The Rev. Bart Pierce's voice boomed over the crowd yesterday outside the Lafayette Courts public housing project in East Baltimore.
"We will see something happen today that will alter the Lafayette area, and this block and this city will never be the same again," thundered Mr. Pierce, a pastor at Towson's Rock Church. "This is God's day."
The pledge moved the audience to chant "yes" and sway their arms in unison, and the party officially began.
The daylong celebration was sponsored by Adopt-A-Block, a partnership of 50 area churches, businesses and community groups committed to improving the most crime-plagued blocks in the city.
About 5,000 people showed up at the mammoth block party, complete with free food and clothing giveaways, clowns, puppet shows and music. Representatives from the Health Department gave free dental screenings, and Narcotics Anonymous provided information and literature.
Beneath all the frivolity, however, was a purpose.
"It's getting worse. There's too many kids losing their lives," Mr. Pierce said. "We're trying to go to the city blocks and bring some self-respect and dignity back."
Adopt-A-Block's 11th and largest party began with a morning parade of several hundred area church members, who marched from Dunbar High School's football field to Lafayette Courts at Fayette and Aisquith streets.
Participants marched to protest the wave of violence that has hit Baltimore's high-rise housing projects in the past three weeks, including the murder of a 9-year-old girl at Lexington Terrace.
Accompanied by church marching bands and religious music blaring through loudspeakers, marchers snaked through the streets to Lafayette Courts, where residents had already started partying.
"I think it's really nice. I've got seven kids, and I can really use the stuff," said Lafayette Courts resident Sondra Junior, who picked up some clothes and a bag of sweet potatoes at the party.
Adopt-A-Block organizers say they don't just descend on a block, throw a party and leave. Church members recruit families who live in the targeted neighborhoods to act as liaisons with Adopt-A-Block. They establish "Just Say No" clubs for youths and work to renovate run-down housing for families.
"We don't want to have an event and say, 'God bless you all. Wasn't that nice,' " said the Rev. Lou Badolato, an associate pastor at Rock Church, which founded the program three years ago. "We're here to stay."
Some residents at Lafayette Courts said things have improved since Housing Authority police swept through 109 vacant units in May and arrested 10 people.
Adopt-A-Block organizers say they're confident conditions will improve based on the group's record for other East Baltimore blocks, including Holbrook Street, Ensor Avenue and McDonogh Street.
Mr. Badolato said police statistics show that crime has &r decreased in these areas since Adopt-A-Block became involved.
Police spokesman Sam Ringgold said he couldn't confirm the group's claim because he was unfamiliar with the statistics Mr. Badolato cited.