace ambassadors for the summerhttp://theinnerharborproject.org/recruitment/ when the events of last week brought to light the increasing significance of our work. We will be extending recruitment an extra week in light of current circumstances.

  4. Two ways you can help:

    --Post about IHP and why you think it’s important. The youth leaders and Peace Ambassadors need to know now more than ever that they have the support of their city behind them.

    --Support Peace Ambassadors: Peace Ambassadors work to spread positivity among their peers and mediate the complex dynamics between teens and police. Last summer, they worked with other stakeholders to reduce the juvenile arrest rate in the downtown by 86% over the course of the summer. Obviously, there is a huge need for this program.

    The more support we have, the more Peace Ambassadors we can hire. Currently, we have slots for 25 but we have over 100 youth who have applied to be Peace Ambassadors. We would like to expand the program. We’ll be making plans to do so in the coming days, but we need the budget to do it. http://theinnerharborproject.org/support-the-peace-ambassadors/

  5. Peace Ambassadors will be working this Friday and Saturday downtown form 7-9 pm unless events change.

    Thank you,

    Celia

!!!NEW BALTIMORE STUDENT ID/CHARM CARDS IN BETA!!!

So apparently the MTA and BCPSS have decided to create a new charm card for students - this is our transportation pass. Guess what: it’s also a student ID. From what I have gathered, these cards serve both purposes.. They are to be used during lunch, school sign in, late sign in, transportation, and there are rumors going around that they could be used to open our lockers too.

But as of now i'm being told that they are just in beta so only a few select schools are piloting the cards.

I think this is pretty cool idea. I like the idea of an all-in-one pass for school. But there are some issues too. We should be able to load money onto it for transportation purposes. The cards also limit transportation from 6am-8pm and only have ninety-minute transfer periods. A lot of students at my school have talked about different ways that the cards have helped them. They also have talked about the big issue:  the ninety-minute transfer window is too small especially for students who have to work . For example, if a bus is late or a subway is stuck between stops (which happens frequently), we miss our ninety-minute window for using the card. The biggest issue is that the ninety-minute transfer period doesn’t allow students to travel home from work. We have two rides a day. So I use one ride to school, one to work and because I work more than the ninety minute transfer period, I don’t have another ride for getting home.

The Cards are not final until next school year when it will be then implemented throughout BCPSS. Until then, the One Cards and S-Passes will still be issued out. I hope that MTA and BCPSS can figure out a way for students to get home after work.

-By Larry Alexander, Junior at Digital Harbor High School

Washington Post Reports: Getting to Know 'Those Kids'

Closing the Gap:

A summit between police and youth leaders in Baltimore City

Last Thursday, youth leaders from the Inner Harbor Project sat down with fifty Baltimore City police officers. Lieutenant Steve Olson, the commander of the Inner Harbor Unit, had a vision for the evening. He wanted to prove that the gap between police and youth is narrower than people think. So he made sure that everyone in the room had something in common: they all graduated from a Baltimore City public high schools.

After hours at Lexington Market, the room was packed with young people and officers sharing tables and Faidley's crab dip. Olson began by asking that everyone play six degrees of separation with the people they didn't know - kids had to talk to cops and cops had to talk to kids. The group with the least degrees of separation won.

Afterwards, visitors heard presentations from co-founders, Celia Neustadt and Diamond Sampson, about the history of Inner Harbor Project and its mission. Adrian Hughes, youth executive leader of the cultural competency training team, followed with a description of the training youth leaders had designed.

After the presentations, Olson got everyone's attention to discuss the true purpose of the meeting. The Inner Harbor Project had just gotten permission to teach the police training at the Academy, meaning IHP could impact the behavior of police officers all over the city, not just the Inner Harbor. Olson's plea to those present was to work together with the youth leaders of the Inner Harbor Project to teach the training together, to demonstrate the strong foundation youth and police have already built. He asked that interested officers leave their name tags by the door on the way out. Needless to say, everyone left their name tags.

The Washington Post's Peter Hermann covered the event.

