aime Artero-Velasquez found out via text when his friend died. It was the weekend. Everyone was home, but then they felt like they couldn’t go outside.
He started “shedding tears,” he said. What else was there to do?
Terry Bosley’s death last year shocked Annapolis. All murders do in a city unaccustomed to this kind of violent crime — but Bosley’s hit especially hard. He was 17 years old, a twin, an athlete. He was likely targeted by someone he knew. The Annapolis Police Department is still investigating his killing.
Students such as Artero-Velasquez and his classmates are too familiar with the forces that took their friend. They are the same forces making it unsafe for them to spend the summers outside — the same forces that push kids from unhappy homes toward the street.
So, like a lot of the adults using grants and legislation to tamp the forces, they got over crying. The murder made them closer. They’re doing something about it.
Artero-Velasquez, Tyree Johnson, Herschel Carter and Kaysha Addison, all students at the Phoenix Academy, have joined the growing number of people in Annapolis trying to stop the violence affecting young people in the city.
Eastport residents have been hosting community meetings for months, following multiple shootings last year.
Anne Arundel County community and minority outreach officer Derek Matthews, along with Pamela Brown and others, secured funding for preventing youth violence as a part of the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Safe and Thriving Communities initiative.
Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell-Charles, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, is exploring legislation that would “encompass a holistic approach to community development within our challenging communities, including addressing the violence,” she wrote in an email.
The students’ Hood2Good movement, a group not affiliated with the school, is focused on youth. It seeks to connect teenagers and young people with their “true selves and callings,” according to their mission statement. They want meaningful mentorship from people who understand them, safe hangouts that take kids out of “the hood” and youth-led projects. They also want to hold community leaders accountable.
Their official logo, hand-drawn by Carter, features a “h” and the numeral two connected to the letter “g.” The “h” is riddled with bullet holes and surveilled by police helicopters. A lightning bolt strikes it on one side. The “g” is wearing a graduation cap, decorated with sports balls, a brain and dollar signs. A cartoon sun shines down on it.
“We’ve already experienced stuff like this,” Carter said. “But when it happens to one of yours, it just changes everything.”
Violent crimes in Annapolis trend downward overall, though rapes are up from 2016. After a record 10 homicides in 2016, the city saw seven last year. Robberies and aggravated assaults are down as well. The juvenile justice caseload is getting smaller, said city police spokeswoman Amy Miguez.
But the numbers don’t reflect the things that go unseen or unreported — like the mornings that Carter, one of the Hood2Good founders, wakes up to gunshots as his alarm clock.
Does that happen?
“In the morning, it can,” Addison said. “When we were in middle school, it was early in the morning one day and … (a man) shot a lady in the foot and then killed himself. It was in a building right across from my bus stop.”
The Hood2Good students aren’t the only ones affected by gun violence in their community. A shooting occurred last year during the Annapolis Drum and Bugle Corps practice. Some of the musicians that play in the marching band are as young as 7.
Parents and volunteers flooded a City Council meeting in September to plead for new practice space so their children wouldn’t be susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder or worse.
There’s violence and drugs, Addison said. “Teens that just fall into the street and never get out because they’re used to it.”
There are kids who don’t have loving households, the students said, so they look for love in other places.
Safe and Thriving Communities
Matthews, who has 25 years experience in law enforcement, has a unique outlook. He’s seen it all, he said.
He knows what it’s like for kids who look to drug dealers as role models or for clothes and money. He understands, but he sees the danger.
“That’s never acceptable,” he said.
As part of the Safe and Thriving Communities initiative, Matthews will focus on Annapolis as a part of a larger effort to prevent youth violence across the country. The Annapolis Collaborative for Change is part of a cohort with four other municipalities that regularly talk about their strategy and progress.
As a part of the initiative, the collaborative can access a $750,000 grant over three years. Groups have already approached Matthews about the money, but the first year is spent solely on planning how the city will strategically work to stop violence.
Matthews is working with several different groups across private, government and nonprofit sectors, including the county’s Arundel United initiative, to come up with a data-driven, evidence-based plan that centers on young people and the community.
Not every program can get funding — “these programs in this grant have to be able to prove that these activities (help kids),” Matthews said.
The strategic plan is due Aug. 31.
He pointed to Minneapolis, where a similar initiative, now in its 10th year, has improved the way the city measures youth violence and contributed to its decline.
Minneapolis’ plan, the Blueprint for Action to Prevent Youth Violence, took a public health approach to solve a rise in violent crime involving young people. The blueprint maps out five goals centered on creating violence-free social environments, connecting youth with opportunities, intervening at the first sign of risk, rehabilitating youth already engaged in violence and protecting younger children.
The city focused on filling in natural gaps in services, said Sasha Cotton, Minneapolis’ youth violence prevention coordinator, and looked at data to drive work. This led the city to implement a Juvenile Supervision Center in City Hall where police can bring young people picked up for minor infractions like truancy and breaking curfew. The room has a low rate of return, Cotton said, because staffers try to connect the children to services they might need.
Minneapolis also implemented a hospital-based intervention for people who are admitted with gunshot or severe stabbing wounds.
“They’re not only (getting) bedside intervention … we know that if the young persons getting involved in something that they’re injured in this way, retaliation might be pending,” Cotton said.
The Annapolis program will be “radical,” Matthews said, “but radical in a good way.”
Right now, Annapolis has a bit of an “octopus effect,” he said. There are a lot of arms going in a lot of directions. There are good-intentioned programs that aren’t working together, have an unrealistic scope or no plan for longevity. He hopes to “wrap all those activities” together.
He and others are meeting with residents and young people in their communities, where they feel comfortable. He is trying to conduct nearly 300 community interviews in 90 days.
“We need to hear from them,” he said. “There are things that are going on in the community that would blow your mind.”
Meanwhile, the Hood2Good kids are looking for similarly fresh solutions. They’re not interested in programs that require students to find transportation communities that look nothing like theirs, that involve activities they know their peers won’t go for. Sailing. Sewing. Camping.
There are 48 people interested in their mentorship program. They have applied for a small peacekeeping grant through the nonprofit organization Peace First. They’re ready to make plans and get the community invested — they’re already planning merchandise.
As the students get up to leave a meeting, joking and playing around with each other, Addison wears a sweatshirt she made after the murder. A picture of Bosley is flanked by the hashtag #LongLiveMyBabyBoy.
Above her head, part of the Hood2Good logo, a cloud with Bosley’s name in it is projected onto a screen.