When the Rev. Grainger Browning teamed up with former gang members and youth ministers at his church to address bullying in the community, he had no idea what other groups were doing or who would come out to his Fort Washington church.
On Monday night, more than 1,000 people — including teenagers and school officials — came to Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church for a rap session and a screening of the film “Strings Dreams,” which tells the story of a teenage violinist who almost takes his life as a result of constant bullying.
“I was pleasantly surprised about the number of persons who came out to the event,” said Browning, whose forum was held on the same day Judge Katie O’ Malley, Maryland’s first lady, announced the state’s second annual “Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week.”
“When it comes to bullying, everyone is a victim,” O’Malley said in a public service announcement aired on WPGC (95.5 FM). “Our communities, our schools, our educators, our families and most of all our children. Together, we can stand up against bullying.”
Jamal Spratley and Henry Johnson shot and directed “Strings Dreams,” and they moderated the rap session. In 2004, both were part of a highly publicized truce between rival crews along the D.C.-Maryland line. Today, they work in Ebenezer’s “Beyond the Walls” ministry.
“In the world that I come from, you pick on the weak,” said Spratley, 38. “You take from them. You dominate the weak. That was a rule that you lived by. If they gave you opposition, you cause physical harm to them.”
Johnson, 39, has a tatoo on his neck that reads “RIP Phil.”
“Phil was 19 when he got killed. He was like my son. If you hurt one of my folks, then I would instill fear in that person,” Johnson said of his younger days.
Dan Bradley, who co-wrote the script with actor Anwan Glover, said the movie brought back painful memories of his past. He said he was a victim of bullying in high school.
“I was in the D.C. Orchestra and I wanted to take my own life,” he said.
In the film, Rian Hayes, 16, plays the character of a sister who constantly bullies her brother, played by Elijah Torres.
“My character showed that bullying can occur inside the home,” Rian said.
Elijah said his character sparked a desire to help others.
“My point of view on bullying has changed,” said Elijah, an eighth-grader at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Beltsville. “I have been bullied by family members, people at school.”
In addition to the rap session, a dance group of African American and Latino youths, Rhyming to Respect, from Charles Carroll Middle School in New Carrollton, performed a rapping routine that spoke against bullying.
During the session, Atlanta psychologist Alduan Tartt talked about a mentoring program he crafted in his city in which one person mentors 12 youths. Browning said he plans to implement the program in the coming weeks.
“We will be mobilizing men to be far more active in the schools in regards to the issue of bullying,” he said.