AGRM Publications

Please enjoy AGRM's many publications. If you have questions or would like to submit information to one of our publications, please email Director of Communications Brad Lewis.

View our most recent issues:

Street Smart

Street Smart: April 15, 2015

Posted: 04/15/2015
Cut-off considered for convention registration; AGRM president abroad with meetings at city missions; convention exhibit hall sells out; nation’s first homeless hospice opening soon; poverty slows children’s brain development 

Street Smart: April 1, 2015

Posted: 04/01/2015
AGRM convention registrations keep pouring in; don’t miss out on convention ‘Tourinars’; video stories demonstrate power of rescue mission ministry; nonprofits work to feed kids during spring break; fewer on disability for first time in more than 30 years

Street Smart: March 16, 2015

Posted: 03/16/2015
AGRM signs on to letter rejecting senators’ assumptions; National Geographic Channel campaign highlights AGRM; key partnership means progress in Pine Ridge; California state bar proposes pro bono legal help for the poor; substance abuse by senior adults is growing 

Street Smart: March 2, 2015

Posted: 03/02/2015
New U.S. Senate Means You Should Be at AGRM’s DC Forum; AGRM’s 2015 Convention Tourinar Sign-Ups Begin in a Week; Welfare Drug-Testing Debate Becomes a Hot Issue; Helpful Homeless Man’s Story Goes Viral; The Face of Cities Is Changing

Street Smart: February 16, 2015

Posted: 02/16/2015
Another Caribbean mission in the works; DC Forum registration approaches important deadline; AGRM Convention registration rate increases March 1; faculty helps feed students so they can learn; eye problems significantly higher among homeless individuals

Street Smart: February 2, 2015

Posted: 02/02/2015
AGRM members urged to participate in Output Survey; 2015 convention offers unique new features; Loggins shares “Lessons from Ferguson” in Seattle; poverty affects parenting more than marital status; report shows majority of students are from low-income families

Street Smart: January 15, 2015

Posted: 01/15/2015
Registration now open for AGRM's Fifth Annual DC Forum; convention registration continues as program grows; AGRM members elect new district officers and board representatives; ACLU files lawsuit against panhandling limits; volunteering is important to Millennials

Street Smart: December 1, 2014

Posted: 12/01/2014
Participate in AGRM elections next week; don’t let Early Bird convention registration rates slip away; homeless vet attempts bank robbery to get help; teen starts charity from his love of sneakers; fewer Americans struggle to afford food

Street Smart: November 17, 2014

Posted: 11/17/2014
Be among the first to register for the 2015 AGRM Annual Convention; Snapshot Survey finds that homelessness is at a stalemate; AGRM achieves Charity Navigator’s highest rating; GoPro videos put viewers in the shoes of homeless; vets struggle with money management once home

Street Smart: October 15, 2014

Posted: 10/15/2014
2015 convention early bird registration begins November 17; AGRM board moves to make changes to AGRM districts; woman creates new use for grocery bags to help the homeless; alcohol a factor in 10 percent of all U.S. deaths; poor give more generously than the wealthy

Rescue Magazine

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Housing First Data

Rescue Magazine
Publish Date:

Rescue - Mar/Apr 2011 (Volume 25, Number 2)

Rescue Magazine
Publish Date: 7/9/2013
A Healthy Approach: How People?s City Mission?s free health clinic is closing the gap for those who can?t afford health care by Sue Rosenfeld + Caught the Vision?(pg.4) Steps of Promise: People City?s clinic helps one woman find help, hope, and healing by Sue Rosenfeld (pg.10) Breaking Chains of Destruction: A complete approach to addiction recovery combines clinical methods with the gospel message by Terri Leveton (pg.20) Urging a Shift of Power: Recovery programs must focus solely on spiritual...

