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Defendants who orchestrated straw purchases of firearms sentenced to prison time

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Robert Joseph, a.k.a. Ruben Oakes, a convicted felon who conspired with, and directed, straw purchasers to obtain firearms that he would then deliver to a co-conspirator, Harold Gaines, in Maryland, was sentenced July 30, 2020 in U.S. District Court here to 27 months in federal prison. United States Attorney Thomas T. Cullen and Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division made the announcement July 30, 2020.

Joseph, 51, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to illegally possess firearms and illegal possession of a firearm by a previously convicted felon. Harold Gaines, also previously pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to illegally possess firearms and was sentenced to 48 months in prison.

“Eradicating gun violence remains a top priority of this office, and we will seek to prosecute all individuals who break federal gun laws, putting guns in the hands of felons,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Daniel P. Bubar. “This prosecution is a product of Project Guardian, and I am proud of the good work of our federal and state team.”

“This case epitomizes the danger of straw purchasing firearms, specifically, providing weapons to felons who clearly intend to use them in the commission of crimes,” said Ashan M. Benedict, Special Agent in Charge of ATF’s Washington Field Division. “The sentences handed out to both the purchaser and receiver of these illicit firearms is a clear indication that the criminal straw purchasing of weapons will have consequences. We are grateful to U.S. Attorney Cullen and our law enforcement partners for this successful outcome.”

According to court documents, Gaines paid Joseph to supply him with particular firearms, and Joseph, in turn, recruited, and directed, straw purchasers to obtain firearms from gun stores in the Western District of Virginia. Joseph then delivered the weapons to Gaines in Northern Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland. Gaines subsequently sold those weapons to others. Joseph obtained approximately 40 firearms for Gaines during the course of the conspiracy. Both Joseph and Gaines are convicted felons and are prohibited from legally possessing firearms.

The straw purchasers Joseph utilized, individuals whose lack of criminal history enabled them to purchase and possess firearms, were able to obtain the weapons on his behalf by falsely claiming on ATF Firearm Transaction Form that they were the actual transferee/buyer of the firearm(s) when in fact they were not. For their role in this offense, Jazzmine Irvin, Janika Barksdale, and Ashley Gunter each were convicted of conspiracy to make false statements on a firearms form. Irvin and Barksdale were sentenced to 45 days in prison and a period of home confinement thereafter. Gunter received a sentence of 45 days of home confinement. All defendants in this conspiracy were also sentenced to a term of supervised release.

The investigation of the case was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Danville Police Department, and the Lynchburg Police Department. Assistant United States Attorney Coleman Adams prosecuted the case for the United States.

This case was brought as part of Project Guardian, the Department of Justice’s signature initiative to reduce gun violence and enforce federal firearms laws. Initiated by the Attorney General in the fall of 2019, Project Guardian draws upon the Department’s past successful programs to reduce gun violence; enhances coordination of federal, state, local, and tribal authorities in investigating and prosecuting gun crimes; improves information-sharing by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives when a prohibited individual attempts to purchase a firearm and is denied by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to include taking appropriate actions when a prospective purchaser is denied by the NICS for mental health reasons; and ensures that federal resources are directed at the criminals posing the greatest threat to our communities.

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Virginia War Memorial seeks entries for 2020 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest

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The Virginia War Memorial in Richmond is seeking entries for the Virginia War Memorial 2020 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest.  The contest is open to all Virginia middle and high school age public, private and homeschooled students.

One winner will be selected from among all middle school entries (grades 6-8) and one from high school (grades 9-12) entries.

The topic for the 2020 contest is “An American Who Served in The Military During World War II Who Inspires Me.”  Students can consider a member of their family, of their community, or a famous man or woman who served in any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces as their subject.  Essays should be 500-750 words in length and utilize interviews and primary sources whenever possible.

