Hartford anti-violence activist’s creed — ‘As long as you can breathe, you can change’ — key to his new institute

After 50 years of working to stop Hartford violence and steer young people away from drugs, guns and crime, Carl Hardrick said one of his guiding principles is to never give up on people.

“Sometimes you have to walk away from a kid, but you never give up. Because as long as you can breathe, you can change,” Hardrick said Saturday at the opening of The Brother Carl Hardrick Institute for Violence Prevention in Hartford’s North End.

Hardrick, 80, was the focus of applause, a hip-hop song and even a freshly printed comic book at a community block party outside the Wilson-Gray YMCA on Albany Avenue.

The institute named after him is intended to train young men and women in Hartford’s neighborhoods on ways to engage others in the community — and to stop gun violence.

Hardrick, founder of the Hartford Youth Peace Initiative, has been doing that kind of outreach for decades.

He said the goal remains the same: promoting strong principles to the vast majority of young people who are caught between conflicting pressures to either live good lives or fall into the world of crime, violence and shootings.

“You’ve got 20% (of youth) who are going to go to school, who are going to be involved with something,” he said Saturday. “You’ve got 60% in the middle, but they’re leaning toward the negative. You’ve got 20%, they want to do drive-bys and it doesn’t matter what you tell them.

“Our job is to go at this 60% and bring them right. If we do that, we get at least 10% of that 20% (of troubled youth). You don’t get all of them, but you keep trying. There are some who are going to get arrested or get killed in the street.”

Hardrick said the work needs resources and programs, and the new institute will help. It began last year through the efforts of Joanne Price, founder of Fairview Capital, and Stephen Bayer, senior vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford.

This spring, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving announced the Patricelli Family Fund was putting up $50,000 to start a $5 million fund for the institute.

Longtime community leader Joe Young, founder of Joe Young Entertainment and a 40-year friend of Hardrick’s, brought hip-hop artists and other entertainers to perform on the block party’s stage. He predicted the institute will reach many young Hartford people.

“Carl has saved a lot of lives in this community,” Young said. “I would say Carl is a servant to the community. He’s very empathetic. He understands that we all go through things, but we can overcome them. And we all need support,”

Young’s daughter KayPaige, a Springfield rapper who is widely popular on YouTube and Instagram, wrote the Brother Carl song as a tribute to Hardrick. Several Hartford-region rappers performed it Saturday.

“As he grew up older, the good work it did flow ... for 50 years he fought for youth to stop the gun smoke,” rapper Hydro sang from the stage. “Black panther for the people and real change that we know ... he teaches from his heart passing gems down all over.”

Young and KayPaige also introduced a full-color comic book Saturday roughly chronicling Hardrick’s life in Hartford. They titled it “Brother Carl, aka BC — Our Neighborhood Hero.”