Shortly after the shooting death in June of a 16-year-old in Dorchester, allegedly by two other teenagers, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced a new, intensive program for high-risk young people in the city. WGBH News spoke with one young man in that program.


David admits things didn’t go so well last year in 7th grade.

“I was like, kind of fighting. Like and I was arguing with the teachers. Like, to be honest I went to jail once because I know I didn’t, but they saying I laid my hands on an officer.”

The incident that landed the 14-year-old behind bars happened near the end of the school year. David isn’t his real name. We’ve changed it to protect him. He says he was walking down the hall that day, and a teacher was in his way.

“And I kept swearing at him and telling him to get out of my way. Then other people come in and they were like ‘calm down, calm down.’ Next thing you know they call an officer. Like, I have so much anger built up.”

Craig: “What made you so angry?

D: “Um, when I see my father. Cause like, one day I was at home and like nobody wants to witness what happens to your mother. But he put his hands on my mother and that made me real upset. That made my temper and anger get more built up inside of me. And like, I didn’t know ways to let it out.”

It’s a challenge that’s all too real for way too many kids in Boston. What’s the right way to deal with that kind of anger? David’s been trying to figure that out this summer. He’s one of about 50 teenagers who were chosen to be part of a city program run by the Boys and Girls Club. He got a stipend to spend much of his summer at the Mattapan Teen Center, working on academics, taking cooking and music classes, and talking through his issues with adults there.

“Since I started coming here, I think my anger started to calm down, like, because I learned that when you grow up in life, everyone is going to get you angry and be on your bad side. But at the end of the day you gotta learn that you have to do better things instead of sitting there, like punching things and taking it out. Like, they way I do it now, I do it like a different way now.”

Craig: How’s that?

D: Well, like, I picked up a smoking habit, but, like, I am trying to quit it now. Because like I don’t want it to become a habit. And then I be like going to school like high. Other people think its wrong but like when I’m high, kind of, I feel just like I can get through anything. And it eases my stress instead of, like, punching stuff.”

In just 14 years, David’s seen a lot. But he’s still a teenager, and he’s trying to do normal teenage things in a place where that can sometimes be scary.

“I went to my first party and first party was fun but I got in around like 12 or 1 something in the morning. And my mother was, like, scared to death. And I was scared too, because I didn’t have nothing with me. I didn’t have protection or nothing. I’m just glad I made it home safe that night.”

The fear isn’t unfounded. David knows firsthand about gangs in his neighborhood.

“I am going to be real. When I used to go to school, I used to be in a gang because like we all thought it was cool.”

There’s a sense of security in being a gang member, he says. There are people who have your back, no matter what. But it’s also led to a fear that others, outsiders, are out to get him.

“You got to see who is pulling up in a car. You have to look everywhere you go and that’s not the lifestyle you want. You want the life style where you can just, like, walk down the street and go to work on a nice beautiful day and not hear one gun shot.”

David’s headed back to school today. And he says this year’s going to be different.

“When I go to 8th grade I am not trying to be in no gang or nothing. I’m just trying to get school over with and then go to high school.”

He says getting arrested in school last year was a turning point.

“When I first seen that cell and I had to call my mom. It didn’t make me cry. I wasn’t being a crybaby, which other people do.”

But he worried he’d be sent to the Department of Youth Services, and he wouldn’t be able to see his family.

“It’s just like, all my uncles been through it. I don’t want to be the same person. I want to be something better than that.”

His case has been dismissed, and David says he’s thankful. And he’s not facing the new school year on his own. The program he says helped him over the summer will continue to work with him through the year.