Walker Gladden III, 31, speaks to young men gathered in Baltimore Cemetery, reports the Baltimore Sun. “Our young people are dying,” he says. “We can’t stop death, but we ain’t gotta meet it through someone pulling the trigger.” Gladden wants to declare Baltimore’s homicides a public health epidemic. He hopes the designation could bring the city more resources, though the practical effect might be nothing more than renewed attention to the problem.
He is a former dropout, drug dealer and inmate who wants to turn around a generation of lost men. Now a youth coordinator, Gladden comes to the cemetery to deliver his message into the young men he meets with twice a week. “We need to understand that most of the young people are between 17 and 24,” he says of the city’s homicide victims. “Let me restate that, between 14 and 24.” Street life is a reality Gladden knows well. He started selling drugs at age 12. He dropped out of school by 14 and was in and out of prison, serving sentences for drugs, burglary, and armed robbery, among other charges. After being released about six years ago, Gladden made his way to the Rose Street Community Center, an East Baltimore storefront that helps former offenders with housing, food and other services.