BALTIMORE (WJZ) — A new youth violence prevention program could be a game changer in Baltimore City.
Roca was announced Wednesday with fanfare at City Hall amid a wave of juvenile violence in recent months.
The founder, Molly Baldwin, is from Baltimore. She says Roca — rock in Spanish — reaches the unreachable: people 17 to 24 who won’t fit into other programs.
“They can get mad at us, threaten us, get high, disappear, and we go back and get them again,” Baldwin said.
Roca is intensive, and there’s an expectation — at least initially — that the youth will relapse and fail. But over time, the hope is it changes them.
“Run from us and tell us to go to hell, and you are in,” Baldwin said.
In Boston, Mass., where the non-profit says 91 percent of new graduates have no further arrests, Tykeam Jackson says it changed his life.
“I was involved in a gang, and I was always carrying guns to protect myself, and I just kept getting caught,” Jackson said. “It was hard staying out of jail before I got with Roca. I think it’s just because I didn’t have a voice. I’m probably like another kid going through the system who everybody just wanted to brush off.”
One of the issues in Baltimore was securing funding, and it looked like Roca might never come to the city. Mayor Catherine Pugh says it requires $17 million over four years, and the state did not provide any of that money. She turned to the private sector: BGE, T. Rowe Price, and Johns Hopkins University — among others — came up with $10 million. That was enough to get it off the ground.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday, “I’m very happy that she reached out and got some private-sector investment.”
Hogan said Pugh wanted immediate funding, which he was unable to do with the current budget set the prior year.
“I’d think she’d be familiar with that since she served in the Senate, but we never turned it down,” Hogan said.
He said the program seemed like a good one and is actively under consideration for the budget being put together in January 2018.
“It sends a different kind of priority, a different kind of statement about how we think about our safety, about how we think about our youth,” Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels said.
BGE CEO Calvin Butler said helping the city is also about “leadership that is committed to moving forward and tackling the difficult issues. This is the most difficult.”
Greater Baltimore Committee President Don Fry said reducing the number of homicides and violent crime is “the top issue” facing the city.
“We commend the Mayor’s determined efforts to bring Roca to Baltimore,” Fry said.
Baltimore has seen an increase in carjackings, assaults and robberies committed by juveniles, including several attacks near the Inner Harbor and Federal Hill.
Baltimore City Police Commissioner Kevin Davis praised the Roca program at its unveiling. In November, he expressed frustration with youth violence, telling WJZ, “I’m pretty sure their parents, grandparents, guardians, and neighbors know who they are as well. Step up. Step forward. Get ahold of these violent kids.”
Roca has not been without its problems. Late last month, two men were convicted of murdering 21-year-old Kenny Lamour in Massachusetts. Lamour was in the Roca program and was doing a job shoveling snow with a rival gang member who orchestrated his killing. Baldwin called in “an extradordinarily tragic event.” She said, “We had a lot of safety measures in place already, but we have upped our safety strategy since then.”
Baldwin, who is currently at Roca’s home base in Massachusetts, will live part-time in Baltimore. She says she hopes to eventually serve 300 youths, starting out with 75 when the program launches in July.