BALTIMORE (AP) – Akai Alston was 13 when he was shot for the first time. It was during a robbery in East Baltimore, in broad daylight.
As he lay in his hospital bed, shaken and frightened, he knew he had a choice to make.
“I put it in my head that I’d rather be a suspect than a victim,” he said.
In this March 3, 2017 photo, community outreach worker Kelvin Parker poses for a portrait while walking in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of Baltimore. Parker is one of three outreach workers at U-TURNS, a fledgling initiative with an ambitious goal: to reach teenagers and young adults in west Baltimore and provide an alternative to the streets. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Ten years later, Alston faced another grim decision. He was dealing crack and hooked on prescription pills. He’d squeezed triggers, and seen friends and family members lose their lives to gunshots. After his last conviction, for accessory to murder, he knew was on the path to die in jail or die in the streets. This time, he rejected both.
Now Alston is a community outreach coordinator for U-TURNS, a project that tries to give Baltimore teenagers and young adults an alternative to the streets. They can find a safe space, food, job training, holistic health practices such as yoga and acupuncture, mental health services and – most important – mentorship.
The initiative’s been in operation less than a year and couldn’t come at a more pressing time. As of Dec. 3, Baltimore has seen 321 homicides this year, surpassing…Read More