At the CEPA Gallery in the Market Arcade, Christian Stokes of South Park High School and Aitina Fareed of Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts enjoy exhibit of photos by them and fellow Weed and Seed students.

The "Weed" part of Weed and Seed usually grabs the headlines, as when illegal weapons are pulled off Buffalo streets.

But the "Seed" part quietly is taking root for the city's at-risk youth, through activities that inspire creativity, caring and a sense of community.

Introduced here in 1997, the federally funded program aims to reduce crime and improve economic and housing development. Its strategies include enforcement-based prevention, as well as intervention.

Fruits of the latter can be seen on the walls of CEPA Gallery in the Market Arcade through March 27.

An exhibit of black-and-white photos features work by some of the first 13 high school students from Weed and Seed - working in partnership with YO! Buffalo - to take advantage of CEPA's Youth Education Program.

It began last September, with lessons by professional photographers on using cameras and darkrooms. Then students set out in December, taking pictures of symbols of their lives, community and schools.

"I like photography - love art," said Aitina Fareed, a senior at Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts. "I like going into the darkroom; thought it was interesting how a blank sheet could turn into something that you captured."

In one of Aitina's two photos on display, a friend sits alone, his back to the camera, on the floor of a deserted hallway at school. Sunlight and shadows play off the lockers and floor.

The image was meant to be thought-provoking. "He's facing away; when you look at it, you want to know who that is," Aitina explained.

A poem represents her interpretation. It reads, in part:

I only hope the sunlight shines wherever I move only that will keep me moving forward. Aitina also was part of a small group of teenagers that recently traveled to Washington, D.C., for a crime-prevention conference, where she participated in a youth leadership training program and helped write policy proposals that were submitted to Congress.

"I love Weed and Seed because there's a lot of things you can do with it," she said. "Each and every thing is an experience."

Christian Stokes, a junior at South Park High School, is equally enthusiastic about his experiences. He talks eagerly about his three photos on display.

"I loved the program," he said. "I always wanted to know how to develop my own pictures."

One of his photos, an angled shot of a minister who visited the CRUCIAL Community Center on Moselle Street, was meant to be provocative.

"This," he said, indicating the photograph, "leaves a whole bunch of questions. "What's going on?' "

Through Weed and Seed, Christian also tutors youngsters after school. "I hope they have a lot of opportunities that we had," he said. "I hope they learn that they can be great."

Other students from the Weed and Seed group are: Mary Cooper and Bridgette McClain, Seneca Vocational; Naseera Edwards, Bernadette McClain and Chanel Williams, Bennett; Jasmine Favors and Darice Sullivan, Riverside; Jesenia Gonzalez, Grover Cleveland; Erica Marshall, Performing Arts; Donald White, South Park; and Byron Wilson, Hutchinson-Central Technical.

"We hope to do this again," said Oswaldo Mestre, director of Weed and Seed. "It was definitely a great partnership."