Rescue - Jan/Feb 2011 (Volume 25, Number 1)

Rescue Magazine
Publish Date: 7/9/2013
Features- Fighting for Hope: How Boise Rescue Mission is helping veterans discover true freedom. by Sue Rosenfeld + Caring for Warriors (pg.4) Winning the Battle: Boise?s veterans program helps one man find hope and healing by Sue Rosenfeld (pg.10) Maturity Versus Youth: 20 Tried and True: Seeing the value of tradition and experience in mission ministry. by Herb Opalek (pg. 20) Power and Passion: Understanding the importance of enthusiasm and energy in mission work. by Sabrina Burkiewicz (pg.2...

Rescue - Nov/Dec 2010 (Volume 24, Number 6)

Rescue Magazine
Publish Date: 7/3/2011
Features: A New Chapter Addicted for 40 years, a man is now penning lines of liberty. By Sue Rosenfeld (pg.4) Hope for the Holidays- Warm and creative ways to celebrate the season. By Natalee Roth (pg.14) A Soul Fill-Up Caring for yourself so you can care for others. By Kevin Houk (pg.20) Cultivating Commitment- Smart strategies to find effective volunteers. By Jon McKee and Tom McKee (pg.32) The Heart of the Donor- Why donors choose to give to specific organizations. By Lyric Murphy (pg.39) A G...

Rescue - Sept/Oct 2010 (Volume 24, Number 5)

Rescue Magazine
Publish Date: 7/3/2011
Features: A Journey to Unity How two former addicts grew toward freedom and lasting love. By Natalee Roth (pg.4) High-Speed Contributor Connections- Use these eight strategies to reach donors via the Internet. By Dave Raley (pg.12) Building Board Bonds- Principles to help CEOs strengthen a relationship with the mission board. By John R. Frank (pg. 18) Human Resources 101- Important ways to care for ministry staff members. By Angie Braio West (pg.22) Helping the Potentially Homeless- Effective pr...

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Executive Session Blog


August 2014

On Behalf of the Conquered
By John Ashmen

I just drove away from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and an all-day meeting of 15 influential leaders of the Oglala Lakota Nation. While sitting beside and across from Native Americans including Wilbur Between Lodges, Paul Iron Cloud, Rebecca Chief Eagle, Doyle Pipe On Head, and Duane Shot With Arrow, the ideas flowed and the excitement rose.

Selena Hayle, AGRM’s director of member engagement, and I were there at the invitation of the Tribal Housing Council and native social workers to discuss various ways AGRM might be able to bring help and hope to 40,000 people who are living in what is generally agreed to be the worst poverty in the Western Hemisphere, outside of Haiti. (If you are not familiar with the conditions at Pine Ridge, note the statistics at the bottom of this article.)

Throughout the day, I jotted down some of their quotes. They were heartbreaking and caused me to ponder deeply.

  • “The Sioux were really sent to this place to die. Pine Ridge was supposed to be a death camp, but we have survived…if that is what you want to call it.”
  • “It’s not just the historic treaties from Washington that have been broken. It still goes on. Help that we were promised to get as recently as last year still has never arrived.”
  • “Church youth groups who come here pity our people…for a week. Then they return to their normal suburban lives and forget about us.”
  • “You have to understand that we are a conquered people. That is why so many of our men hide in a bottle.”

I wondered what I could say that would show that I understood their situation and could empathize with their pain. But as my friend Leon Blunt Horn explained to me on a prior visit, feeling empathy for the Lakota is a nearly impossible undertaking for an ordinary white man. The Bible alone can best speak into the life of the conquered.

I recently read an insightful article that explains why this is generally the case. I strongly encourage you to not skip this link below, but click it and read why Brian Zahnd says he, as an ordinary white man, has “a problem with the Bible.” I believe Brian’s discernment will help you put your arms around the perspective of the enslaved and persecuted, past and present.

Please go now to “My Problem With The Bible,” by Brian Zahnd.

May the blood rush to your head.