From his feature on the front page of the Metro section of today's Washington Post <http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/baltimore-police-use-inner-harbor-project-to-forge-bond-with-teenagers/2015/03/29/a9c81912-d24a-11e4-ab77-9646eea6a4c7_story.html> ,

"Getting to know 'those kids' Police and black youths have long eyed one another suspiciously at Baltimore's most famous tourist spot. Can the Inner Harbor Project turn that around?" 

"The Inner Harbor Project was launched [...] by Celia Neustadt, a 2008 graduate of Baltimore City College high school, where she was one of  a couple white students in a class of about 400. Begun as a way to spark conversation, the group is now leading it. Hood2Harbor peace ambassadors blend in with crowds to watch for trouble. In the coming months, these high school students will teach recruits at the police academy how to talk to young people. Teens monitor social media to defuse disputes before combatants end up at the harbor. “If I were like a cop, they wouldn’t listen,” said Cheo Thomas, 18, who graduated from Edmondson-Westside High School last year and now mediates disputes among youths that crop up on social media. He said the teens do listen. “It’s us talking to them,” he said,

During last week’s meeting, students and police gathered at Lexington Market, a maze of covered food stalls on the west side of downtown, where they gazed at a bulletin board covered with photos of themselves next to pictures of police officers when they attended Baltimore high schools. They agreed the atmosphere at the harbor has become more welcoming. “We were once students like yourselves,” said Lt. Steven Olson, who heads the Inner Harbor unit. He said his fellow officers used to refer to youth coming to the harbor as “those kids.” He told the group, “I started watching ‘those kids.’ Instead of confronting them, I talked to them.” He saw young couples holding hands, splurging on food, just hanging out. “Those kids were awesome,” Olson said. He learned many came to escape their own dangerous neighborhoods. “They come to the harbor because it is safe.”

Read more about our night in the Washington Post.

If you support this work, demonstrate it by making a donation to the Inner Harbor Project. We do this work because we believe it is important for the future of our city and this country but we really need your support to continue making progress. Donate here.

Teaching Empathy

From Brooke Travers, Youth Coordinator Extraordinaire: I have the best job. It is at once inspiring, challenging and rewarding. I come to work every day with an open mind and heart, and am rewarded with the same from the young people that I work alongside.

Last Wednesday, I had an experience that made me remember once again that my life has changed dramatically (in the best possible way) since I accepted my position at the Inner Harbor Project last May. It was a somewhat abnormal day, sandwiched between and early dismissal and snow day in a stretch of several weeks where I didn’t get to see students regularly due to the weather. As students come into work, they sometimes pop into my office to check in with me about their lives outside of IHP, and that particular day was no exception.

Markell, a 15-year old freshman who has recently transitioned out of a Baltimore City School and into one in the county, came in with a huge smile. “Brooke, I have a story to tell you!” I smiled back at him, knowing that his stories are often outlandish and funny. “Sure Markell, what’s up?” He proceeded to tell me about something that had happened to him at school. He was sitting in Health class, and his teacher was explaining to the students that March is Autism Awareness Month. She held up a bunch of blue bracelets, and told the class that they were holding a fundraiser in honor of those with Autism, and that the bracelets were one dollar. The teacher asked them to raise their hands if they’d like to purchase a bracelet.

I should interject here to say that I have been in that teacher’s position before, and that asking high school students to use money to support a cause is usually a risky business. When I was in her shoes I was nervous that my students wouldn’t understand how worthy the cause was, and that no one would participate. I can only imagine that she felt that same nervousness.

Markell paused here in the story (for dramatic effect, no doubt), and reminded me of how much he loves donuts...yes, donuts. I agreed that his love for donuts is legendary, and he proceeded to explain that he only had one dollar that day, and that was his donut money. When the teacher explained the cause, and no one else raised their hand, Markell decided that buying the Autism Awareness bracelet was a better use of his dollar than donuts. I assure you, this is no small thing! His teacher also wrote him a very nice note, and as he showed it to me, his excitement was palpable.

