Two Baltimores

Jack L. Levin

January 09, 1991|By Jack L. Levin

THE GREENING of Baltimore's black middle class was evident in the recent opening in Govans of the second branch of the successful minority-controlled Harbor Bank of Maryland. The bank's main office is doing well at 21 West Fayette St. Its first branch, the former Bank of Baltimore office at 5000 Park Heights Ave. in Pimlico, has shown steady growth since its opening two years ago.

The Harbor Bank of Maryland has assets of $32.5 million and a sound $22 million loan portfolio and has been profitable for the past five years, resisting the tide of unfavorable trends in the banking industry -- a tide so high that it forced the federal government to take over the huge Bank of New England over the weekend.

The growing empowerment of Maryland's black business community was shown by Catherine Pugh in the recent black business supplement to The Sun and Evening Sun. Fifty black companies employ almost 8,000 people and have over $500 million in annual sales volume. One black investment firm manages $140 million in assets, and one black retail firm does $65 million in annual volume. A $37 million contract to build an 11-story office building in downtown Baltimore has been awarded to a black development firm. Blacks have succeeded in Baltimore business, government, science, art and the professions. They appear on television shows, commercials and interviews. Their pictures are in the papers; they're seen with white peers in all the best places.

Still more numerous, however, are the less visible blacks who have not made it, who fall back on food stamps, work at below-minimum wages and crowd the shelters, soup kitchens, hospital emergency rooms (because they can't afford doctors), the streets, alleys and jails of the city.

Their children are the ubiquitous victims of poverty, hunger and illness -- two to three times more so than the children of other Western nations.

According to the latest U.S. census, child poverty, mostly black, has increased to 12.6 million, almost 3 million more than in 1978. Forty-four percent of all black children are poor, compared to one in seven white children. Absent major government intervention, the figures will rise.

These poor children are likely to be born underweight, to live in substandard housing, to have inadequate nourishment and health care and attend school less well-prepared than other children. Without educational help, their future, and the community's, is bleak.

Additional educational resources are desperately needed, especially for pre-school child care for the nearly 60 percent of mothers who must work out of the home. The trouble starts early. By age 8 or 9, black students are twice as likely as whites to be two grades behind and three times as likely to drop out later. About half of black 17-year-olds lack the skills in math, reading and science needed to perform moderately complex tasks. Early pregnancy and substance abuse take their toll.

What is to be done, by whom, and when?

The middle class -- black and white -- must agree that there cannot be two Baltimores, two Marylands and two Americas; that the problems of hunger, homelessness, disease and despair cannot be walled off; that we are all in this together, and that most of us are more immediately threatened by what is happening at the center of our city than by what may happen in the Middle East.

The success of many black fellow citizens proves the tremendous potential, and the benefits to us all, in helping minorities to escape from the underclass into the mainstream of a united, healthy, productive commonwealth.

Jack L. Levin is a Baltimore businessman.


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