It’s difficult to be in Pine Ridge (S.D.) and White Clay (Neb.) and not get torn up emotionally by the devastation and poverty. Here are some of the statistics:

  • Reservation size: 2 million-plus acres (11,000-plus square miles)
  • Population: Approximately 40,000
  • Number of houses (including trailers): Approximately 4,500
  • Median annual income: $3,200 
  • Unemployment rate: 85% (summer) to 95% (winter)
  • People below federal poverty level: 97%
  • School dropout rate: 71%
  • Teen suicide rate: 150 times the national average
  • Homes without electricity: 39%
  • Homes infested with black mold: 66%
  • Families affected by alcoholism: 80%
  • Rate of diabetes: 37%
  • Cervical cancer rate: 500% higher than the national average
  • Life expectancy: Age 48 for men and 52 for women
  • Infant mortality rate: 300% higher than national average


There’s Still Time to Register for the CEO Summit
You don’t want to miss the CEO Summit, September 9–11 at Mount Hermon Conference Center in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California. Executive directors from across North America will gather to reflect on the current condition of rescue mission ministry and to ponder emerging trends and changes in our culture. They’ll also discuss how savvy followers of Jesus can get serious about the issues affecting our ministries.

During the three-day event, participants will dig down into the theological and legal aspects of some major cultural shifts and how they will affect what missions do every day.

AGRM will also release information at this event about two new initiatives, including one that involves citywide prayer initiatives in multiple locations.

Can you really afford to miss this opportunity to meet, fellowship, and brainstorm with your peers and the astute consultants that will be on hand?

Go to the CEO Summit event page for all the details and to register. Time is short, so register today!

Prayer Is Key: Introducing Robert Loggins
You’re hearing a lot these days from AGRM about HUD-driven approaches to housing, gender-neutral accommodations, data collection, best practices, and other matters related to government relations, public image, and operational expertise. It would be easy for someone to surmise that the association’s spiritual agenda has taken a back seat to various aspects of professional practice.

Nothing would be further from the truth.

AGRM’s mission statement includes the phrase: to accelerate quality and effectiveness in member missions. As we strive to live out our purpose, many of the areas where we offer services will focus on professional practice. But make no mistake, the core of AGRM is—and will continue to be—the gospel of Jesus Christ that has the power to change and redirect lives that have gone terribly off course.

Still, the more we work on professional practice, the more we need to be devoted to prayer—for thanksgiving, discernment, protection, resources, and more. To remind us and assist us in this area, we have recently asked Rev. Robert Loggins, Sr., to join the AGRM team as minister-at-large. Many AGRM members met and engaged with Robert at our convention in St. Louis. He spoke briefly in the first general session and was visible at various times throughout the event.

Originally from Winona, Mississippi, Robert received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi and his master’s of divinity from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He is presently enrolled in the doctor of ministry program at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Robert served as a pastor in several states and most recently was the African-American Strategist for The St. Louis Metro Baptist Association, working in church planting and racial reconciliation. He has also served as professor of New Testament Greek, Baptist History, and Philosophy at Union Theological Seminary.
He presently serves as founder and president/CEO of RF Loggins Ministries and as executive director of Mission Metro St. Louis. Previously, Robert was the prayer and spiritual awakening specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board. Additionally, he served as the national prayer coordinator for the National African American Fellowship of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As minister-at-large for AGRM, Robert will focus on five areas:

  • Being a pastor-at-a-distance for members who need divine guidance and would like to process heart matters with someone who is both spiritually savvy and “safe.”
  • Overseeing a healthy prayer network throughout AGRM, keeping us focused on the purpose and power of prayer, and keeping us informed and encouraged by regularly communicating what God is doing in our association. 
  • Representing AGRM at various denominational and quasi-denominational meetings, ensuring that the cause of the poor and powerless is a priority “agenda item” in the work of the church in North America.
  • Preparing the cities where our annual conventions will be held by connecting with pastors and Christian organizations’ lay leaders, and forming prayer teams to support our events in critical behind-the-scenes efforts.
  • Contributing to AGRM publications by writing white papers, articles, and columns on subjects that pertain to matters of the heart. 

You’ll see Robert at various AGRM events. In the meantime, you can connect with him at, or call him at (573) 301-7439.

