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We Spoke With Young People In Baltimore Who Are Organizing Clean Ups And Protesting For Peace

'It’s literally high school kids, college students and folks from the neighborhood cleaning up the aftermath,' Activist Johnetta Elzie tells MTV News.

In the early hours of April 28, the protests and riots of the previous evening had mostly died down, and activist Johnnetta Elzie, along with high schoolers, college-aged students and 20-somethings began clean up efforts in West Baltimore.

Elzie is an activist and organizer with This Is The Movement, who has been updating activists on information through the website BaltimoreUprising.org. Along with Baltimore native Deray Mckesson, she has been providing a list of meetings, demonstrations, training sessions and literature to protesters.

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MTV News spoke with Elzie while she was on her way to a meeting of activists and organizers at United Methodist Church in West Baltimore.

Originally from St. Louis, Elzie said she came to Baltimore out of solidarity after citizens of Baltimore did the same for the Ferguson protests over the summer. She hadn't intended on extending her stay in Baltimore, but the roads closing last night made her miss her original flight back home.

She says most people involved in the protests are constantly making moves: Going to different meetings or training centers, other smaller demonstrations nearby, or are out in the streets cleaning up or organizing supplies.

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"From what I’ve seen so far, it’s very much like Ferguson," Elzie told MTV News. "All kinds of people coming out, protecting their community: There are church leaders, pastors, the Brothers of Islam, bikers, high school students, and just regular people in their community. Everyone is involved."

She says that the same young people picking up the glass and shell-casings are also being outspoken on social media. They've gotten together in large numbers — through Facebook groups and hashtags— to do what they can for the city.

"It’s literally high school kids, college students and folks from the neighborhood [cleaning up in the aftermath,]" Elzie said. "It’s the children — the teenagers and the early 20-somethings — in front."

Looking After the Kids With #BaltimoreLunch

While they spent their morning picking up the debris from the night before, different groups were also making plans for the new day's challenge: The city of Baltimore's had closed all public schools for the day.

"Last night we were tweeting, and people were asking 'what are kids who don’t go to school gonna eat?’ and I started looking up the numbers…” Charles Wade, Co-founder of Operation Help or Hush told MTV News. "These kids may miss their meal for the day by not going to school."

According to the Baltimore City Schools website, 84.08% of the 85,000 students qualified for reduced-cost or free lunches — and, without action, that's a lot of kids going without a meal they may normally rely on.

Working with organizations like Operation Help or Hush and local businesses like Red Emma's, the hashtag #BaltimoreLunch was born, allowing these groups to get the supplies together. A D.C. programmer even set up a website to help blast out the word about the different safe spaces — mostly small restaurants, coffee shops and churches — designated for kids to safely come and get their meals.

Wade told MTV News that if school is out tomorrow, the group will do it all over again. Only this time, he adds, they’ll have a head start.

The Power of Presence

Across town in Northern Baltimore, Marie Anderson is part of a group of demonstrators protesting for peace. It's around 3p.m. ET, and a group of 50-75 people are making their way down to the corner of York Road, gaining more demonstrators as they go, Anderson told MTV News.

People are lining the four corners of one of the largest intersections in the city, and excited shouts and car horns can be heard over the phone while Anderson speaks with us.

York Road Partnership via Facebook

Anderson works with Loyola University's York Road Partnership, the University's initiative to build resources between the school and its surrounding community. The group had heard of "disturbances" in their area (the corners of York and Woodbourne and York and Belvedere) and "decided to have the power of presence" to deter any more violence.

Following their own clean-up efforts this morning, they started organizing with Councilman Bill Henry at 8 a.m., making signs and plans to head out to the locations to prevent additional violence.

"We are getting people excited for peace while being vigilant for our community," Anderson said. "We've staged solitary stand-ins on other corners where we heard their might be disturbances."

Protesters are carrying signs with messages of solidarity: "One Baltimore, One York Road," "Peace and Love," "Black Lives Matter."

York Road Partnership via Facebook

Anderson said that the anger still remains, along with the confusion and distrust following Freddie Gray's death, but the community wants the rest of the country to see the image of "a community coming together" on their TV and computer screens — not the destruction.

"We’re excited there are so many people here promoting peace and rebuilding that trust — all people here, all races, all ages," Anderson said. "We’re still angry about what happened — this is our city — but we're using that anger to build community and build relationships and give people a positive way to express their anger."

Moving Forward

Elzie said that the steps the communities have taken show the power of the movement, nationally.

"It’s definitely showing that there is a community. And not only is it just in this city or this state — it’s nation-wide,” Elzie said.

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And the story is long from over, Elzie reminded us, as she prepared to head to the first organizer's meeting of the day.

“We’ve watched countless numbers of black people killed by police and we have to be mindful of always listening to [the protestors] cries — it’s a response when you feel like you have absolutely nothing to lose," Elzie said. "We have to focus on what kind of culture caused the vast majority of these young people feel like they have absolutely nothing."