Ali Shaheed Muhammad
More than 200 people have been killed this year in Baltimore. Most of them were black, and most of them were shot to death, despite Maryland having one of the nation's toughest gun laws. This comes two years after the city recorded its lowest murder rate in more than two decades.
Members of one of the few African-American social firearm clubs in the nation think teaching young people different ideas about guns might help deter them from a life of violence.
The Maryland Tenth Cavalry Gun Club, based near Baltimore in Marriottsville, Md., is an African-American firearms club that focuses as much on discipline and black history as it does on shooting. It has 163 members and takes its name from the 9th and 10th Army Cavalry, an African-American regiment known as "Buffalo Soldiers."
Ken Brown is a big man, and the Ruger Mark III .22 long rifle semi-automatic pistol he's loading at an outdoor gun range looks almost tiny in his hands. He's hoping the lessons he teaches and practices at the range where the Maryland Tenth Cavalry Gun Club shoots are something he can pass on to young people in a larger context.
"See, the whole shooting discipline in and of itself is behaving responsibly, and that's what we hope to give to our youth. [Behaving] responsibly can be a lot of fun," Brown says.
Brown says the club proudly focuses on teaching people about what he calls the deep history of blacks and firearms. One of his favorite examples is Salem Poor, a Massachusetts slave who bought his freedom in 1769 and fought at Bunker Hill in 1775.
Brown thinks knowledge about this history will help steer kids away from drugs and gangs: "We have something that will give them a stake in this country."
Club member Courtney White-Brown owns a firearms and security training academy. She believes young people thinking of heading into the drug trade or joining gangs could be dissuaded by learning that there is honor and responsibility in the association of African-Americans and guns.
"It also gives you an opportunity for... education, scholarship activity," White-Brown says.
She thinks teaching teens the discipline of using firearms also gives them a skill that can take them away from a life of crime: "If these young people would learn properly, safe gun handling, and the proper use their firearms, then they would not be swayed or persuaded by the negative element."
But not everyone feels the same way.
"We know that some kinds of mentoring programs are effective," says Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and University of Virginia education professor. Cornell, director of the Youth Violence Project, agrees mentoring can be helpful. But in an age where people with firearms training have committed mass shootings, Cornell says groups that want to help young people should look to other programs.
"It's much more important to have a relationship and to be dealing with the other problems in a young person's life, which sometimes require more than mentoring — if there are mental health issues, if there are gang issues, if there are family issues," Cornell says.
Back at the Maryland Tenth Cavalry Gun Club, Ken Brown admits there are some problems, such as working with young people who have already committed felonies, that the club isn't equipped to deal with.
But fellow club member Larry Smith, a retired social security worker, says that as members of a community being decimated by violence — there's a special calling to get involved.
"It's up to us as African-Americans to address these issues," says Smith, who like some other club members, grew up hunting. "So I know that black people can be around guns and not shoot each other."
Smith says the African-American community needs to develop a healthy respect for guns, and he hopes that will lower the level of violence.
Not to judge a book by its cover, but just take one look at the jacket of Because of Mr. Terupt and you'll see it is the perfect book for December. It shows two mittened hands holding a snowball — a snowball responsible for a life altering accident.
Mr. Terupt is a popular fifth grade teacher at Snow Hill elementary school. And for seven students in particular, he is the center of their universe — a sage who gives them advice and confidence and helps them overcome obstacles and rivalries.
Author Rob Buyea spent six years teaching in an elementary classroom, where he had a front-row seat on student life. His ear for schoolyard patter is spot on. In the classroom Mr. Terupt's compassion shines through without turning sappy. But make no mistake — Mr. Terupt is tough. He keeps the students and his readers on their toes with steady stream of math puzzles and wordplay.
Buyea said the idea for a story with seven swirling voices came to him one day while he was working outside. "I was in my mother's garden," he tells NPR's Michele Norris. "I'm not a gardener. I think this was maybe a day when I was being a good son and helping my mom. ... I was thinking about the school year, my students, the projects we had done, the things that had happened along the way. All of a sudden, I had these characters come to me. ... All seven showed up, telling me about the first day of school."
On "the dollar word challenge"
The dollar word challenge is, you simply give a monetary value to each letter of the alphabet — so, A is one cent, B is two cents, C is three cents, D four and so on, making the letter Z 26 cents. And so you spell a word — Wednesday, for example . You write that word down, and then you add up all the letter values and see if you can find a word that equals one dollar exactly. So, I had that challenge going on every year while I was teaching.
There was a year when I had a student, Ryan, who went home and shared the dollar word challenge with his father. I guess his father was a computer programming man, or certainly involved with computers, and sat down and did this thing with his computer one night. So, my student Ryan came back into school the next day with this piece of paper, double-sided, with all of the dollar words from the dictionary, listed in alphabetical order. He sort of entered the classroom waving this piece of paper back and forth. "Hey, Mr. Buyea, here's your dollar words!" And I saw that and [said] "Oh my gosh, Ryan! That's not what you were supposed to do for the assignment. Let me see that."
And so I took that piece of paper and I kept it. I kept it, and I had it in my writing folder. And as I was working on the story, whenever it felt like it was time for a dollar word, I would pull out that cheat-sheet that I ended up with thanks to Ryan and his father. I would scan that cheat-sheet, and sure enough, I would find the perfect word that worked. ... I had lots of fun with that part of the story.
On his most rewarding classroom project
Every project that Mr. Terupt tries is a project that I did at one point or another. ... [I had] my students visit a classroom that we had in our school — a classroom for children with special needs. Of all the things that I did with my teaching, that project was maybe the most rewarding. And so I was excited to have that as part of the story. ... I guess that's one message in the book, is to really try to take time and understand how much children in a classroom like that have to offer and how much love they give to the world and to the people that are a part of their life.
On how he became a writer
I charged myself with the challenge that if I was to help [my students] become lifelong, passionate readers and passionate writers, then I had to be a passionate reader and writer first. So, I began reading books wildly, just as many as I could get my hands on. And shortly after that, I began working as a writer. I dedicate this book, Because of Mr. Terupt, to my former third and fourth grade students, because it's because of them that I began writing.
"Old Time Angels," a new song by Nashville-based singer-songwriter Jim Lauderdale, sounds so ebullient that at first, you may not realize he's singing about one of music's most terrifying moments.
The wandering "spirit" referenced in the opening verse is "The Knoxville Girl," the unfortunate star of an Appalachian murder ballad based in part on a 19th-century American true crime story. In the original song — widely recorded, perhaps most famously by The Louvin Brothers — the girl is lured to a secluded spot and then killed, brutally, by the narrator. In Lauderdale's song, she comes back from grave for revenge.
The Knoxville Girl, Pretty Polly, Little Sadie and Darlin' Cory all make a ghostly appearance in "Old Time Angels." Lauderdale gives these characters some of their power back by putting one of the implements of their demise into their spectral hands. Pretty Polly, who was stabbed through the heart by her paramour, wields the shovel that he used to dig her shallow grave. Little Sadie becomes the driver of her own hearse, and so on.
Lauderdale's song doesn't just avenge the Old Time Angels — after all, murder ballads are often morality tales. Most of the killers in these stories have already met with justice: They're executed, or they're haunted by their prey, or they go insane. Instead, Lauderdale resurrects these angels to breathe life back into them, immortalizing them as victors, not victims. In so doing, recasts the women of murder ballads as guardians of the present — and future.