By: Katie Davis, Truancy Court Program Attorney
What does it take to turn around urban youth who are on a path marked by violence and crime? According to Greland Lowrey, a gang specialist who works with youth in Baltimore city, for young people to turn away from criminal behavior, it requires “confidence, support and diligence.”
Mr. Lowery, a speaker at the recent Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts’ (CFCC) 2015 Urban Child Symposium on youth and urban violence, explained how his experiences with criminal behavior and within the criminal justice system have led him to his current passion. A former gang member who spent years behind bars, Mr. Lowery recognizes that he is uniquely suited to help children turn their lives around and change habits, just as he did. In fact, Lowery says that his friends call him a “trauma surgeon.” This is accurate, he says, because, like a doctor, he looks at what these youth experience, where they live, and what they are doing in order to help them get a plan to make changes. Unlike a surgeon, however, he has no timeline for his work. He stays with a child as long as he is needed to make change happen – sometimes a week, sometimes a year, and sometimes much longer.
Mr. Lowery points out that criminal behavior is an addiction. He says that, when he works with youth already involved in criminal behavior, his tactic is to provide them with the confidence and knowledge they need to change. He points out that these children all are dealing with post-traumatic stress and that they are numb to reality. “If they are ok seeing a dead body on the street, then they are more ok with violence,” he says. To combat this, Mr. Lowery tries to de-brief what the youth learn on the street and then re-brief them in a better way. He wants children to be aware of who they really are. He promises them that if they identify themselves, realize some hope, and set some concrete positive goals, then they can make a change. He gives them the inspiration to change by helping them define positive tangible goals. In Lowery’s words, he puts a plate of food in front of these youth, and then he helps them distinguish between the meat and vegetables and the junk food so that they can make good choices. He gives them something real and worthwhile toward which to work.
Lowery is adamant that, while he may be uniquely suited to help urban youth avoid or walk away from criminal activity, he is not the only one who can do this work. In fact, when asked what he thinks the Baltimore community can do to help curb the violence affecting Baltimore youth, he says, “We need more people to get involved without a paycheck.” In other words, he is challenging others to work with Baltimore youth for the right reasons and to be willing to stay around as long as necessary to effect some change. All children, and especially urban youth, according to Lowery, know when an adult is involved because he/she has to be–without really being invested. Urban children have seen far too many adults, systems, and programs come into their lives, only to leave again after a short period of time. Lowery says that youth need people who are there for the long haul. They need people to come into their communities to enjoy them rather than simply to simply point out the where the problems are and to try to find quick fixes. Youth need people to give them the tools required to help rebuild their communities from within.
For more information on the Urban Child Symposium, visit CFCC’s website at http://law.ubalt.edu/centers/cfcc/news/urbanchild/