Association of Gospel Rescue Missions l

Executive Session: On Behalf of the Conquered

Posted: 08/01/2014
I just drove away from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation and an all-day meeting of 15 influential leaders of the Oglala Lakota Nation. While sitting beside and across from Native Americans including Wilbur Between Lodges, Paul Iron Cloud, Rebecca Chief Eagle, Doyle Pipe On Head, and Duane Shot With Arrow, the ideas flowed and the excitement rose.

Executive Session: The Mission District: Map View

Posted: 03/01/2014
I recently sketched out a conjectural map. It’s how I envision every city’s Mission District. By "Mission District," I mean that conceptual community throughout the city—in reality, it doesn’t have to be contiguous—where intensive programs and services outlined in Matthew 25:34–36 are offered, or from where they emanate.

Executive Session: Coming to Terms with Housing First

Posted: 02/01/2014
Very few issues have dogged traditional rescue missions in recent years more than Housing First. Looking only at the schematics, one might assume a sole reason why: Housing First steps around the conventional continuum of care, taking homeless individuals straight from the street and putting them into government-run or government-subsidized apartments.

Executive Session: The Next Big Thing (Part 2)

Posted: 08/15/2013
Earlier this month, in Part 1, I pointed out that homelessness has worked its way into the everyday vocabulary of rescue mission leaders. It’s front and center on the stage we’re viewing. But as history has shown us, at some point, we are going to rotate past homelessness to the next big thing. So what might we be moving toward?

Executive Session: The Next Big Thing (Part 1)

Posted: 08/01/2013
The primary assignment of an association is to be prophetic. Unquestionably, producing relevant resources and advocating on members’ behalf are essential tasks. And setting a spiritual tone for everyone connected is a fundamental charge. But prophecy is job one.

Executive Session: Coming to a Church Near You

Posted: 04/01/2013
It’s a typical suburban church building in a typical suburban neighborhood. It sits on a sometimes-busy street lined with ranch-style houses. But what’s going on these days at Redemption Church in Olathe, Kansas, is far from typical.

Executive Session: Dust in the Wind

Posted: 01/01/2013
My brother traveled to Schopfloch, Germany, to explore the hamlet of our ancestors. His tour of the medieval town brought him to the Lutheran church cemetery. When he couldn’t find any headstones for Eshelman—our family name before colonial relatives Americanized it—he asked the vicar where they might be. Gesturing like a song leader with fidgety fingers, he said, “Sie sind pulver in der brise.” Translation: They are powder in the breeze.

Executive Session: A Christmas Gift for Your Board

Posted: 12/01/2012
For this last Executive Session of the year, I decided to give you a present you can re-gift and stick under your board chair’s Christmas tree. It’s something I hope is not needed anytime soon (especially for your sake). And unfortunately, it’s something he or she might not want to accept from you at the time it is needed. My present is six “don’ts” wrapped in advice gleaned from 30 years of experience in association management.

Executive Session: Righteous or Obnoxious?

Posted: 11/01/2012
The midday sun was intense and the midtown sidewalks were crowded. Smartly dressed office workers wove their way through the onslaught of oncoming humanity in search of a quick sandwich and a brief respite from daily duties. Atop a milk crate near a crosswalk, head and shoulders above all the passersby, stood a wild-haired man in a dark wool blazer, dress shirt, and clashing tie. Sweat poured down his face as he waved a closed Bible.

Executive Session: A Sprinkling of Notes

Posted: 08/01/2012
Earlier this month, Willow Creek Association held its annual Global Leadership Summit. An estimated 160,000 church and ministry leaders attended via satellite linkup in various cities. Several antidotes and one-liners from keynote speakers hit their mark with me.

Executive Session: A Burning Passion to Serve

Posted: 07/01/2012
This issue of "Executive Session" is coming to you from a Starbucks located on Alpine Shadows View in Colorado Springs. The landscape outside the window is as black as the Grande Americano I’m sipping. Just a few blocks away, the recent Waldo Canyon fire did some of its heaviest neighborhood damage.