The two students who write the winning essays will each receive a $200 gift card and each of their teachers, will earn receive a $100 gift card to purchase classroom supplies.  The student winners will also be invited to come to Richmond to read aloud their essays and participate in the Commonwealth’s Veterans Day Ceremony at the Virginia War Memorial on Wednesday, November 11, 2020.

The deadline for entries for the Virginia War Memorial 2020 Veterans Day Student Essay Contest is 11:59 p.m., Sunday, October 11, 2020.  Complete information regarding the essay theme, rules, guidelines and how to enter is available online or by calling Virginia War Memorial Assistant Education Director Morgan Guyer at 804-786-2060.


About the Virginia War Memorial

The mission of the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond is to Honor Veterans, Preserve History, Educate Youth and Inspire Patriotism in All.  Dedicated in 1956, the Memorial includes the names of the nearly 12,000 Virginia heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and the Global War on Terrorism.  Located at 621 South Belvidere Street in Richmond, the Virginia War Memorial is a division of the Virginia Department of Veterans Services and serves as an integral part of its mission in support of all Virginians who have served in our military.  For more details, visit www.virginiawarmemorial.org or www.dvs.virginia.gov.


About the Virginia Department of Veterans Services

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services (DVS) is a state government agency with more than 40 locations across the Commonwealth of Virginia.  DVS traces its history to 1928 and the establishment of the Virginia War Service Bureau to assist Virginia’s World War I veterans.  Today, DVS assists veterans and their families in filing claims for federal veterans benefits; provides veterans and family members with linkages to services including behavioral healthcare, housing, employment, education and other programs.  The agency operates two long-term care facilities offering in-patient skilled nursing care, Alzheimer’s/memory care, and short-term rehabilitation for veterans; provides an honored final resting place for veterans and their families at three state veterans cemeteries.  It operates the Virginia War Memorial, the Commonwealth’s tribute to Virginia’s men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice from World War II to the present. For more information, please visit www.dvs.virginia.gov.

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The Little Dig invites kids: Get dirty to fight childhood cancer

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The Big Dig, which would have taken place in Ashburn, Virginia, to benefit pediatric cancer research and the Inova Children’s Hospital Child Life Program, is a collaborative event between the American Cancer Society and the construction industry, providing children and event sponsors the exciting opportunity to operate heavy equipment, including real excavators, bulldozers, front loaders, dump trucks and more, with the assistance of a professional.

Due to the pandemic, the American Cancer Society has created a virtual event called The Little Dig. Parents can register their children by making a donation at acsengage.org/littledigdc.

Kids compete to fundraise by playing in the dirt wherever they and their parents choose. Participants can post fun pictures or videos on The Little Dig DC event dashboard showing their kids playing in the dirt and invite their friends and family to vote by donating. Kids who raise $250 or more will be mailed The Little Dig kit which includes a shovel and The Little Dig t-shirt.

Five prizes will be awarded. Winners will be announced October 1, 2020 and receive their prizes. They will also be presented with a certificate at The Big Dig 2021 event scheduled for September 18, 2021 at the Ashbrook Corporate Center and be featured in a promotional video for The Big Dig 2021.

Winning Categories:

  • Most Money Raised
  • Most Individual Donations
  • Most Actively Involved
  • Most Creative Dig
  • Most Dirty

The Big Dig of the National Capital Area in 2021 expects to draw more 1,000 participants. Proceeds for The Little Dig and The Big Dig benefit the American Cancer Society’s pediatric cancer research and Inova Children’s Hospital Child Life Program. For more information, contact: shiri.rozenberg@cancer.org.

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Chuck Smith announces GOP bid for Attorney General

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VIRGINIA BEACH, VA – Virginia Beach Attorney Chuck Smith announced today his bid to be the Commonwealth’s next Attorney General.

Smith, a retired U.S. Navy JAG Corps Commander, served as the Chairman of the Virginia Beach Republican Party, the largest Republican Party City Committee in Virginia, from 2006-2008.

As a Navy JAG, Smith served as a Prosecutor, Defense Counsel, Administrative Discharge Attorney, as well as Special Assistant United States Attorney. He opened his private law practice in Virginia Beach in 1983, following his release from active duty from the U.S. Navy JAG Corps.

