Among schoolchildren, Lewis Bracy tries for small victories.
Maybe he'll help a kid think a bit more of himself. Maybe the youngster will pass on an offer of drugs.
Bracy sat in a circle with eight youngsters age 5 to 13 at the Meade Village Community Center on a recent Wednesday afternoon. They talked a bit about the war in the Middle East, about Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. They took time out to applaud oneof the children, who just got an A on a spelling test. They opened with a prayer and closed with a simple anthem: "Stay in school."
Bracy is a 37-year-old man full of concern about what is happening to other black Americans and hope that the slide might be turned around. Three years ago, he and a few other people he works with at the National Security Agency formed a group called Blacks for Success.
The idea was to promote black-owned businesses, to make blacks more awareof their economic clout and how to use it. More recently, the group won a $1,500 grant from the county to offer lessons in martial arts and black culture at the Meade Village Community Center.
"These kids see drug dealers every day," said Bracy, who lives north of Meade Village, in a cluster of middle-class homes in Hanover.His home is decorated with African art and pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
Bracy hopes that the discipline of martial arts and positive examples from black history will help the children realize that "no matter what your surroundings, you can rise above them. . . . If you have proper respect for what your people have accomplished, you won't be part of what destroys your own."
He was talking about the drug-related murder rate among young black men in Baltimore and Washington. Whatever economic and social gains blacks have made over the years, Bracy said "it's hard to say you see progress when you see thosekind of kill numbers."
However, he said he sees some cause for hope in the fight against drug abuse among black youngsters.
"I would say the younger kids are starting to get the message," but "you canstill buy drugs in the same places today as you could five years ago."
Bracy said he's been disappointed by the response from the black community to the epidemic of black-on-black and drug-related violence.
"If a cop kills somebody, people go crazy. If it's racial, people go crazy. The lack of outrage from the black middle to upper class is their disassociating themselves from their brethren."
He pointed to a rally conducted by a black church in Baltimore earlier this year to protest violence. It drew 3,000 people. The turnout should have been much better, Bracy said. "The church was the backbone of the civil rights movement."
Bracy grew up in Portsmouth, Va., the son of a Norfolk Navy Shipyard worker and a hospital dietitian.
When he was growing up, "there was always a positive adult around. Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts to Boys Club, there was some adult giving of their owntime to see you were going in the right direction."
He joined theArmy after high school and in 1977 was stationed at Fort Meade. He was discharged in 1980 and registered at Anne Arundel Community College, where he earned an associate's degree while working part-time as a security guard. Last year, he earned his bachelor's degree from theUniversity of Maryland, Baltimore County. He has worked for the NSA since 1983.
Bracy recalled that when he first took up quarters at Fort Meade, "not one business" along the Boomtown strip of Route 175 was owned by a Korean. Now, Korean business people own many of the restaurants, liquor stores, bars and markets that face Fort Meade.
That sort of conspicuous Korean success has been a point of conflict in the black community of Brooklyn, N.Y. Bracy said it ought to be an inspiration.
"They're doing what they're supposed to do," Bracy said. "They're feeding their families." He said blacks ought to follow the example, "pool our resources, hire our own people. Keep the moneyin the community."
Blacks for Success has been taking steps toward that goal. The group conducted a number of events to both raise money for the group and to give black merchants a chance to showcase their wares.
The group invited Famous Amos, the cookie entrepreneur, to give a talk at Howard University in Washington. It also has sponsored three body-building contests in Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, inviting black merchants who sell body-building clothing and health products.
In 1989, the group sponsored showings in Baltimore of an anti-drug film called "White Girl," shot in North Carolina by film maker Tony Brown. The printed program for the showings at Morgan State University and the Walters Art Gallery featured advertisements for black-owned businesses.
The group has turned its attentionto real estate, Bracy said. He said two members are now taking real estate classes. The group hopes to buy run-down properties in tax sales, refurbish them using black contractors and sell them on the open market.
It's a start, said Bracy.
"I see the race is either holding still or going down. I wanted to do my part as an African-American."