DB4 members talk about their activities, motivations, and life experiences (Unedited Transcript)

Interviewer’s note: Da Bottom 4… (also known as DB4) is a group of young people in Mantua, led by youth living in Mantua, that looks to engage the community in programs and activities to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, especially for young people.

To share the incredible story of DB4, I interviewed some of its members at one of their weekly meetings. I planned to incorporate the ideas of DB4 members into an article highlighting some of their activities and accomplishments thus far (See: “DB4 group offers Mantua youth opportunities for growth, change”). Ultimately, I found the raw interview dialogue to be honest, moving, and illuminating. DB4 members’ stories provide a glimpse of what it’s like to grow up in a neighborhood that is, on one hand, plagued by crime and poverty, and, on the other hand, blessed with resilience and community. Their stories demonstrate the power of youth leadership for neighborhood change. There are young people like this in every neighborhood, caught up in environments they didn’t choose, who carry the potential of the future. With a little guidance, encouragement, and support, they can do incredible things to improve the community for everybody.

VC

For the Mantua in Action (MIA) program, we got more kids than we needed. We were a little worried at first, but we did a lot of street outreach, going door-to-door for about two weeks. We only had two weeks, but we made it happen.

We changed the mindset of the community in a way, in the sense of getting parents to be more proactive about getting their kids into the program.

It has been going along well, in terms of kids showing up. Some programs are real successful, and some programs are iffy, but that’s just how it is when you try something new. It is a big project and summer program for Mantua. Drexel gave about $130,000 in resources.

The idea originally when we were coming up with it was to make the community more proactive, not just in action in the sense of sports, but just being involved. So by the parents even getting the kids there, that’s reaching a goal.

As well as giving a variety of sports and activities, not just physical sports, to choose from, outside of basketball and football. So long distance running, lacrosse, squash – they are the most successful programs, and they are the programs that naysayers said people in the community wouldn’t even like.  Providing new skills and recreational activities was the goal, and it seems like it is working.

We helped get jobs for a lot of teenagers down here as well. So there was a lot of people volunteering or working for that program this summer, and that gave them a chance to be off the streets, as well as keeping them out of trouble.

We did the HIV testing with Bebashi; tested about 40 people in 6 hours. Fortunately, we didn’t have any positives. But it did give a chance for people to get used to being tested. You know a lot of the people in the community are like, “I’m good, I’m alright. I don’t get into that.” We plan on implementing it monthly.

We are young people from the neighborhood. We are coming up with different activities and programs for us to be involved, so the younger kids can see us doing stuff, but on a level where it’s not phony. We’re just trying to keep that going because that’s how it was when we were growing up.

What do you think about that, TT? (This is TT’s first time at a meeting.)

TT

I think it’s chill. You’re trying to help the young ones. Definitely, with the nuts situations that are going on around here. It’s proactive.

VC

TT was on the news speaking about the broken sidewalks. He is a good example in terms of being proactive, talking to the media and having the city react on it in less than 24 hours. That just shows you the power of what we stand for.

Interviewer: I have a question for everyone. Tell me what matters most about DB4, as well as some story from your life that brought you here today.

TT

One thing about DB4 that motivates me is that it is my neighborhood and I want to make it better for the younger ones that are growing up, that know us, that see what we already do in the neighborhood, so it make them want to do what we doing or it make them want to at least try to make the Bottom [Mantua] a better place for themselves.

I got a nice little family, but I have been the black sheep of the family. I been locked up a bunch of times, I’ve done my dirt in the streets, but the whole time I had a heart for trying to make stuff better. I didn’t ever try to intentionally do bad stuff, to try to bring other people down. I did stuff to at least better my stay in this earth. I just want to help my community, that’s all.

CS

DB4 is outreach to me, and it is an outreach to a lot of people in this community. When you see little kids come up and say “are you part of DB4?” and you see older people say things about DB4, it’s really encouraging.

I first came from Mississippi, went to University City High School and I didn’t know nobody there, but the Bottom looked out for me.  They brought me under their wing. There were a lot of people hating from 46th street up. They taught me the game, they taught me the ropes. Ever since then people around this neighborhood are my brothers. They show me respect.

Me being out on the street, the stuff I did around here, it’s crazy. I did it because mostly I wanted to be part of the game, I was influenced. But the Bottom really looked out for me.

That’s how I feel about DB4, its’ another look out for me, but positive. It’s like Brotherly Love, like Philly. And I think that’s what DB4 is trying to show its own community, that we still got younger people out here that need that brotherly love and to show them the right way to go.

ST

I moved into this area probably 4 years ago. Before I came around this way, I was living down at 60th and market – they didn’t have no basketball or football, none of that.  I wish I had me some basketball when I was a young bull. It probably keeps some of these kids out of trouble. I think it’s a good thing to see, getting these kids into something instead of getting into the streets. If I had had somewhere to go play ball, with a structure, I probably wouldn’t have done a lot of the bad things I was doing.

CH

What he’s talking about is that after we get out of our meeting, we usually go in the gym and play around, play basketball.

VC

DB4, means hope, because when I was growing up, a lot of the older people in the street, there may have been a lot of negative stuff going on, but they always took time to have a cookout or have like little meetings, or just their swag, the way they talk to you. They would take you to the side and be that older sister or brother.

But it is reckless now. People are just being followers and everybody wants to be block against block. It didn’t used to be like that. You could walk wherever you wanted to.

No matter what you got going on outside of here, when you have a DB4 shirt, all that other stuff shuts down. And I have seen it. Some of our members have stuff going on in the street, but they respect what we are doing.