I got up and gave him a hug, and told him how proud of him I was. I proceeded to give him a dollar to get his donuts, and another dollar to buy me a bracelet. He took his off and gave it to me, promising that he would buy himself another bracelet. This was followed by two snow days, and yet he kept his promise. Yesterday, he showed me that he had remembered to buy another bracelet. I can’t really express how exciting this is, both for Markell and for me. The way that his compassion for others has grown in the last year is astounding, and I am so happy to be able to see him, and the other youth leaders, continue to flourish every day.

Reaction to Tamir Rice Case

For Immediate Release

March 3, 2015

Contact: Celia Neustadt

celia@innerharborproject.org

Baltimore Teen Leaders React to Developments in Tamir Rice Case Inner Harbor Project leaders reflect:  "This is why I strive so hard to break the barrier between youth and law enforcement."

Two Youth Executive Leaders from Baltimore's Inner Harbor Project had the following reactions to the news that attorneys representing the City of Cleveland have filed documents that cite 12-year-old Tamir Rice's "failure...to exercise due care to avoid injury" as a cause of Rice's death. Rice was shot and killed by police in November, 2014 while holding a pellet gun.

"Tamir Rice’s death is especially tragic given that he had a whole future ahead of him. I send my sympathy to this young man’s family," said Cheo Thomas, age 18, Youth Executive Leader of the Teen Mediation Initiative. "No child should lose his or her life because of a misunderstanding. Once is too often. Here, at the Inner harbor Project, our training helps police officers communicate with teens so incidents like these don’t happen."

"Reading about the [...] response to Tamir’s death was a very disheartening experience. Yet again, another life has been taken before it had a chance to blossom. Our greatest protector can also be our greatest threat. In today’s world, we often let pride and prejudice stand in the way of truth and cloud our judgment," said Diamond Sampson, age 18, Youth Executive Leader of the Code of Etiquette Initiative. "The only thing that separates one person from the next is our titles."

"This is why I strive so hard to break the barrier between youth and law enforcement by creating a set of fairly enforceable rules. It is the simple things that can reconnect us," Sampson continued.  "People often forget it takes a village to raises a child, so even if someone was a possible threat, everyone is innocent until proven guilty. All life is too precious to lose because of a misperception." Recognizing the value of youth's own voices in the public dialogue on issues that impact them is central to the Inner Harbor Project's mission.  Images of Cheo and Diamond and further information on their work can be found here <http://theinnerharborproject.org/the-team/> .

Executive Director Celia Neustadt is also available for expert comment on issues of youth and policing.

The Inner Harbor Project is a model for social change that identifies teenagers who are leaders among their peers, equips them with research and professional skills, and organizes them to come up with solutions to issues that divide our society on the basis of race, class and culture. The Inner Harbor Project focuses on public space because it is the place where different social needs compete and where we can pioneer effective approaches to harmonious coexistence.

The Inner Harbor Project's five current initiatives include:  Teen Mediation, Code of Etiquette, The Harbor Card , Hood2Harbor Peace Ambassadors, and Cultural Competency Training  in partnership with the Baltimore City Police Department, Waterfront Partnership and Downtown Partnership. 

Real Talk

by Adrian Hughes _DSC7376flatprt

Last Friday, February 6, 2015, youth leaders of the Inner Harbor Project met with Lieutenant Steve Olson to discuss the new policies pertaining to weapons in the downtown area. I think it is a great thing when Baltimore City officers take time out of their day to answer questions that they could really brush aside. He started by explaining what constitutes an illegal weapon but he also came to learn why we think it’s necessary to carry weapons. His willingness to hear our side of the story was truly inspiring. He explained why the new rules were needed and the middle ground he was willing to meet people on.

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This was all great, but the thing that I will remember most is how he was able to connect with us on a personal basis. Many of us have had unpleasant experiences with law enforcement, but if you walked into the room you wouldn't have been able to tell. The fact that everyone was able to look past Lieutenant Olson and see Steve Olson was truly a sight to behold.

We asked Lieutenant Olson what positive things officers do for the community.  He told us stories of many officers who spend not only their time but their money to help Baltimoreans in need every day.  I was amazed, thinking to myself how everyone is so quick to judge officers by what they hear from the media and other people, but they rarely get information themselves or take into account the good things that is actually going on around them every day.

