GRASSROOTS EFFORT:

Precision Youth Program Takes Teens off Streets

by Alice Cherbonnier
photo by Alice Cherbonnier
Vanessa Andrews, vice president of the Precision Youth Program, in front row with Chris Garrison beside her. Others pictured include Chris's music partner Jason Bryant (top right), Chris's mother Maesean Garrison (behind Ms. Andrews), and (l.) Shayna, 13, and (r.) Iesha, 15, known as the music duo called "Anargh." Chris and Jason perform as "Dark Shadows."
Darren Williams, a.k.a. the "A Capella King" looks like a celebrity with his perfect smile, gold chains, fashionable clothes and charismatic persona. And, in a way, he is—but not in the usual sense.

Williams, now 30, once had a career as regional manager for a cleaning service, supervising 100 employees. This work satisfied his bank account, but not his spirit. Around him he saw teenagers hanging out on street corners with nothing to do, getting involved in drugs an anti-social behavior. A rapper himself, he thought he might be able to reach them by teaching them music and helping promote whatever homegrown talent he could foster.

Three years ago he hit the streets of Baltimore's west side, acting as a pied piper to attract teens to constructive activities. And thus Precision Talent Scouting & Management, Inc., a nonprofit, was born.

Williams has a passion for reaching and teaching youth. In fact, he was even shot in the back by a stray bullet on January 18, 2001, while recruiting near Mondawmin Mall.

"It only hurt my body, not my spirit," says the impresario, who carries a bullet in his spinal canal and walks with care. He had to quit his job, and has been living on savings since the shooting. His full-time—but unpaid—work is now youth outreach. "Most youth want to do music, so they'll come along" when he invites them to try out, he says.

His brother, Edward Johnson, a DJ and producer who has an in-house music studio called First Step Productions where he records and mixes music, volunteers to record the music created by participants in Precision Talent.

"My kids have no time to run in the streets," says Williams. "They have to keep a satisfactory grade average, and there's no drugs or cigarettes either. And no cussing."

Another rule is that the music cannot be "gangsta" rap. Violent messages are forbidden.

Seven teens are currently taking part in the program, including Jason Betts, 18. Betts, a high school dropout, is now enrolled in a GED program and hopes to have his diploma by the summer. "I don't have time for my previous life," he says. "I want to take rap to another level." If he doesn't "make it" in the music world, he has other long-term goals: either to be a carpenter, or go to college.

Betts and Chris Garrison, 15, have formed a duo called Dark Shadows. They've already recorded an original song called "Chillin' in the Cut." Garrison, a tenth grader at Southern High School, has also found firm footing after a poor start. "I was put out of Edmondson [High School], and I had problems with neighborhood kids," he said as his mother, MaeSean Garrison, 30, nodded nearby. Her son plans to focus on computer business technology if his music career doesn't take off. Ms. Garrison has opened her house for Precision Youth meetings.

"Our goal is discipline," said Williams, whose own 15-year-old daughter is involved in the program. "We teach aspects of business, what it means to manage."

By example, Williams is also showing the Precision Youth that the old adage of "the hinge that squeaks gets the oil" really does work. He has been able to arrange an impressive number of interviews and stories for his group in local publications and on radio programs.

Williams is so encouraged by the results of the program that he wants it to expand to serve more youth. This will require more adults to volunteer, as an important feature of the program is one-on-one mentoring and supervision. As it grows, the burgeoning group will need more donated equipment and professional music services. It does not receive or even seek government support at this time.

Call 410-433-5580, 443-956-4109, or 443-956-1861 to help take the Precision Youth Program to the next level.


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This story was published on June 5, 2002.