Executive Session: Meanwhile, in Another Part of the World

Posted: 03/01/2012
The month of March has been a blur of distant airline terminals, littered city streets, and a whole lot of unfamiliar faces. I’ve been gone more than I’ve been home. That’s never fun, but it comes with the job. But the lessons I learn on the road are particularly powerful. For this issue of Executive Session, I thought I would take a different course and share two special experiences from my March travels abroad—and the thoughts God impressed upon me.

Executive Session: They Found Dave Dead

Posted: 11/01/2011
Every night on my homeward commute, I notice more and more houses adorned with colorful blinking bulbs. With Thanksgiving now a memory but Christmas looming large, there seems to be a scramble in the neighborhoods to illuminate lawns and brighten spirits. Despite the lights and the abundance of public festivities, psychologists tell us that the end-of-year holidays yield the most depressing days of the year for far too many people.

Executive Session: Praising from the Proper Position

Posted: 09/01/2011
Nebuchadnezzar II excelled at grandiose expressions of anger, beauty, and pride. He was the unassailable king of the Neo-Babylonian Empire who destroyed Israel’s first majestic temple, built the wondrous Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and set up a nine-story image of gold on the Plain of Dura, commanding everyone to worship it.

Have You Met Your New Director?

Posted: 07/29/2011
No one can deny that we live in changing (and contentious) times. In this issue of Executive Session, I discuss the need for leaders to change with the times, or face the possibility of being replaced. Incidentally, this topic is something that will be on the table during the AGRM CEO Summit, held next month in Colorado Springs. Also in this issue of the newsletter is a list of the CEOs who have already signed up for this important event

Executive Session: Looking Global

Posted: 06/30/2011
North America is not the rest of the world, and when we compare our missions to those in other countries, it is obvious that there are many differences. But this doesn't mean we can't learn from other nations---especially from places that have already experienced cultural shifts that are most certainly coming our way...

Executive Session - One’s the Limit

Posted: 02/28/2011
With millions of people across North America falling victim to abuse, getting caught in the grip of addiction, and finding themselves on the streets, the problems of those in need can be overwhelming. Fortunately, God—knowing our energy and our empathy have limits—called us to a specific community to reach out to certain individuals.

Executive Session: Words That Wound

Posted: 01/31/2011
The Scriptures speak of the untamable tongue, which some use to praise God and others to spread corruption. This is a truth we experience every day in a continent saturated by strong and loudly voiced opinions.

Executive Session - A Gift of Words

Posted: 12/08/2010
Meaningful giving at Christmastime sometimes gets lost in frantic shopping trips, stressful schedules, and commercial holiday hype.With so great a need and so many people demanding of your time and energy, it may be extra challenging to experience this aspect of holiday joy.

Soap Box Blog

Lord of the Flies Comes to Baltimore 

John Blake, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, writes about race, religion, politics, and other assorted topics for CNN. In “Lord of the Flies Comes to Baltimore," he provides a compelling and interesting perspective of the current situation in his home city. Read the original on CNN by clicking here.

He was a quiet man who once stood watch on his front porch, just three blocks away from where a riot erupted in West Baltimore this week.

We called him “Mr. Shields” because no one dared use his first name. He’d step onto his porch at night in plaid shorts and black knit dress socks to watch the Baltimore Orioles play on his portable television set.

He was a steelworker, but he looked debonair: thin mustache always trimmed; wavy salt-and-pepper hair touched up with pomade; cocoa brown skin. He sat like a sentry, watching not just the games but the neighborhood as well.

I knew Mr. Shields’ routine because I was his neighbor. I grew up in the West Baltimore community that was rocked this week by protests over the death of a young black man in police custody.

It’s surreal to see your old neighborhood go up in flames as commentators try to explain the rage with various complex racial and legal theories. But when I returned to my home this week, the rage made sense to me. There were no more Mr. Shields -- the older black men were gone.