The truth is there will always be two sides to a story; make sure you hear both of them before you pass judgement. One last thing that will really stick with me was when he was asked by Shawna about his views on police brutality. I will always remember his reaction. He made it very clear to us that he takes the oath of protecting the citizens in his care very seriously. He continued to say that he believes every officer that breaks this oath should be held accountable, kicked out of the force, and prosecuted.

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This was not Lieutenant Olson speaking; this was Steve Olson, the man behind the uniform. Lieutenant Olson once told me that I was a man among men, but he is truly a man among men, to come into a room full of youth armed to the teeth with questions ranging from many different topics and walk out with this same group of youth as if he was a friend they had known forever. This was truly special. These are the conversations that will bring a brighter day for not only our city but our nation as a whole.

I Know Them By Heart

Post from Brooke Travers, Youth Coordinator Extraordinaire: Yesterday, one of our Youth Executive Leaders, Diamond, said something that really resonated with me. Diamond’s group is working on the Code of Etiquette for the Harbor, and yesterday they held a focus group. After the focus group was over, she pulled one of her group members aside. I asked if everything was ok, and Diamond told me that she just knew something was bothering the other girl. After they talked and came back, I asked her how she knew, when the girl hadn’t even been in the room. Diamond looked at me and said “I know my group Brooke, I know them by heart.” Well, it got me thinking, that simple phrase, because it was said with such conviction. We focus a lot here on our mission, which is as it should be. But in between all of the hard work that happens at the Inner Harbor Project, there has been an amazing transformation. We began the summer, and I began my experience here, with 25 kids from all over the city. Some knew each other, but not many, and there were definitely some awkward moments. These young people came from all over a city that is known for tensions between neighborhoods, and the “getting to know each other” process wasn’t fast or easy. It definitely put all of my skills as an educator and as a mentor to the test in those first couple of months. Now, I watch them work together every day with a little bit of amazement. Eight months later, we still have the occasional issue, as is normal, but they truly love each other. They debate over social issues, which can sometimes get heated, and over which high school is the best, which always gets heated. When it comes down to it though, they have each other’s backs. It’s an important life lesson, I think, that you have to get to know someone before you make a judgment, and they’ve learned it. I’m proud of them for that. Over the last year we’ve made a lot of progress as a project, and our initiatives have become successful because it’s true, they know each other by heart.

Circulator Challenges

Mark Heishman, the General Manager at Transdev (formally Veolia), invited me and a couple youth leaders to present to the operators of the Charm City Circulator. We were asked to present at two of their safety meetings, one at noon and one at three pm. I had another presentation at noon so Brooke stood in for me at the first presentation. I met Diamond, Adrian, Brooke and Mark after the first presentation and before the second while they were finishing up lunch. I was eager to hear how the first presentation went. By the looks on their faces, there was a lot to talk about. The following is an account written by Adrian about the presentation. What stands out to me about Adrian’s commentary is the respect he has for Diamond in how she handles a tough situation.  

“This afternoon I had the pleasure of giving a presentation with one of my fellow Youth Executive Leaders, Diamond Sampson. We were presenting to the Circulator bus operators to introduce them to our project and the work we were doing. We talked about the history of the organization, our research and our current initiatives. After our presentation, we opened up the floor for comments, questions and concerns. During the Q&A, one bus operator vented his frustration about youth to us. He confronted me and Diamond and asked us what we were doing besides passing out buttons. He went on stereotyping about youth on his bus, saying that all youth are poorly behaved. I wanted to tell him to try paying attention to how many youth are actually doing what they’re supposed to do instead of only paying attention to the negative youth. Before I could, Diamond became emotional. Anyone that knows Diamond, knows that this is a sore subject for her. She joined the Inner Harbor Project because she was tired of being blamed for the negative behavior of other youth. Diamond was visibly upset but also calm.  She let this man know that all youth are not the same and that regardless of our age we are no different than adults who also have bad apples so to speak. After she spoke this man completely changed his opinion. He apologized and thanked us for our work. We youth at the IHP are very passionate about what we do and it showed today.”

