BALTIMORE — In the midst of growing concerns about summer programs for teenage boys in Baltimore City, one Baltimorean is taking initiative.
"We're really trying to help young men find a sense of self control even while living in some of the chaos and the violence," said Munir Bahar.
He founded the COR Health Institute in East Baltimore in 2002 to help young men stay out of the path of violence. His latest initiative is a free summer karate class for 14 to 19 year olds. With everything going on in Baltimore, he says it's exactly what the city's youth need.
“We don’t have a culture of discipline. It’s like, 'do what you want',” said Bahar. “So for a child to get that impulse every day of their lives, do what you want, there’s no discipline. There's no urge. There’s no motivation. There's no encouragement to control myself.”
Bahar’s karate class doesn’t teach local boys how to use their fists to solve their problems, but instead how to use their minds.
“I’m really not teaching them how to fight,” he said. “I’m teaching them how to control their bodies, how to be in touch with their bodies and how to be in tune with all the things that are happening inside of them.”
He uses physical control and repetitive practices to teach mental strength and discipline that he hopes will help them stay out of the violence and choose more productive outlets.
"We know the violence and the chaos isn't going to end tomorrow, but these young men are faced with daily decisions that can negatively or positively impact their life," said Bahar.
The lessons also have a meditative component where the teens sit in a relaxed state. Bahar said this is to help them reflect on their lives and cope with the struggles they face.
“It’s more therapeutic. It’s to help them process the trauma that they are living through and what they are seeing every day, like people being killed and shot," said Bahar.
The classes will take place in the upstairs Japanese-style dojo room.
“We’re surrounded by boarded up houses. We are surrounded by drug infested corners and corner stores, and that’s what is outside this building,”Bahar said. “So, I wanted to make sure that when people came inside this building it was almost like an oasis.”
He's so passionate about his work because he relates to the young men.
"I was one of these young kids. I had a record. I was in jail when I was a kid," said Bahar.
That's why he continues to build up his nonprofit. He's in the process of transforming other vacant rowhomes nearby into a juice bar bar and space for young entrepreneurs.
“As we see with the squeegee kids, a lot of these kids want to make money. It’s a pathway away from drugs. So I want to teach these young folks how to start up, organize and structure a business,” said Bahar.
He hopes that more people across the city will get involved in helping engage young people.
"I think a lot of people in the city are frustrated, are angry and have some feelings about the situation, but I wish more residents would get engaged in the strategic development of programs and businesses that actually provided the alternatives to what we are all frustrated about," said Bahar.
Classes will start in July, and the center plans to host an open house soon. For more information about COR’s upcoming summer program contact 410-262-2996, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the institute’s website at www.corcommunity.com.