By ROBERT STEWART
Music vibrated through the Laurel Partnership Activity Hall on a Saturday afternoon in October, as a DJ played a popular track and people of all ages danced playfully to the beat, with officers from the police department adjacent to the hall joining in. A bright purple flier advertised the name of the event, Speak up. Speak out. Speak loud!, part of a series of youth summits taking place across Prince George’s County. Jeanette Brandon, CEO and founder of Together We Can (TWC) energetically welcomed people into the hall.
TWC partners with local officials, police departments, religious organizations and community members to host youth summits designed to foster relationships among youth, law enforcement officers and the greater community. TWC is not affiliated with the national Together We Can organization or the TWC in western Maryland.
“I was tired of seeing things going on in the news, and it appeared that no one was doing anything about it,” Brandon said. “We want to save our youth. We want to stop the carjacking. We want to stop the killing.”
At the October event, Laurel police officers distributed snacks while Brandon and Laurel’s Deputy Chief of Police Mark Plazinski welcomed people to the summit. Organizers helped attendees form breakout groups to allow attendees to meet informally with officials.
“When we talk to our youth and we do breakout sessions, we can actually interact with them and talk with them about what’s going on in their life,” said Prince George’s County Sheriff John Carr, who was wearing a purple ribbon marking Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Carr said that TWC events are a proactive approach to dealing with issues facing the youth.
“A lot of times, survivors or victims of domestic violence are suffering in silence. They don’t know who to call. They don’t know who to trust,” he said. Carr focused his breakout group on the ways in which positive relationships can help prevent domestic violence.
Engaging with the city’s youth helps the Laurel Police Department build connections with the citizens it serves. Plazinski, who has served as Laurel’s deputy chief of police since 2020, said that an act so simple as eating pizza with the attendees helps both sides find common ground. He emphasized that everyday interactions are key. “That’s where you find the commonality with people, and that’s what we’re looking to do,” he said.
Besides building relationships, TWC’s partners provide various types of support. Anthony Wilson, a public speaker, advised participants about the importance of knowing their rights and quizzed them on their knowledge of the fourth amendment. Donnie Frayer, president and co-founder of the nonprofit Hope at the Cross, partnered with TWC for the event to advise attendees about local resources. Frayer’s nonprofit specializes in providing essential materials, including clothes, school supplies and toiletries, and guidance and spiritual support to young people. Ramina Johnson from the Hyattsville field office of the Division of Parole & Probation, an office of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, educated teenagers about substance abuse and overdose reduction.
“We always want to make sure we are saving a life,” she said, adding that if anyone is in need, they can find Narcan at any parole and probation office. Narcan is a medicine used to reverse an opioid overdose.
TWC has held similar events in Seat Pleasant, Greenbelt and Forestville. Bradon noted that the goal of these events is simple. “If we can save one youth, one youth at a time, then I have accomplished my goal.”