What Now: In the wake of Ferguson

Tomorrow, I will present to the officers of the Central District at their roll call. I have a shtick prepared, the same one I always use, when I introduce The Inner Harbor Project to officers. I usually start by explaining that even if they’re just learning about us, we’ve been effectively collaborating with the Department for years. I explain how our Peace Ambassador and mediation programs are aimed at diffusing tension between teens. I talk about our Cultural Competency Training course, which teens developed to coach officers on interacting more positively with teens. I explain that this is very important because negative interactions between law enforcements and teens results in teen on teen crime, vandalism, theft and a lack of pride in the Inner Harbor and Baltimore. I was planning on talking about our success with the Inner Harbor Unit this summer and how together, we reduced juvenile arrests and incident rates. Given the events that have occurred over the last 24 hours, I want to say something different. I need to say something different.

“Yes, we have worked closely with police officers to build a bridge of trust between teens and police in the Inner Harbor. But this bridge is very fragile. It has been built by the hope of young people who have forgiven injustices in exchange for this tenuous dream. Writing this, in my office, with their faces all around me, I am reminded of their courageousness. They have taken the first step towards trust. Wanya and Desmond greet Lieutenant Olson when they pass him on the promenade. In the next moment, they walk up to their friends and encourage them to be a part of our movement of positivity.

And officers have taken the first step as well. The smart ones realize that they are limited in their ability to speak with teens about these issues. The smarter ones realize that by treating teens with respect in the Harbor, they have an opportunity to improve relationships throughout the city. The smartest ones realize that to black teenagers, they represent oppression and they must change their role in order to create a just world.

On a good day, I am proud of what we’ve done. I am proud of the trust we have built when only two and a half years ago teens and police denied that we would ever get this far. (Last week, a higher up in the Department admitted that he never thought it would work.) But today is not a good day. Today, I am reminded of how fragile a bridge we have built. One misstep, one betrayal, and it will not be two steps back but five or ten. To have convinced the youth leaders I work with – teens who two years ago swore they would never be in the same room as an officer – that respect can exist between teens and police is a miracle. Each of you is responsible for protecting that trust and strengthening this bridge. If you destroy it, I fear all hope will be lost. “

Big Win-Piloting the Cultural Competency Training Program

I am thrilled to share with you the success of our pilot training for police and guides. Youth leaders developed the three-course training program with input from New Lens and our research. Read a testimonial from Brooke Travers, our youth coordinator: Tensions were high as we ran through the plan one more time before the Downtown Partnership Guides arrived at the office for the first day of pilot lessons for our Cultural Competency Training. This marked the culmination of many long hours of preparation:  writing and re-writing drafts, demoing lessons in front of the group of 21 Youth Leaders, and experimenting with different strategies. Throughout this process, bolder youth leaders helped shyer members of the group learn public speaking skills and gain the confidence that is necessary to teach adults how to communicate with young people. 

Adrian Hughes, the Youth Executive Leader in charge of the Cultural Competency Team, was nervous while he waited for Larry and Mariama, the youth leaders who would be teaching the class, to arrive. Adrian had just enough time to go over his opening remarks one last time before the guides arrived. Introductions were made and the lesson began. Larry introduced the training and handed the warm-up discussion over to Mariama. The transitions were seamless and the Guides became more and more engaged as the lesson went on, expressing their desire to build a bridge between themselves and the youth that they see on the streets every day. There were disgareements, as is natural for a discussion of this nature. The guides explained that they fear that some youth don’t want to “get it,” and that there should be respect on both sides of an adult-youth interaction.

Overall, the lesson was incredibly successful, both the Guides that participated and the Youth Leaders that led the lesson had a great time opening a dialogue that will hopefully be the beginning of a new understanding between teens and those adults who serve the city. The Guides were excited to come back on Wednesday for the next class and the Youth Leaders were ecstatic that they already seemed to be making the difference that they have been working so hard for.