Amid apathy, helping people help themselves

July 19, 1992

Will Mitchell figures government is never going to step in to help the people of the Jonathan Street community of downtown Hagerstown. So last year he moved there from Baltimore to help the community help itself, as program director of a 21-month-old organization called Community Solidarity.

To visit the Jonathan Street area is to see what happens when frustration with government gives way to long years of deadening apathy. Most of its residents are low-income blacks, and after years of being sealed off from the rest of Hagerstown in one way or another, they generally tune out politics and elections.

"For black people, there really is no difference between Democrats and Republicans," Mr. Mitchell said. "The only thing refreshing I've heard is from that guy Ross Perot, who at least had the guts to say he didn't know what the answers were. But the powers-that-be in Washington and the people that control the means of production of this country have their own agenda."

The neighborhood has felt this way for years about politicians, and it is wary of outsiders. Mr. Mitchell often has run up against cynicism and skepticism in his efforts to help.

But with all the problems to be dealt with, nothing frustrates him as much as apathy.

"A lot of people didn't even know there was a free health clinic a block up the street," he said. "But black people have to come to realize that big government is not going to solve our problems, whether it's unemployment, black-on-black violence or drug addiction. Those problems are going to have to be solved from within."

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