I asked 28-year-old Zachary Lewis about the absence of older men. He stood by a makeshift memorial placed at the spot where Freddie Gray, the man whose death ignited the riots, was arrested.

“This is old here,” he said, pointing to himself. “There ain’t no more ‘Old Heads’ anymore, where you been? They got big numbers or they in pine boxes.” In street syntax, that meant long prison sentences or death.

We hear about the absence of black men from families, but what happens when they disappear from an entire community? West Baltimore delivered the answer to that question this week.

It’s no accident that one of the most enduring images from the riot was a young mother spanking her son as she dragged him away from the protests. Where were the men in his life?

As I walked through my old streets, it was filled with nothing but black young women, children and teenage boys. It was as if an alien spaceship had come in the night and spirited all the older black men away.

Castaways waiting for rescue
I’ve read and written about big issues like the mass incarceration of black men for nonviolent drug offenses -- what some call “The New Jim Crow.” To see it in person, though, is spooky. I felt like “The Lord of the Flies” had taken over my old neighborhood.

“The Lord of the Flies” was a novel written in 1954 by the English author William Golding. It describes what happens to a group of upper-class English schoolboys when their plane crash-lands on a deserted island and all the adults are killed. The kids try to build a society of their own, but with no adult guidance, they descend into tribalism and savagery.

William Raspberry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for the Washington Post, once invoked the book’s title in a column to describe what was happening to young black men in inner cities across America. He said that without the civilizing influence of older men to guide them, young black men never develop an internal moral compass. They become castaways. I read Raspberry’s essay after college and kept it for years. It spoke so well to what I saw in the 1980s when the crack epidemic first hit my neighborhood.

I heard Raspberry’s voice again this week when I talked to a 27-year-old black man named Juan Grant. He knew Gray, whose death in police custody lit the fuse in Baltimore. Grant stood no more than a foot from me, but as he talked, he yelled at me in frustration, spittle coming from his mouth. He said Gray’s death had convinced him and his friends to stop “ripping and running” the streets. They wanted boys to respect them as men.

But they didn’t know how to get that respect because their fathers had never been around. He described their dilemma with a bitter laugh:

“It’s men learning on the job trying to teach young men how to be men.”

Raspberry wrote his column 28 years ago. Now there are even more castaways like Grant in West Baltimore. Yet here’s the twist: They don’t just feel abandoned by indifferent white people; many feel ignored by the city’s black political leaders.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is black, but I found nothing but disdain for her in West Baltimore. People kept complaining that she called protesters “thugs.”

“She turned on her own people, calling us thugs,” a 16-year-old high school student named Malik said as he waited at a bus stop next to Mondawmin Mall, a flashpoint for the riots. “Pretty sure she ain’t perfect. She made some mistakes in her life. I’m pretty sure she did.”

He doesn’t think any of the city’s leaders care about him.

“They talk about ‘We the future,’ but they killing us,” he said.

Now this is the part of the discussion about Baltimore that some conservatives tend to love. Their refrain: It’s all about individual behavior; there’s a culture of poverty that Big Government programs won’t help; Oh God, not Al Sharpton again; just pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

My own experiences tell me it’s not all about individual effort.

What is a working man?
Choices, someone once said, are constrained by circumstances. And the circumstances that drove young black men like Grant to the streets this week are getting grimmer.

Take Mr. Shields, for example. The reason I saw so many working-class men like Mr. Shields in my neighborhood was because there were blue-collar jobs for them. Before the Inner Harbor in Baltimore became a haven for tourists, it was a haven for a burgeoning black middle class in my city.

Mr. Shields worked as a steel rigger at Sparrows Point in the inner harbor. Other black men worked at the Domino Sugar plant. My father was a merchant marine who sailed out of the harbor. These were well-paying jobs with strong unions that fought for good benefits and united black, brown and white working-class people.

They helped men like Walter Boyd, 76, who sat on his front porch in West Baltimore this week like he was a reincarnation of Mr. Shields -- an impassive Sphinx surveying his domain. He was one of the few older black men I saw around. He had a box of chicken wings attached to his walker along with ice water. Boyd had raised three children working at Domino Sugar.

