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Out There, Out Of Touch

May 19, 2005
By Helen Ubinñas

It's not as if people aren't pounding the pavement in this city.

The Men of Color have more than a few North End corners covered.

Communities That Care, NEST and YMCA continue to take kids, sometimes from rival groups, to bond at Camp Woodstock.

Mayor Eddie Perez is still meeting with at-risk kids in their homes.

And there were no fewer than a dozen ministers gathered on Martin Street on Tuesday for an anti-violence rally on the site of the city's latest killing.

But after two bloody weekends in a row, we have to start asking ourselves if the right people are out there - because obviously something's not working.

"We're here to tell you that we love you," the Rev. Donald Johnson, of the HOPE Street Ministries, yelled into his bullhorn Tuesday. "We understand how things are with you."

At a building nearby, a group of teenagers watched the display with a mix of amusement and disdain.

"They don't know [anything]," said a teenager named Chris, who perched himself on top of a railing to get a better view. "That's what they need to understand."

It was a blunt assessment, but not an altogether inaccurate one.

There's no shortage of people trying - a few for the check or the celebrity, most with the earnest intention of saving young lives - but the bodies still pile up.

No one wants to knock those who are out there with good intentions - who have been for big chunks of their lives. They're trying, some people told me. Who else is out here? others said. No one wants to tell someone who's gone gray working these streets that it's time for a new plan, a new generation.

But given the attitudes of the kids on Martin Street, and those at 18-year-old Jashon Bryant's funeral last week - none of whom had any use for the community leaders who showed up - that's what needs to happen.

At 35, Iran "Smurf" Nazario, a former Los Solidos gang member turned youth activist, is younger than most who've been working the streets. But a couple of years ago, while recruiting for a job program in the city, he realized the street recognition he was used to from city kids was gone.

They didn't know he was a former Solido; they didn't much care. And as timeless as he once thought the name Smurf would be when he took it as his nickname years ago, he joked, he realized some of the kids didn't even know what a Smurf was.

The group he approached was cordial, but they didn't open up until a guy who knew him from his Solid days waved. "Because I was OK with him, I was OK to them," he said.

Nazario realized that day that if he wanted to continue to make an impact on the streets, he was going to have to change his approach. And as much as being the front man was once his role - he was the spokesman for the Solidos - it was no longer effective.

"I'm old to these kids," he said.

So at Bellizzi Middle School, where he is now the coordinator of the student and family assistance center, he surrounds himself with people whose age and experience are closer to the kids who are now on the street.

"After a while, your past, your past associations just aren't enough to get through to kids," he said. "There has to be a connection with the kids out there, and if the only connection is a past they aren't even old enough to remember, something has to change. You have to change.

Unfortunately, not everyone is as prone to such self-reflection.

At a recent community meeting at the Village for Families & Children, I sat next to one of the community activists who filled the audience and the stage.

As one of the panelists spoke about parents' need to step up, he began to chuckle.

What's so funny? I asked him.

"Aw, she's been saying the same thing for 30 years," he said, laughing some more.

Of course, he knew that because he's been around just as long.

Last week's column about Claudia and William Harris got many of you riled. The Hartford couple, whose car was shot up outside their home on Mather Street, got stuck with a $67 towing bill after police took the car to dig out the bullets for evidence. You called to express your outrage; a few of you even sent checks. Thanks, but they're on the way back to you: A day after the column ran, police visited the Harrises with an apology and a check.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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