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Mobtown Beat

Keeping the Faith

Kids' Scoop Newspaper Asks Mayor O'Malley to Bring His "BELIEVE" Campaign to the City's Children

By Patricia Callahan | Posted 5/7/2003

Nikea Redmond has a bone to pick pick with Mayor Martin O'Malley and his "Baltimore Believe" campaign. The 52-year-old city resident and activist runs Kids' Scoop, a local newspaper created by and for kids. Redmond says the much-touted "Believe" effort fails to reach out to Baltimore's future, its children. The massive PR push encouraging residents to take back their neighborhoods from crime and drugs, is too focused on billboards and bumper stickers, she says, and seems directed mainly at adults and holds no appeal for teens or young children.

"Were they really trying to reach kids?" she wonders. "[If so], they would have put their money where their mouth is."

To address what she thinks is the program's failure, Redmond is pressing the city to help them create a "Kids Believe" campaign. If she had her way, the city would host forums where the city's kids could address issues that matter to them. She says that if the city agrees to start such a campaign, she would volunteer Kids' Scoop to run it.

Redmond held a press conference on April 4 in which she and some of the young Kids' Scoop staffers asked the city to "consider turning over" the "Believe" campaign to them. She claims, however, that "Believe" campaign manager Richard Burton dismissed the idea, saying it was too large and "comprehensive" for Kids' Scoop to handle.

The purple-and-yellow storefront of Kids' Scoop's office--located in the basement of Redmond's rowhouse, at the corner of East Chase Street and North Patterson Park Avenue--seems out of place in the otherwise gray and bleak East Baltimore streetscape. Houses surrounding the office stand vacant, their boarded-up windows marked with graffiti, and a handful of drug dealers carry out their transactions.

Meanwhile, inside, children ages 12 to 17 are bustling about the office, working to counteract the negative image of Baltimore's young people that their counterparts on the streets present to the public. Among other things, Kids' Scoop runs stories on local family- and youth-oriented events.

For two years now, Redmond has run the newspaper, which prints 40,000 free papers five times a year. In 2002, Kids' Scoop received a $20,000 grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, its largest funder. Towson University and Hewlett-Packard have both donated computers and $60,000 in other computer equipment to help the endeavor.

Kids' Scoop is the follow-up to the now defunct City Scoop, a newspaper geared toward teenagers that Redmond founded in the late 1980s. She says she stopped publishing the paper in 1991 because of a career change that left her with little free time.

Next week, the paper plans to put out an issue on the Johns Hopkins University's plan to construct a biotech park in a the city's Middle East neighborhood. The paper will report on the possible effects the park could have on the city and the "removal" program that is relocating residents from the area slated for construction.

The paper covers some news stories, but one of its primary functions is to provide a voice for city children. Its pages contain dozens of letters from Baltimore children in columns like "Dear Mayor Martin O'Malley." Many of the letters in the Dear Mayor column plead for O'Malley to create a safe, drug-free environment for city kids.

"I've seen and heard people getting shot and dying right on our streets," reads one such letter printed in a February 2001 issue, written by a youngster named William Blake. "But I don't want to die this way if I am not part of the problem. . . . Help us, me and my family, to be part of the solution."

The newsroom at Kids' Scoop, Redmond says, is an "oasis" for neighborhood children, many of whom do not have the benefit of supervised after-school or weekend activities. Redmond says the city would have a better chance of communicating the "Believe" campaign's anti-drug, anti-crime messages to its neighborhoods if it used her newspaper to reach these kids.

"It's one thing to mouth 'Believe.' It's another thing to demonstrate," Redmond says. If the mayor partners with the newspaper, "it will show the kids, hey, they do believe in us."

Many of the kids Redmond works with say they see the black-and-white "Believe" signs but don't realize they are designed to "reduce drug trafficking, drug violence, and drug use in the city," as the "Believe" mission statement explains.

"Believe? Believe in what?" 12-year-old Kids' Scoop editor Amber Jones wonders. "It can mean anything."

Mayoral spokesperson Tony White, however, seems surprised at Redmond's, claims saying, "We have acknowledged Kids' Scoop, and have included them on our association list and invited them to our open house."

White says he's arranging for Kids' Scoop to interview the mayor on their desire to partner with the city. The interview comes after Redmond's persistent effort to get the city more involved, however.

"[O'Malley's] re-election depends on his involvement with youth in this city," Redmond says. "We feel we have a better handle on the kids, and our job is to help him become the children's mayor."

Redmond's 17-year-old niece and namesake, Nikea Redmond, agrees. Being a part of Kids' Scoop "is a good opportunity that most kids don't have," she says. "The most important thing we can do is be the kids' voice."

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