The Baltimore Youth March. Photo courtesy The Real News Network.

“One of the problems is that we’re so quick to throw our youth into prisons and jails that we refuse to look them in the face and see them as human beings,” said 23-year-old East Baltimore native Shahem Mclaurin as members of the Frederick Douglass High School Marching band milled about with their instruments behind him.

Mclaurin was one of over 100 students and advocates who marched from the Penn North Kids Safe Zone to Frederick Douglass High School on Nov. 21 in support of Baltimore Youth Fund, a $12 million dollar a year fund for city youth.

The Youth Fund is expected to pass when it is voted on by the full City Council in December. “This is very important. It’s historic. I think we’re the only third or fourth city that have targeted funding for our youth,” said Council President Bernard “Jack” Young.

Young and other city leaders spoke at the pre-march press conference outside of the Kids Safe Zone, which founder Erika Alston-Buck describes as “a safe recreational place where a kid can be a kid during out-of-school time.”

“We’re open every day, and when school is closed, we’re open at noon because we know that a lot of kids go to school for gas and electric. They go to school for a hot meal,” Alston-Buck said. “So, when those schools are closed, we need to provide those same services.”

Kids Safe Zone also provides mentorship, organized sports, a computer lab, and homework assistance, but, Alston-Buck says, because it doesn’t fit into “the wheelhouse for any foundation,” it is hard to get funding.

This, says Young, is what the Baltimore Youth Fund is for. “It was meant to get to grassroots organizations that’s out doing the real community work,” he said.

“It’s really essential that people from the community get to be in control of these programming dollars and get a say in who gets them,” McLaurin said.

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