“Best job I ever had,” he said. “You didn’t get fired. You fired yourself. As long as you came to work and worked, you had a job. It was hard work but I had it made because I knew how to work.”

Boyd’s son, Robert, had just stopped by to cut his father’s hair. He chuckled at his father’s reference to hard work. Growing up, he said, his father kept him busy to keep him out of trouble. He’d take him to the country in the summer to work in the tobacco fields. He remembers watching his father plow a field one day, sweat pouring down his face, when another man turned to him and said with admiration: “That’s a working man.”

“There was something about the way he said that that let me know that’s the way you supposed to be if you wanted respect,” said Robert Boyd, who is a truck driver and pastor of the Beacon of Truth Church and Ministries in West Baltimore.

Yet boys don’t respect men who don’t have jobs. And many of those blue-collar jobs that built the black middle class in Baltimore are gone. Even the neighborhood businesses that I remember from youth -- an ice cream factory and a milk company behind my house -- were shuttered when I returned.

Unlike Walter Boyd, the old men I did see in my neighborhood this week were broken-down, unshaven. I thought to myself: If you want to destroy a people, first break their men.

“Now we as men are fearful when we walk through a group of boys,” Robert Boyd said. “When we were boys, when we walked through a group of men, we felt secure. Something is wrong.”

Taking the city away from us
Something else was missing when I returned: places for kids to play or meet the men who could mentor them.

Baltimore is a sports-crazy town. I grew up playing Little League baseball, running around the track at the high school across the street from my home, and playing tennis at public courts scattered through West Baltimore. There were public swimming pools, pickup basketball games, and plenty of recreation centers. On some days, I barely ate because I spent so much time outside playing sports.

Yet when I returned to my old playing fields, they were overgrown with weeds or barred with locked gates. I heard the same story from residents. The city had closed the pools, removed the basketball goals and, as recently as 2013, closed 20 recreation centers. I didn’t see any kids playing baseball or football in the streets.

“They’ve taken the city away from us. We have nowhere to go and nothing to do,” says Grant, the young man who wants to be a role model.

The sports venues weren’t just for the kids; they were for adults. It’s where men mentored kids by becoming their coaches. The tracks and pools were places where families gathered. The school’s playing fields were open to everyone in the community.

I practically lived on the playing fields at Frederick Douglass High School, which became a focal point for the riots. When I talked to Walter Boyd and his son, I did so across the street from Douglass’ track, which was ringed with locked gates.

“I used to do my walking there,” Robert Boyd said, pointing to the track. “Not just I, but older cats and younger cats would just walk. That’s when you saw community -- younger, older people. You see people and say, ‘How you doing.’ They don’t want you on the track now.”

The youth aren’t missing just recreation centers and tracks; the jobs programs are gone as well.

When I grew up in West Baltimore in the late 1970s and early 1980s, virtually all of my friends worked. The city offered various jobs programs for youths -- Summer Corps, Youth Corps, Manpower. Some jobs were as simple as sweeping the streets, but we didn’t mind. It was like a rite of passage into adulthood. You didn’t have to ask your parents for money. I still remember the envy I felt when my friends took their first Summer Corps checks to Mondawmin Mall to buy new tennis shoes.

I hear people talk about welfare queens and the “culture of poverty.” But most of the kids I grew up with weren’t even content to join a jobs program. They hustled for other work. One of the most coveted jobs was riding on the milk trucks during their morning deliveries. At sunrise virtually every day, a crowd of boys would gather outside the loading dock at the Cloverdale milk company. They stood around like the day laborers who hang out today around Home Depot. They wanted a milk driver to stop and say hop on. They’d help deliver the milk, and the driver would give them a couple extra bucks.

I still remember the rejection one morning when I woke up early and joined that crowd. One by one I saw all my friends picked up until I was the only one left. Nobody stopped for me. I was too skinny to pick up a milk crate. I went home and threw myself on my bed in despair. I would never be cool like my friends.

