HAVERHILL — In 1981, Ken Richardson's brother Brian was shot to death on the streets of Baltimore, a victim of inner city gang violence.
He has never forgotten the pain and suffering it caused.
It has motivated him to encourage young people to steer clear of violence, and he's sharing the message in creative ways.
Tuesday, Richardson, 47, hosted a party for a few dozen Haverhill teenagers at Shoe City Boxing Club on Merrimack Street to watch the debut of an anti-violence rap music video absent profanity or references to sex or drugs.
"I wanted to prove to kids that I could make a good rap video without violence," said Richardson, who has committed his life to being a mentor to teenagers in the aftermath of his brother's death. "My goal is simply to save kids."
Richardson, a martial arts expert and military veteran, trains and mentors the city's youth at the boxing club at night after his day job in construction. Previously, he volunteered at the Haverhill Boys & Girls Club.
"The idea is to get to kids before the gangs get them," Richardson said one recent afternoon while overseeing a handful of teenage boys and girls shadow boxing and hitting speed bags in the gritty gym on the second floor of a downtown building. "I encourage any parent who's worried about their kids getting into a gang to come see us and get them in here."
The rap video is not Richardson's first attempt at using technology to grab the attention of Haverhill's youth.
His website — noweaponneeded.com — offers T-shirts and other merchandise touting his anti-violence message. The site's home page invites visitors to "help us in our fight to combat the epidemic of youth gun violence in the United States. No Weapon Needed is devoted to changing lives."
Richardson said he donates a portion of proceeds from his sales to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the organization named after former presidential press secretary James Brady, who was shot in the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981. Richardson's brother was murdered a month after Reagan and Brady were shot.
"Ryan was murdered while I was in basic training for the Army," said Richardson, who has lived in Haverhill for several years. "My family went through hell after the murder. That's why I do this."
Statney Whittaker, 25, has been coming to the boxing club to train for about a year. The former Haverhill High student has a prominent role in the video, which was filmed inside the club this summer.
"Kids come here and realize what a good guy Ken is," Whittaker said. "They see he really cares about them. When I started, he developed a training routine just for me and got me really excited about it, so I kept coming back. He takes an interest in everyone who comes in here. That's big for a lot of kids. ... There are a couple guys my age here, but it's more like a youth center."
Richardson and boxing club manager Stephen Clark said Whittaker has become somewhat of a mentor to kids at the club.
"Statney was the toughest kid around, but he's turned his life around," Clark said. "He's also going to be a great boxer."
Clark also pointed out a 13-year-old boy who was recently ordered to spend time at the club by Haverhill District Court officials.
"That kid really didn't like me at first," Richardson said of the teenager. "I'd try to get him to work out and try different things. He'd walk the other way whenever he saw me coming. But ever since he saw the video the other night, he's been following me around and asking for a T-shirt."
Clark then showed a text message on his phone from the boy's mother. The message thanked the two men for taking an interest in her son and promising her help as a volunteer whenever needed.
On any given day, up to half of the kids at the club are there under court order, Clark said.
"But we don't care how they get here," Richardson said. "What's important is they're here and off the street and out of trouble."
Whittaker appears in the video several times, sparring in the ring with Richardson and with a teenage girl who boxes at the club.
"I saw the video for the first time Tuesday," Whittaker said. "They wouldn't let me see it ahead of time. It was really cool."
Richardson enlisted the help of a Lowell music production company called SureFire Music Group to make the video. The company agreed to produce it for half its regular price "because they loved what I was trying to do," Richardson said.
Jeff Utabor, who performs under the stage name Expo, performed the rap song, but refused to accept any money for his part in the video, Richardson said.
"The first few performers I interviewed for the video seemed too focused on violence or drugs, but then my daughter introduced me to a kid she goes to college with at UMass Lowell," Richardson said of Utabor. "I had him over to dinner and I knew right away he was the right one for this."
Richardson said he doesn't know what the future holds for his video or whether we will make another one.
"I would do another one if someone came forward to help," he said, noting that he used his own money for the first video. "The event (Tuesday) brought a lot of awareness to our anti-gun violence message, so it's already a big success."
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