Youth's vision helps to make Baltimore an 'All-America' city

August 07, 1991|By Thom Loverro | Thom Loverro,Sun Staff Correspondent

WASHINGTON — The number of times Baltimore has received All-America city honors was incorrect in an article in The Sun yesterday. Baltimore was named an All-America city for 1952, 1976-1977 and 1991.

* The Sun regrets the error.

The vision of 14-year-old Russell Allen Jr. helped make Baltimore an All-America city.

Russell, a freshman entering Baltimore's Polytechnic Institute and one of the success stories of the city's Project RAISE (Raising Ambition Instills Self Esteem), was inspired after reading about the life of retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

His vision? To be the next Thurgood Marshall.

It is this ambition that helped convince judges of the All-America Cities Awards program, sponsored by the National Civic League and the Allstate Foundation, that Baltimore was worthy of an All-America designation. Baltimore was among 10 communities honored yesterday by President Bush at the White House.


Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who received the award from President Bush, said Russell's presentation on the success of Project RAISE, which matches middle and high school students with mentors to help them in school, impressed the judges during presentations in June in San Antonio, Texas.

"He really stole the show when he gave his speech," Mr. Schmoke said.

Russell continued the show yesterday, as he was pulled from one interview to another on the White House lawn to talk about Baltimore and the Project RAISE program.

"The program has been resourceful for me,"he said. "It's there when I need help, like with the after-school homework assistance part of it. That's helped me a lot."

He also told the judges of the special relationship he has developed with his mentor, Carey McKenzie, an investment service representative for T. Rowe Price and Associates in Baltimore.

The teen-ager called their relationship "the best one" in the program.

Russell, the son of Russell and Regina Allen, lives in the first block of South Arlington Avenue in Southwest Baltimore. He told the judges that they were looking at the next Thurgood Marshall -- a boast that told the judges what they needed to know about the success of Project RAISE.

"When I read the book about Thurgood Marshall and about how && fair he was and how he fought for what he believed in, I said, 'I can do that,' " Russell said. "I'm a fair person, and I fight for what I believe in."

Project RAISE was one of three programs that Baltimore presented to the judges for the All-America designation. The other two were the Southeast Senior Housing Alliance, a program of the Southeast Community Organization which assists senior citizens in home improvements to allow them to stay in their homes, and People's Homesteading Group, which converts vacant houses into homes for low-income people.

The Rev. David Casey, board member of the Southeast Community Organization, was part of the group representing Baltimore at the White House. He also was in the delegation that made Baltimore's All-America city presentation in San Antonio, where representatives from 30 cities -- finalists from 97 entries -- went before 12 judges from the National Civic League. The league, a non-profit citizens research and education organization, has run the awards program for 42 years.

The presentations outlined the efforts of local citizens, local government and businesses in each community working together to solve problems -- the basic criteria for the All-America city designation.

Mr. Casey said he believes Baltimore's theme -- emphasizing TTC grass-roots programs to make life better on a neighborhood level -- painted an impressive picture for the judges.

Other cities honored were Gothenburg, Neb.; Gadsden, Ala.; Greencastle, Ind.; Newark, N.J.; Albany, N.Y.; Greensboro, N.C.; Dayton, Ohio; Austin, Texas; and Winchester-Frederick County, Va.

In yesterday morning's ceremony in the Rose Garden, President Bush said that the communities honored "have lessons to teach us all, to realize that a community can claim and shape its own destiny."

Mr. Schmoke said the All-America designation reflects on all the citizens of the city. "I'm so proud of the citizens of Baltimore and all the work they did to get this award," he said.

Baltimore has won the award once before, in 1977. At that time, then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer made the designation part of a major city promotion, including a special All-America City night for an Orioles' game at Memorial Stadium.

The city again plans to promote the title through posters, stickers and flags, said Tracy Baskerville of the city's office of promotion. "We hope to let citizens know that Baltimore is an All-America city where people can work together to solve community problems," she said.

Like the judges in San Antonio, Mr. Schmoke said he, too, was taken by Russell Allen's view of the future. "I'm impressed with what the program has done for him," he said. "It's raised his vision of what he can be."

Russell said RAISE did not necessarily change his life. "I have two loving parents, so I would probably be the same as I am now," he said.

But it did land him a visit to the White House, something that his friends had a tough time believing.

"They didn't believe me at first," he said. "One minute we were outside hanging around and playing basketball, then I found out I was going to the White House. I guess I wouldn't have believed it myself if I hadn't known it."

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