Next Monday, Baltimore youths will see if the way to the Southeast’s heart is through its stomach.
On Monday, July 7, 6:30 p.m., at 518 S. Conkling St., Baltimore Intersection—an organization that has recently relocated to Highlandtown—will hold “Books and Barbecue,” a community cookout, to kick off a summer dedicated to growing and mending relationships in southeast Baltimore, across racial and generational lines.
“There were acts of violence by African American youths that set off these difficult barriers between races,” said Ifetayo Kitwala.
Kitwala is a student leader enrolled in the Baltimore Intersection program, and a rising sophomore at Baltimore School for the Arts.
“We’re trying to rekindle the spirit and reunite them,” she added.
“We know there’s a negative perception of youth in the area,” explained Zeke Cohen, founder and executive director of Baltimore Intersection. “We also know that the acts of violence that are committed are not from the vast, vast majority of youths in Baltimore, who care about their schools, and care about their community.”
“Unfortunately, these are not the voices being heard,” he continued. “What we’re trying to do is reshape that narrative and show that [gesturing toward Kitwala] this, right here, is what Baltimore City kids are all about.”
Books and Barbecue is the kickoff to Baltimore Intersection’s Summer of Service, with other to-be-determined events and projects aimed toward the goal described by Cohen and Kitwala. At Books and Barbecue, adults and older teenagers will be reading to younger kids, and all may partake of free hamburgers and hotdogs.
Cohen said that Baltimore Intersection moved from Remington to Highlandtown about three months ago. The organization, which he started while in graduate school, has been in existence for three years.
Every year, 15 high school sophomores are chosen to participate in the Baltimore Intersection program.
“All of our children are first-generation college kids,” said Cohen. “They do not have parents who have been to or through college.”
He added that Baltimore Intersection connects with teachers and principals to find students with leadership potential. A major goal of the initiative is to teach the students community organizing skills and kindle their motivation. Cohen said that Baltimore Intersection has played a role in the passage of the Maryland Dream Act as well as the Firearms Safety Act of 2013.
“Although they grew up in poverty, our kids have spoken at the U.S. Department of Education, at the Baltimore City Council, and at Teach for America’s Summer Institute in front of over 700 incoming teachers,” Cohen added.
A second goal of the program is for the students to get into and attend college.
“So far—knock on wood—100 percent of our kids have gone on to college,” Cohen said.
He feels that Highlandtown is an excellent location for Baltimore Intersection. Kitwala likes the neighborhood, too.
“I feel like back at our old office, it was its own community,” she said. “Here, there are so many restaurants in walking distance, and so many people we run into on a daily basis.”
by Erik Zygmont