If elected next year, Smith would be the first African-American to be Virginia’s Attorney General. Smith said his campaign platform includes halting the Democratic “assault on those freedoms given by God and guaranteed by our Constitution.”

Smith stated that he feels the Second Amendment is currently under attack in the Commonwealth and that he would “bear true faith and allegiance to the oath I will take when I assume the office of Attorney General.” He further stated, “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Smith, a father of five, avowed that as Attorney General, he would protect life. “The chilling effect of Governor Northam’s approach to ‘life’ is a key reason I have decided to act, to get in to the arena and turn back this unthinkable assault on ‘life’ from inception until death.”

Citing illegal immigration as an issue, the candidate said he would “strictly enforce immigration law to ensure that illegal and poorly vetted immigrants are not settled in Virginia.” Smith also believes that the balance of political power in the Commonwealth has shifted decisively in favor of the federal government in violation of the spirit of the Constitution, and said as Attorney General, he would “vigorously fight further federal encroachment on state sovereignty. I won’t allow the federal government to misuse the power it received in the U.S. Constitution — the greatest document written on national governance.”

Mr. Smith stated, “I want to say in the strongest terms possible that Virginia is only ‘a blue state for a temporary period.’ When I am elected Virginia Attorney General, I will help ‘Make Virginia Red Again.’”

For more information about Chuck Smith’s campaign, visit the website www.chucksmith4ag.com.

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Virginia Department of Veterans Services continues phased reopening

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The Virginia Department of Veterans Services (VDVS) continues the phased reopening of offices and facilities that had been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Veterans and their family members must call or email their local VDVS office to make an appointment to meet in-person with a Veteran Services Representative (Benefit Services division) or a Resource Specialist (Virginia Veteran and Family Support program – VVFS).  All persons entering VDVS offices must wear face masks or face coverings and are asked to not bring along guests to their appointment unless necessary.

Telephone and e-mail services will continue to remain available for veterans and family members.

The following VDVS offices are currently open and accepting appointments for in-person assistance:

Abingdon Portsmouth Naval Hospital
Big Stone Gap Quantico
Charlottesville Richmond (McGuire VAMC)
Hampton Salem VAMC
Hampton Pinewood (VVFS only) Staunton
Fort Lee Strasburg
Loudoun Virginia Beach/Oceana
Lynchburg Williamsburg
Manassas Wytheville
Norfolk

The following VDVS offices are scheduled to open and begin accepting in-person appointments on July 13:

Emporia Pentagon
Fredericksburg South Hill
Fort Belvoir Springfield
Henrico Tazewell
Manassas Virginia Beach/Pembroke

The addresses, telephone numbers and emails of all VDVS offices are available on the VDVS website at www.dvs.virginia.gov/dvs/locations.

Everyone at the Virginia Department of Veterans Services appreciates the understanding and patience of veterans and their families during these challenging times.  VDVS has been working diligently to reopen offices as quickly as possible but only when the safety and health of all veterans and their families and staff members can be assured.

The Virginia War Memorial and Virginia’s three state veterans cemeteries have also reopened:

  • The interior portions of the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond are open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. and Sunday from 12 noon-4 p.m. Social distancing requirements are in effect, facemasks are required, and no more than 50 persons will be permitted inside the Memorial at one time. The grounds of the Memorial are open from daybreak until 10 p.m. daily. Details at vawarmorial.org.
  • The Virginia Veterans Cemetery in Amelia, the Southwest Virginia Veterans Cemetery in Dublin, and the Albert G. Horton, Jr. Memorial Veteran Cemetery in Suffolk are open, but with a limit of 50 persons permitted at committal services. Military funeral honors are provided based on availability of an honors teams from the Department of Defense or a veterans service organization. Details at dvs.virginia.gov/cemeteries.

