At a City Council hearing early last November, Baltimore’s Chief of Recreation stated that no recreation centers would be closed due to budget changes. However, the city’s budget director warned that there was not enough funding to keep all of the city’s 55 recreation centers open and some ‘trade-offs’ might have to be made, according to the Baltimore Brew.
Before summer began, it became clear that some centers would close. The Baltimore Sun reported in August that four West Baltimore recreation centers closed. Baltimore is clearly facing tough budgeting decisions, but these centers are about young people, making youth perspectives as essential as government officials.
One of our youth producers, D’Andre Guess, grew up in Baltimore, recently graduated from Digital Harbor High School, and currently attends the Art Institute of York, Pennsylvania. He thinks Baltimore youth need positive environments, like recreation centers, to help them avoid the troubled situations they face elsewhere:
“Just a few years ago, I was getting into a lot of trouble with the people I considered my friends. In the midst of drugs and other dangerous situations, I was losing people I cared about to death and to the person I was becoming.
I know now things happened this way because there weren’t many positive environments in my life. I was an angry person and would lash out. When I was fourteen, I started taking anger management classes, and it helped a lot. But what helped me change more was an after-school recreation center program.
Founded and directed by former Ravens defensive lineman Riddick Parker, it’s called Partners in Progress. Mr. Parker is a positive person who taught me a lot about life and helped me stay out of trouble. Because of this support, I gained control of my life and have been making positive choices myself that I’m truly proud of.
During my senior year in high school, I joined Urban Alliance, which helps high school seniors get internships around the city, and now I’m a paid intern at Wide Angle Youth Media. I work with other young people to make short films about issues affecting Baltimore’s youth. I also started playing sports after school and even introduced some of my cousins and friends to them, too.
I have met new people along the way that have taught me much of what I need to know when I start living on my own, and programs, like the ones I mentioned, have helped me grow to become more responsible and mature.. Had I not had access to positive and supportive new environments and been given the opportunity to become who I am today, I may have made some very bad decisions like my friends who did not have these opportunities.
If you were put into my shoes, you would understand how disheartening it is to lose the recreation centers. Many young people are losing the only positivity in their lives. If the recreation centers and after-school activities are shut down, teens and kids will have no place to go. This will harm many Baltimore city youths and ultimately lead to them finding friendship with the wrong crowd
In February, Governor O’Malley said, “We cannot kid ourselves into thinking that by failing to invest in our future we are somehow saving resources – that we are somehow being clever in saving money, for everything has a cost. Failing to make decisions that are consistent with the best interests of the next generation, this too has a cost.” You must invest in youth if you expect young people to be the future of this nation. You must give us options and opportunities to make the right choices for ourselves.
Investing in the next generation of Baltimore and of Maryland youth will pay off and lead to far greater rewards. We can either be selfish with the money we have now, or we can invest that money in the futures of our state’s youth.”
Talking with our students, we’ve found that this issue, closing the recreation centers, transcends age.
In fact during our spring semester, Middle School students in our Baltimore Speaks Out! Program made this short film about the closing of rec centers in Baltimore City. Our youth producers worry about their futures and what Baltimore will look like without the after-school programs that these centers provide:
Without these spaces, where will Baltimore’s young people go? Let our students’ voices and your voice be heard by sending a tweet or emailing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to let Baltimore City officials know that these spaces and programs are important.