Sitting in a series of meetings to discuss the plight of an impoverished community means little to Gregory Baldwin. He’d rather go into the heart of the beast and battle the issues, himself.
Instead, you can find the 46-year-old activist on the streets of Barry Farm in the bitter cold on a Saturday morning, rallying against senseless violence and waking up neighbors. Donning his organization’s sweatshirt, Helping Hands Inc., Baldwin discusses issues with participants of the rally, catches up with old friends and amps up for a successful parade.
After witnessing an uproar this month from parents against teen violence and community leaders seeking to do something about it at a local meeting, Baldwin notes that they’re nowhere to be found at his rally. He attributes it to prior engagements like political lunches.
“The people who made statements didn’t show up,” he says, referring to a handful of passionate meeting dwellers who also agreed there was less of a need to meet about community issues, and more of a need to “strap on their boots and enter the war.”
“I guess they had a good menu, you know,” he says jokingly.
Their absence doesn’t alter his excitement. Baldwin just wants a peaceful, impactful march. He wants to reach out to the youth of the community, since they’re one of the biggest contributors to the violence that erupts in communities like Barry Farm, following a series of school shoot-outs and random acts of violence on the streets since August.
On Saturday, that’s just what he got.
Right Place, Wrong Time
It all started with a girl, Baldwin says.
His attempts to talk to a young woman in Southeast were interrupted by her brother, which started a conflict. A few derogatory words were thrown around, tempers flared and a pistol was brandished. Baldwin ended up in a shootout, one of the few that year that nearly took his life.
Baldwin was never involved in a gang; he was just victim to senseless violence, which started a vicious cycle.
“I was forced to turn to a gun, because one was pulled out on me,” he said.
Baldwin was only 25 at the time. But rather than retaliate, he turned his life around to battle crime in local neighborhoods and provide resources to families in need through Helping Hands Inc. One of his primary focuses is teaching local teens how to control their anger and avoid petty disputes as not to endure a lifetime of pain.
“It was my second chance in life, and my heavenly father empowered me with a vision,” Baldwin said. “To use my life experience to try and help someone. Use what you’ve been through, to help someone else avoid the same [circumstances].”
Shot 10 times and stabbed eight on separate occasions, Baldwin nearly died on the operating table. He now walks around with a colonoscopy bag 24/7 as a reminder of his past, and a tool to get kids to pay attention.
“Sometimes I take my shirt off and let them see,” he says.
The stab wounds and hospital scars are forcefully visible under his shirt. Even adults gape at the real-life picture of what a crime-ridden community can do to someone. Baldwin proudly shows it to kids who are headed in the wrong direction, but have yet to experience what will come to fruition from their actions.
Before They Leave
Helping Hands has little resources to work with, but Baldwin does what he can. This past Thanksgiving, his organization lined up at Barry Farm’s Recreation Center to serve plates to local families. Other plans this year include an Easter egg hunt, along with a fun lighthearted event with food that will deter the community from engaging in violence.
A large part of Baldwin’s activism is trying to instill some peace in the community before it’s dismantled, though.
Plans to tear down the 57-year-old public housing community are imminent, and many residents generally don’t know what to do. The parcel of land will be replaced with mixed-income housing, and residents are slowly being removed and placed in other low-income communities, he says.
Baldwin just wants to offer services before the residents leave. Though he did not grow up in Barry Farm, his mother resides there—but even her future is unknown. So Baldwin wants to do as much as he can to give back to Ward 8 as a whole, though he tries to expand his services to other parts of the DMV area.
“I target Ward 8 to take care of home before I go anywhere else,” he explained.
Teaching residents now might help them carry the same non-violence techniques wherever they travel, helping Baldwin make a global impact. To do this, he starts off small with rallies in the heart of the ghettos. He speaks to teens on a level where they respect and understand his past. He’s not afraid to walk down streets where others fear being victim to random crime since he’s already experienced it.
Because to him, it’s important to focus on inner city crime, which he says is worse than terrorism.
“It’s territorial senseless disputes,” Baldwin says. “You get 30 years or your life [taken away]; ain’t nobody a winner. We all lose in the end.”