About the Virginia Department of Veterans Services

The Virginia Department of Veterans Services (VDVS) is a state government agency with more than 40 locations across the Commonwealth of Virginia.  VDVS traces its history to 1928 and the establishment of the Virginia War Service Bureau to assist Virginia’s World War I veterans.  Today, VDVS assists veterans and their families in filing claims for federal veterans benefits; provides veterans and family members with linkages to services including behavioral healthcare, housing, employment, education and other programs. The agency operates two long-term care facilities offering in-patient skilled nursing care, Alzheimer’s/memory care, and short-term rehabilitation for veterans; and provides an honored final resting place for veterans and their families at three state veterans cemeteries. It operates the Virginia War Memorial, the Commonwealth’s tribute to Virginia’s men and women who gave the ultimate sacrifice from World War II to the present. For more information, please visit www.dvs.virginia.gov.

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New Business in Warrenton, VA: Upcycling warehouse Remix Market now open

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Remix Market in Warrenton, Virginia, is now open and is giving old furniture a brand new life. Rediscover, reimagine, repurpose: That’s the name of the game for Remix Market, the sister company of eco-friendly junk removal service, The Junkluggers of Gainesville VA®. Remix Market is a novel concept that is simultaneously a resale shop, upcycling warehouse, creative space, and professional fundraiser.

What’s a junk removal business doing selling furniture and other household items? The answer is simple: a shared mission of saving the planet and helping communities. The Junkluggers know it feels good to do good. And they’ve been doing good since 2004, striving to eliminate 100% of reusable waste from landfills by the year 2025 by donating and upcycling used home goods.

The Remix Market contributes to the “upcycling” component of The Junkluggers’ mission. The Junkluggers franchise owner Mark Harrington, opened a Remix Market in Warrenton, Virginia, located at 6632 Electric Avenue. The Warrenton warehouse is stocked full of gently used and affordable items including antiques, household goods, quality furniture, outdoor equipment, rare books, collectibles, wall art and much more. Beyond helping the environment, sales from Remix Market help fund the franchise’s 2020 Charity of Choice: Mikey’s Way Foundation and Inova Children’s Hospital.

Remix Market Warrenton is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12 p.m. – 5 p.m., servicing a variety of needs—from shoppers looking to furnish their homes for less, interior designers looking for a unique piece for a client, to DIYers who want to upcycle vintage furniture. Plus, Remix Market offers community workshops on painting, upcycling, and other furnishing techniques. Both The Junkluggers and Remix Market strive to rescue perfectly good, reusable items from being thrown away, and are working together everyday on a mission to directly help the local environment and community.

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School shooting moved three students to take action

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BALTIMORE—The three students at Frederick Douglass High School grew up amid the violence and trauma that plague the city, where crime can begin to feel routine. Yet when a shooter fired a gun inside their school on Feb. 8, 2019, they were stunned.

“I did not believe what was going on,” Jaionna Santos said.

“It was surreal,” Bryonna Harris added.

Damani Thomas couldn’t sleep. “Why did that happen to Frederick Douglass? Why did that happen to us in school?”

As they tried to find answers, the students came to see that the violence that they accepted as inevitable should not be considered normal. So on April 10, 2019, they told their stories to the Baltimore City Council. Their effort was a catalyst for the Elijah Cummings Healing City Act.

Signed into law in February, the act requires all city workers, from police officers to teachers, be trained to respond to the trauma they see as they work with Baltimoreans.

In helping to draft the bill, the three students say they learned about government. They learned they were leaders.

And they realized something else: They came to understand how deeply they had been affected by violence in their own families and how they had to get help in coping.

“I did not understand the circumstances I was in … was trauma,” said Santos, 19, who has lost a cousin and a close friend in shootings.

“Over the years and over the time of living in Baltimore being a student in Baltimore City,” she added, “I learned how to navigate a lot of things and normalize things that I went through.”

Before the school shooting, Harris, 17, said, “I was very quiet about my problems and struggles, and I like to go through it alone.” But now, she said, she realizes “I can’t do everything by myself, especially when it comes to trying to heal from trauma because it’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of process.”

