Friday night at the CarrollCountyArtsCenter, I was interviewing Malcolm X and Martin Luther King in a meeting that never really took place.In this Chautauqua performance, sponsored by the Maryland Humanities Council, we spent a lot of time discussing the hideous self-destructive violence that is born of the poverty and dislocation of inner city life.
On Saturday morning I opened my e-mail to a subject line reading “I am so upset about what happened to Ken Harris.” I could not believe what followed: Ken had been murdered. I was stunned. I had just spoken to Ken last month before going to Denver to cover the Democratic convention.Then I saw that the murder happened at the New Haven Lounge.I called Keith Covington, the owner and a good friend, to make sure he was okay.
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Former Baltimore City Councilman Ken Harris
Keith told me the story. Ken had come by to borrow a corkscrew. As the two of them stepped outside the club, four men confronted them. While one man put a gun to Keith’s head and forced him back inside, another one shot Ken in his chest. The men fled when Keith grabbed his gun and started shooting. Ken died in his car as he tried to escape.
Keith is devastated, still in a daze. He recognized the murderers as the same cowardly thugs that had robbed him six months ago. He is ready to give up and close the club.
You see, for years now, Keith has been pleading with the city government and the police to do something about the deterioration of Northwood Shopping Center. He told anyone in power who would listen that gang violence was on the rise there. Nobody listened. Nobody responded. Nobody paid attention. Now, too late, they are paying attention.
Keith Covington and Ken Harris are examples of what a person can achieve no matter how much at a disadvantage his life begins. Ken grew up on the tough streets of lower Park Heights, the son of a single unmarried mom. He made a decision that education would be his way out. He was a scholar and stellar baseball player at Dunbar, and then worked his way through Morgan State. He married, built a career, and became a wonderful father. He was elected to city council because he worked hard for his community.
Ken’s mission was to inspire Baltimore’s youth not to let race and poverty hold them back. He believed deeply in the promise of young lives. It is utter madness that he was killed by the very kids whose lives he was trying to save.
But Ken did not die because he failed; he died because the system failed. As my friend Ray Cooke, an ex-felon who works with gang kids, says, “If you don’t reach out to touch our children, you will be touched by our children.”
On the west side of town, organizer Dante Wilson trains ex-felons and gang members as mentors for our children. Dante’s work proves that nothing is more powerful than a thug who has turned to peace. Miracles can happen, but people like Ken, Keith, Dante, and Ray can’t do it alone. We must all invest in our communities and our children. Build recreation centers. Create jobs.
Ken Harris wanted his life to make a difference. Let’s not allow his death to be for naught. I believe we can put an end to senseless violence. We must. For Ken. For our children. For our future.