Waheed, a sophomore at Camden's Woodrow Wilson High School, says there's plenty of drug action on the streets of his North Camden neighborhood, and he thinks rap music only tends to make the dealers appear heroic.
And he wasn't the only one expressing concerns yesterday about how media images of violence, drugs and other problems affect young people in the inner city.
Around 150 educators, social service workers, government and law enforcement officials, community activists, physicians and high school students spent more than eight hours discussing everything from the violence content of TV and films to advertising strategies for reaching teenagers, as part of the third annual "Urban Youth And Crisis" conference put on by the Nigeria-America Institute on Substance Abuse, Inc (NISA).
The two-day conference - subtitled "The Impact of Media on Violence and Youth" - continues today at the Sheraton Poste Inn in Cherry Hill, and is part of Camden's month-long Mayday anti-violence campaign.
In workshops, panel discussions, and large-group meetings the topics, including, "Reaching the Hip-Hop Culture," "The Epidemiology of Violence," and the "Camden Experience" (with youth violence) were as wide-ranging as the problems. Solutions were harder to come by.
"One of the things that frustrates people when they come to a conference is that they leave with an empty feeling because there's no action," said Ona Pela, director of NISA, an international organization that provides drug and family counseling and cultural awareness programs for blacks. "But the problem isn't going to go away with a magic wand. It's going to take time."
Even if no quick-fix solutions were evident, certain themes emerged with clockwork consistency.
From state Assemblyman Wayne Bryant (D., Camden) to physicians such as Dr. Reuben Warren of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to New Jersey Health Commissioner Bruce Siegel, there was agreement that racism works to keep young blacks, Hispanics and American Indians out of the mainstream, that media violence can promote real-life violence, that parents must be fully involved in the lives of their children, that teenagers must be taught positive values, and that people of color must act more forcefully to resolve problems of youth violence in their own communities.
"Black crime on black folks is our business, not government's" said Bryant. "We no longer can stand and make excuses for the lack of values for our young people. We cannot afford to lose another generation."
Dr. Chuckwudi Onwuachi-Sanders, a physician with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who is currently on loan to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, used a series of graphs to show just how deep the danger goes:
One in every 27 black males is likely to be a victim of homicide.
Most will die by gunfire.
Most will be killed by other black males.
Most will know their assailants.
Onwuachi-Sanders was emphatic in her assertions "that violence is an American issue, and no one who lives here is immune." On a chart in which black murders were subtracted from the country's total homicides, the United States still far exceeded a dozen other industrialized nations.
She said such results were predictable in a nation that glorifies violence and gives young people the means to act out violent fantasies through easy-to- acquire firearms.
"There's nothing new about being young and angry," she said. "But young people now have more lethal ways to deal with it."
Raymond Matthews, 16, says he understands the rage.
Lacking jobs and parental guidance, a lot of teens he knows have been drawn to drugs and violence, he said.
Raymond, who lives in East Camden, says his parents spared him from that fate.
"My mom and dad was always there for me," he said. "My dad has been through everything so he helps me avoid a lot. I'm glad he's around."
Patience Pela, a registered nurse and the wife of NISA director, Ona Pela, sat in on a workshop on "Violence in the Community" trying to still the quiver in her voice and wondering why more parents aren't like Raymond's.
She said she often sees young children lingering on street corners as she drives home late at night after working at Cooper Hospital- University Medical Center. She wonders if their parents know where they are.
"I want to grab them and say, 'Show me your home, show me your mother,' " said Pela. "I think some of the parents, especially the mothers, need to be taught what their responsibilities are. Maybe they don't know."
Mary Previte, the longtime administrator of the Camden County Youth Center, called youth violence a sickness that could be eased with more security for young people.
"When a kid feels safe they act like different human beings," said Previte adding that there are at least eight juveniles in her center at any one time charged with murder. "Personal survival and safety is the number one issue for these kids."
But how do you provide that sense of safety and security in a nation that ''mass produces images of violence?" said George Gerbner, a professor at the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania.
Gerbner told the conference that images of "happy violence," in which heroic characters undertake swift, deadly actions without fear of consequences, leaves many youth feeling vulnerable and defensive. He said the problem is aggravated by the dearth of non-white characters in popular fiction.
"If you are part of the group that is under-represented in this symbolic world, you see yourself as limited . . . as victimized," he said. "We are not born minorities. We train our people to behave as minorities."