“You can pretend it doesn’t exist. But people are dying here.”

Rob “Biko” Baker thanking Snoop Dogg for his record #nogunsallowed.

Ten years ago in 2005, I wrote this story about Milwaukee native, writer and activist Rob “Biko” Baker.

It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way.

When Biko Baker came home, he found that four of the 12 children he once tutored had been shot and killed.

Others he knew growing up — many lived just down the street from him — were also murdered. All young African American lives snuffed out early by the street.

“I know a lot of people who died way too early,” Baker said.

Baker, 27, knew he had to put UCLA grad school on hiatus. He had to do something about the killing.

Last fall, Baker and two friends put together the Campaign Against Violence. Their slogan became “We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Their goals were long term. They knew they won’t change a culture of killing overnight.

The Campaign Against Violence works in conjunction with other central city groups that have volunteer openings. Running Rebels on Fond du Lac Avenue offers mentoring, youth groups and even a music studio. Urban Underground is a youth-driven organization that focuses on developing the next generation of leaders. Mothers Against Gun Violence is a support group for mothers who have lost their children to shootings. It is currently working on an effort to reduce handguns in Milwaukee.

“We’re not just going to go away just because the news cameras go away,” Baker said. “We don’t have the Midas touch to instantly stop the violence.”

The first step, he said, is to give the kids reason to believe that others care about them. He believes the murders stem from low self-esteem — kids who have nothing and feel they have to prove themselves through violence.

“These kids grew up with their mothers on drugs and their fathers in jail,” Baker said. “They never had hope.”

The campaign organized demonstrations where 150 to 200 people marched into the roughest neighborhoods. Baker and his group hit street corners, juvenile detention centers, school and after-school programs. They talked… and listened.

Baker used his built-in credibility as a columnist for revered hip hop magazine The Source. Having met many of the kids’ idols who glorify violence in their rap, Baker tells the kids that it’s not real.

Some of the most street-hardened kids will cry when they find out someone cares.

“We talked with a kid who said, ‘I’m sweating, I’m sweating,’” he said. “He hadn’t cried in so long he didn’t know what it was.”

As for Baker?

“I cry all the time, man,” he said. “I realize how emotionally tied to this I am.”

More info www.urbanunderground.org

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