After the gunfire at Frederick Douglass, which wounded a staff member, City Councilman Zeke Cohen called the school’s principal asking how he could help. Cohen also mentioned an upcoming council hearing on the violence that affects youth.

When English teacher Daniel Parsons got word of Cohen’s plan, he decided that Harris, Santos, and Thomas, whom he knew from his AP language and composition class, should go to City Hall to tell their stories.

“It was almost a natural choice for me to pick all three of them,” Parsons said. “All three of them are just amazing kids. Their personalities are so incredibly different and all three of them have just been through such harrowing, personal challenges in their life that they never let go of them and never use them as excuses.”

So a few weeks later, the three Frederick Douglass students nervously entered City Hall and read their statements to a City Council committee.

“Crime and violence impact our lives constantly,” Santos said in her testimony. “Some students don’t make it to school because the walk to the bus stop is too dangerous or someone was shot near their usual stop. Sometimes they have to put up with drunk or high people riding the bus with them. Overage men harass young girls on the way to school.”

“We experience all of this,” Santos said, “before the first bell rings.”

Harris said she watched the council members, saw they were really listening, and relaxed.

“They understood what we were saying,” Harris said.

She realized she was in a new role — testifying on behalf of the students who were not yet ready to speak.

“If I can just be that one voice or we can just be those three voices to speak up for the voiceless, it matters a whole lot,” Harris said.

Thomas said, “I decided to speak out because I felt like certain kids can connect with me and understand that we do have a voice and can serve our peers and kids that necessarily do not have the strength to speak up for each other.”

Harris, whose brother was murdered in 2008, now understands that the apathy she used to feel was a manifestation of the trauma in her life.

She had felt unmotivated to carry on. “Where is my light at the end of the tunnel? It just kind of feels like you’re in this dark place.”

“Whenever I have trauma, I try to push it to the back of my head and try to convince myself that it is normal and this is everyday life,” Harris said. “But eventually I became unhealthy because when you keep everything bottled in, eventually it will explode.”

Her father’s death in 2018 pushed her into depression, and people close to her noticed.

“It puts me in moods that sometimes I can’t control and causes me to push the people that are closest to me away,” Harris said. “I just kind of feel like I have to do everything on my own, even though I really don’t.”

The shooting certainly took its toll on Thomas, who suffered from depression and began isolating himself in his room and sleeping for hours. Even before the shooting, Thomas said, he was dealing with social anxiety. When in big crowds, he felt everything was moving in slow motion and everyone was watching him.

He said his response to trauma—being withdrawn and lethargic—is something other teenagers deal with as well, something he feels adults fail to understand.

“They might describe us kids as self-centered, or we’ve got tough shells, or we might not care because of where we come from,” Thomas said. “If you actually took the time to really speak to the kids and really understand their lives and analyze them, you will understand they were as affected as me, maybe even more.”

Even after the shooting at Frederick Douglass, Harris still feels the school is a safe and comfortable place to be. She believes many teachers care about addressing trauma and about the well-being of their students.

“Teachers are very supportive. They always pushed us beyond our limits and pushed us to exceed our expectations,” Harris said. “So I think that’s something that’s really healthy for my mindset sometimes.”

With the Healing City Act now law, Harris now feels more willing to see herself as a leader.

“I think I took it much more seriously and I was much more willing to take on the challenges of it,” Harris said.

Santos hopes the Healing City Act will start a downward trend in violence and trauma.

“It can slow down violence and trauma because most people don’t even know they are actually traumatized,” Santos said. “This bill will actually teach them, educate them, what you go through shouldn’t be normal.”

Thomas hopes it will help other students have a bigger voice to express their ideas and concerns.

“For kids to have a voice, they can speak up more,” Thomas said. “It could be more Damani Thomases, it could be more Bryonnas, it could be more Jaionnas…. I want the kids to have a voice.”