My interest in journalism also was nurtured by these jobs programs. I interned at the Baltimore Sun and Afro-American newspapers while I was in high school. I participated in journalism getaways for promising inner-city students. I couldn’t afford any of it, but if you’re reading this now, it’s because somebody somewhere was willing to pay money to give me a chance.

Today, few of those programs exist. The Rev. Jamal Bryant, a popular Baptist minister in Baltimore, said the city has even closed a quarter of its public libraries.

“All of those programs are housed in the Smithsonian Institution,” he says of the youth jobs programs. “They are no longer in evidence or thriving today.”

Yet there is one institution the city seems to find money to invest in, some residents say: law enforcement. Funding for public schools, libraries, jobs programs and recreation centers may lag, but the budget for jails and police never seems to run dry, Walter Boyd and others say.

Some wonder if it’s deliberate.

“If you don’t invest in them now, you’re just going to have to build more prisons,” Boyd says about kids in West Baltimore. “And that just seems like that’s what the plan is. They won’t educate you. But they’ll incarcerate you in a minute.”

A bittersweet reunion
I ended my return by going back to the house where I grew up. I rang the doorbell, but a guy washing his car on the street told me the old woman who lived there wouldn’t answer the door because she was “skittish.” Bars seemed to cover every window; other homes were boarded up, and those that weren’t looked so dilapidated that it seemed as if the residents didn’t care anymore.

And they don’t, because so few are owners now.

I ran into one person who was still there from my childhood. I knocked on his door and a big smile flashed across his face. He had not seen me since high school, but he remembered. We all called him “Herb.” He was one of the few homeowners left.

We sat down on his porch and talked about old times. He said nobody sat on the porches and talked to each other anymore. Of the 38 homes on our block, only seven were owned by their occupants. When his house was recently burglarized, he said it took three calls to 911 and 55 minutes for the police to show up.

“I could be mutilated and lying on the street,” he said, “and nobody would help or call the police.”

I said goodbye and left. As I got in my car, I looked at him standing at his door, still smiling as he waved at me. I also looked at Mr. Shields’ old porch as I drove away. The paint was peeling and the front looked disheveled. He never would have allowed that.

This was my home. This was my family. These were my friends. But they were ghosts now. There were few men looking out for the neighborhood any longer.

What’s left are boys trying to figure out how to be men -- and how to avoid getting “big numbers” or ending up in “pine boxes.”


Lord of the Flies Comes to Baltimore

Posted: 05/05/2015
John Blake, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, writes about race, religion, politics, and other assorted topics for CNN. In “Lord of the Flies Comes to Baltimore," he provides a compelling and interesting perspective of the current situation in his home city.

L.A. spends $100 million a year on homelessness

Posted: 04/24/2015
Los Angeles spends more than $100 million a year coping with homelessness, including as much as $87 million that goes to arrests, skid row patrols, and mental health interventions. City staff as diverse as librarians, recreation and parks, sanitation, and paramedics also devote significant resources to handling homeless people, without clear guidelines or a coordinated approach to guide them.

Homelessness Increases Dramatically in Seattle Area

Posted: 04/09/2015
Homeless shelters in Seattle, one of the nation’s wealthiest cities, turn people away each night. Wait lists for low-income housing are years-long. Cars and tents serving as makeshift homes can be spotted all over Seattle and the rest of King County.

Indianapolis Mayor Vetoes Homeless Rights Proposal

Posted: 03/17/2015
Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard has vetoed a proposal that would have made Indianapolis one of the first cities in the country to establish a "Homeless Bill of Rights." Proponents of the proposal said homeless individuals are unfairly criminalized and face pervasive discrimination in their daily lives.

Rural Youth Suicide Close to Double Urban Rate

Posted: 03/09/2015
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents aged 10 to 24 and results in approximately 4,600 lives lost every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of suicides for youth living in rural areas is almost double the rate for youth living in urban areas.