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There’s so much to learn by walking the streets and getting to know people; even more so if you’re afraid or intimidated by what many people call the hood.

You might learn that the people who are portrayed as scary, so called ‘thugs’, are not quite as scary as advertised.

Take the gang members for example in Baltimore who were first accused of igniting the city’s unrest after Freddie Gray’s funeral.

Turns out the rioting was inspired by young people, high school students who for whatever reason decided to take on police.

Some of those gang members told me and other members of the media that they were trying to keep the peace, not start a revolution.

Of course gang members do bad things that end up hurting themselves and their communities perhaps more than any outside or parallel oppression from ‘the man.’

They aren’t so much bad people as they are victims of bad choices made under circumstances that you or I many not understand.

I know this because I live among those young and not so young men.

I am related to those young men, cousins, friends and classmates who got ‘caught up’ as they say.

‘Caught up’ is short hand for falling into drugs, or the street life or becoming baby daddies instead of fathers.

I know that because those young and not so young men have been a part of my past and I dare say will be a part of my future.

I know that because, like President Obama said yesterday, I could have easily been one of those young men.

While re-launching his mentor program for young men and boys of color called ‘My Brother’s Keeper’ The President talked about growing up without his father’s presence.

In a piece for CNN.com called ‘Lord of the Flies’ my colleague John Black wrote about older black men have all but disappeared in certain communities in his home city of Baltimore.

When asking what happened to the older men, one 28-year old man told him, “This is old here,” he said, pointing to himself. “There ain’t no more ‘Old Heads’ anymore, where you been? They got big numbers or they in pine boxes.” In street syntax, that meant long prison sentences or death.

As a journalist I don’t know how to fix all of that, centuries of oppression, apathy, neglect, poverty.

But I’m sure empathy is a good place to start.

Getting out of your hermetically sealed car or neighborhood or office is another.

I’ve known much of that for all my life, but walking around Ferguson last summer and Baltimore last week, it was good to be reminded.

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