We are trying to create that change and hope as far as those things we do, the programs we are implementing, and be inspirational. You know, a lot of people just feel hopeless sometimes, and that’s what leads to a lot of the drug addiction, a lot of behaviors and decisions people make like trying to rob somebody. You know, when you try to get work every day and it doesn’t work, you start thinking about other things. But even if you can create and give them a part time gig, it creates hope and gives them inspiration. That’s what it means for me, us being the example and inspiration.

QU

One thing I do enjoy and like about DB4 is our constant consistency. You see a lot of programs come in and out of the neighborhood, who make all these promises and then never deliver. One thing I can say about DB4 is, we may be moving at a slow pace, but if we say we’re going to do something, we do it.

We meet every week and I am glad that I see so many young people that are dedicated to come every week. Some people you can’t even get them to come to class every day, but these people: you can get them to come every week, no charge. I think that speaks for the people that are here and for this generation.

Also, I think that we give hope not just to our young people,  but to our older people, who have seen our neighborhood go downhill for a long time. I think they look at us and say, “Oh, okay there are young people out there  that do care. Maybe there is something I can do to help, you know, it’s never too late.”

A lot of my family grew up around here. One thing about us, you would never know that we were related, and sometimes walking down the street I would see uncles or aunts getting high or selling drugs, and it was heartbreaking. But at the same time, I felt back then that there was nothing I could do, you know? You do what you want to do. But now that I’m older, and now that I see that there are other people like me that feel this way, who feel like there’s something I want to do but I don’t know where to go, I don’t have any direction. It feels good to see that we can be together, we can help, we don’t actually have to do it by ourselves!

TA

The reason why I joined DB4 was to make a change in my community. Since I was little and growing up I was seeing people getting shot, getting killed, getting locked up, but at the time, I always wanted to make a change. My number one goal in life is to help people, as long as I can, no matter what it is. The only reason I joined DB4 was to make a change in my community, to make a difference. I am happy when someone younger than me says “I’m going to join DB4.”

My mom has been on drugs since I was little, and now she’s cool. And I always wanted to help people on drugs and alcohol, I wanted to reach out. But now my mom, she’s doing good. I always wanted to make a change in my community. Arsin called me and asked you know do I want to be a part of something, and that’s how I joined DB4.

AH

The reason I joined DB4 is that I thought it was a good thing for our community. I am only 16, but growing up in this neighborhood, it was always violent. And before, I thought I wanted to be a cop and just arrest everybody, instead of saying “When I grow up, maybe I can help these people out.”

This group right here changes everything. I wear this shirt right here and kids are like, “Where did you get that shirt from?” And I have to explain everything about DB4. Helping out the community is something, I can’t some it up, but DB4 is a really good program that younger kids should get into.

When I was younger I used to live in the projects, and that’s where all the drama went down. As I got older, maybe 14, I was like, That’s not the way to go. And then DB4 came along and I thought, Maybe I can help these people selling drugs and maybe the ones buying drugs. Instead of selling drugs, you could be selling something else.

CH

DB4 is just that Brotherly Love, it give you that bond, and you can do something. You can make moves as long as you got that, you can do something positive. It’s just something about DB4 that people like, Da Bottom For… People like it, and when someone can ask you, “What is DB4? I want one of them shirts that you got,” that let’s you know your shirt is hot – when someone wants to come to the meeting because someone wants one of these shirts.

People see this they want this they want to join. Sometimes people say, “Naw I don’t want to go to that.” There’s one friend I keep trying to pull to the meeting and he’s like, “I’m not going to that meeting.”

I’m like, “Listen dawg, you’re just sitting on the corner smoking. It’s not at all like how you think it is, like a parent teacher meeting,” something he thinks he’s used to going to. But he wants one of these shirts. I’m like, “You got to come to the meeting like everybody else.”

I am thankful for every youth that’s in here, that’s power right there. We all got voices and we all could make moves. We could be doing anything else. We could all be out in the streets caring about ourselves or where we going to stay the next day. We could be making our money. We could be doing all that stuff, yet we chose to come together as one and make things happen.

So I think DB4 is a strong bond that’s coming that’s about to rise up. Something about DB4 is an outreach to our community, and it’s an outreach to a lot of things though. DB4 is the truth.

(Laughter)

DL

DB4 is helping us as we are creating our community, working with Drexel getting the kids out of the streets and stuff. I wanted to participate so I could get out the streets too, along with the kids.

I actually was in the street hanging with other people, they was fighting and I got caught up in that and locked up, so now I got probation. So I’m here to not be in stuff like that. I had 30 hours of community service and I actually completed 36 hours, and I want to get some more hours to make it seem good on my probation and stuff. They respect this. The school I signed up for, they like it.

I can go on, want me to get religious with it?

(Laughter)

I am happy that DB4 is bringing more sports into the community, instead of just basketball and football, because some kids are not good at sports like basketball. We got squash and other sports.

VC

Hearing everyone else’s stories, it was touching. It’s nice to know that everyone is on the same page.

DG

Someone said to me: only the good kids in Mantua are involved in DB4, like there is something wrong with making good choices.

For the most part, all of you have a connection in that you have made good choices and you have learned from the experiences that you have witnessed yourself and have touched your lives.

I wanted to know what you thought about that comment, that only the good kids are part of DB4.

QU

I don’t think that’s true at all. First of all, anybody is welcome, it’s just that coming in to this, we have all had our problems and probably been arrested. I personally came here because there is an opportunity to change. Anybody can change. So if somebody comes here who have been arrested who are having some troubles, they can come here to change. I think a lot of young people, and not just young people older people too – anybody needs that. So we’re not just here because it’s a whole bunch of good kids. I don’t think that’s true.

TT

I think that is just an off-target stereotype. I bet people are surprised to see me here, I did a lot of dirt out here to a lot of people. I am just coming home. This is my community, just like it’s everybody else’s community. People who are not from this community can’t come here and organize. It’s up to us to make a change.

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