Inside One Baltimore Group’s Effort to Stop Youth Violence Before It Starts
by J. Brian Charles
Published June 10 in The Trace
Excerpt: The game of cat and mouse had played out for months on the corners of West Baltimore. Jamal West would pull up in his minivan. Miayan, 18 years old at the time, would run. The 46-year-old West stands at 6-foot-4 and is built like a NFL lineman — no match for the wiry teenager in a footrace. So West would come back in his van the next day. And when Miayan saw the van, he would flee again.
All West wanted was to talk to Miayan. This was in early 2019, not long after Roca, a violence prevention program, launched in Baltimore.
“I was running the streets,” Miayan said. “Running the streets, getting into everything I could.”
Miayan was working corners, selling drugs, often making more than $700 each week. His crew earned enough from drug sales that they became the target of law enforcement. And just like he did when he saw West’s minivan, when the cops came, Miayan ran. Most times Miayan won that foot race. (The Trace and The Guardian are not using his full name, or that of other young people, since many of their offenses occurred when they were minors.)
What Miayan had in speed, West surpassed in persistence. West, Roca’s youth work supervisor, kept coming back, sometimes with his partner, Teshombae Harvell. They hoped to begin the therapy needed to unpack the experiences that weighed on Miayan. He grew up watching family members struggle with drug addiction and get drawn into the drug trade only to be snatched away by the criminal justice system. For his 20 years, Miayan had seen arguments turn violent, violence turn deadly, and friends’ lives cut short. Not much to hope for.