Harris hopes this legislation can set an example beyond Baltimore, which is not the only city dealing with these issues.

“It is important to start to focus on (trauma) because it has been ignored for way too long.”

Student profiles

Jaionna Santos, 19, of Baltimore, said in spring 2020 that “crime and violence impact our lives constantly.” (Capital News Service photo)

Jaionna Santos, 19
“I would probably call (Santos) the rock,” said Daniel Parsons, Santos’s AP English teacher. “Her strength really is often in listening and being empathetic and encouraging.”

Santos said she is shy and has anxiety about speaking in public. She is a former class president but dislikes being called a leader because she dislikes the spotlight.

“I know people look at me as a leader,” Santos said. “There’s school people who hold me to a high standard, like administrators and students. Me as a person, I don’t like to have all of that attention.”

Santos was diagnosed with depression and anxiety in October and took four weeks’ leave from her school. She wasn’t doing well academically and only wanted to stay home.

“I was not talking to friends and I basically was only going to the appointments with my therapist and psychiatrist,” Santos said. “I just wanted to be by myself.”

Now that she has been able to understand the trauma she went through, she hopes others in the Baltimore community will get the help they need to do the same.

“The main thing I believe in is educating people about trauma and figuring out solutions to actually reduce it,” Santos said.

Santos’s mother is a pharmaceutical buyer who supports Santos and her 16-year-old sister. She also has 27-year-old twin brothers.

Santos views African-American figures in history as her role models because they overcame so much to achieve their goals.

“It gives me hope that I can become something because we had the same background and struggles,” she said.

In the fall, Santos will go to Community College of Baltimore County in Essex. She wants to finish college and become a trauma surgeon.

Why did that happen to us in school?” Damani Thomas, 18, of Baltimore in spring 2020. (Capital News Service photo)

Damani Thomas, 18
Parsons sees Thomas as the most artistic of the three students. Thomas loves drawing and cartoons as well as reading — fiction, nonfiction, biographies, and autobiographies.

He considers himself a leader because “I stayed on the forefront to make (the Healing City Act) possible for the city.”

Thomas has three siblings. His father is a security guard and mother is a teacher’s helper.

Thomas’s definition of success is ensuring “he lived his life to the fullest and he made sure he grasped every conversation and every lesson he got along the way.”

Thomas said he looks up to the people who have encouraged him, “because they made me the person I am today and was able to dedicate their lives making sure that I will fulfill the purpose in my life.”

He hopes to go to college to study graphic design or computer science.

Bryonna Harris, 17, in Baltimore in spring 2020, says dealing with trauma is “an all-hands-on-deck kind of process.” (Photo by Jasmine Jones, courtesy Bryonna Harris.)

Bryonna Harris, 17

“I think she is the natural leader of the bunch,” Parsons said. “She’s incredibly thoughtful, very perceptive and charismatic and persuasive.”

Harris has always considered herself a kind of leader because “I just see things from a different perspective. I feel like I’ve always been an over-analyzer.”

Harris also likes to write. “Writing is like having a conversation with myself,” she said.

She has 14 siblings — eight brothers and six sisters. Harris’s mother is a nurse.

“She came from a different era than me,” Harris said about her mother. “It’s like some of the same issues but things just change with time, so seeing her strengths and her resistance when it comes to life is pushing me to strive to be better. I definitely want to provide for my mother and be there for her and do everything for her when I grow up.”

Working on the Healing City Act taught Harris to be more ambitious and more persistent in reaching her goals. “I feel everything is like perseverance. I had the motivation to push through, that I can do better when it comes to school and make a better life for myself.”

She said she used to accept violence as part of life but that has changed.

“I definitely want to go forward with trying to find ways to deal with trauma or address trauma and then heal from it,” Harris said. “I’m not exactly sure how right now, but I know I definitely want to go forth with kindness.”

Harris wants to study at the University of Baltimore and become a lawyer.

By Mohan Xu and Mike Revollo
Capital News Service

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