On the ground: Ludacris meets with at-risk youth

Elis were not the only students to hear from Christopher “Ludacris” Bridges on Thursday.

Before yesterday’s widely anticipated Branford Master’s Tea, the Grammy winning rapper and actor appeared at a private event organized by Ward 22 Alderman Greg Morehead with over 50 New Haven high school students. The event, held at the Rose Center in Dixwell, was specifically targeted at at-risk youth from the city high schools. Ludacris told the crowd, composed entirely of black and Hispanic students, to make right choices to stay away from crime.

Morehead, a former drummer and longtime friend of Ludacris, said he organized the event to show New Haven’s at-risk youth that they change their lives for the better.

“I brought [Ludacris] here because youth violence and homicide is a problem in New Haven,” Morehead said of the Atlanta rapper. “The kids look up to him.”

The students in attendance, six of whom raised their hands when Morehead asked who had been incarcerated at some point, were chosen to attend the talk because they were identified by their respective principals as the most at-risk or prone to violence. Some of them, Morehead said, wanted to break out of the cycle of violence but were not sure they could. Morehead made a point of mentioning to women in the crowd that smart sexual decisions were up to them: “Baby mamas, that’s what New Haven is showing,” he admonished.

Ludacris, drawing on his own experiences as a urban youth who left college after two years, stressed that despite hardship, each student’s destiny is his or her own.

“You gotta combine street smarts with self-educating yourself,” Ludacris said. “You gotta use your head. I don’t want to see your head dead or in jail.”

He went on to talk about the challenges he had to overcome, including peer pressure and lack of support from his peers for the life he wanted follow. Most of the audience said they agreed that a crime-free life should be the ideal, but one student, Roberto Macanto, said sometimes it is just not possible.

“It’s not just so easy to change your life like that,” Macanto said. “What if you’re in a gang and you want to leave, but you can’t?”

Morehead replied that there are an abundance of resources in the city to help youth in those situations, while Ludacris said it was important to try to avoid those situations altogether.

Seven students interviewed did not express an opinion or said they were indifferent about the event. One student, Daizhon Armstrong, however, said he felt the students “really needed that.”

Educators and city officials interviewed said they felt the event was successful: “I think he really touched some of these kids and connected with them,” said Rebecca LaQuire, a teacher at New Haven’s New Horizons School for Higher Achievement.

The students at the event wrote down their contact information, and Morehead pledged to continue to check up on them after the event.

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