Meet the outreach workers of Baltimore's Safe Streets operation

BALTIMORE - For Safe Streets locations to work, you must have the right people.

Helping to choose those people is Outreach Coordinator Dante Barksdale.

Each outreach worker must be from the same streets where the program is located, an ex-offender who has ‘street cred' in that area and have lived the life they are now trying to change; reversing a culture and social norm that has been handed down generation by generation.

Barksdale explained it to us this way, "Your name is Brian.  [Say] I come and say you ain't no damn Brian, your name is Steve.  You'd say Dante, my name is not f*#@in Steve, my name is Brian.  [It's the] same way with here.  I'm told all my uncle bang guns, all my uncles sell drugs.  When I come outside all I see is people selling drugs, robbing people.  That is all that is going on in these neighborhoods."

That is the culture in some of Baltimore's streets Barksdale says; their social norm.

Barksdale grew up in that culture too and like most of the outreach workers he now helps choose, got tired of that life.

The only people who can challenge the norm he says, are the people who survived.

Barksdale has a unique resume; his last name alone carries some ‘street cred.'

Dante Barksdale is related to a Nathan Barksdale who he says was the inspiration for a main character from the TV series The Wire.

Nathan now also works for Safe Streets as an outreach worker.

"I've seen instances where Avon is mediating a conflict just because of who he is…. so the credibility is good.  You need guys like that.  You need guys with those street credibility's.  That credibility they call credible messengers...is street credits," Barksdale says.

The street credibility of the outreach workers is key to making Safe Streets work and it is with that same eye Barksdale will help choose future Safe Streets workers as funding allows.

Currently, Safe Streets is funded by grants from federal partners and the state. 

Safe Streets Director Lori Toscano says it takes just more than a million dollars to fund its four sites on an annual basis.

Toscano would like to ultimately see 20 Safe Streets sites in Baltimore, but if she gets more money for at least one more, she would like to start a group in Sandtown on the city's west side.

 

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