Hathaway Ferebee inspires people to fight for change in their area

A GOOD CITIZEN

October 04, 1992|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

Grayland Smith is the third African-American president of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, not the first as was reported in Sunday's profile of CPHA executive director Hathaway Ferebee in the People section.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Hathaway Ferebee is spending her career cleaning up Baltimore, or rather -- as she is quick to correct you -- she is helping others clean up Baltimore. As executive director for Citizens Planning and Housing Association, the city's premier organization for improving neighborhood life, she persuades, prods, repairs, inspires, and never eats lunch.

Overseeing a staff of seven, meeting regularly with dozens of community and business leaders, Ms. Ferebee is a study in perpetual motion. She keeps her watch set 15 minutes ahead -- things usually take longer than she thinks -- and says she feels most comfortable talking business if she's also folding letters or stamping envelopes.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

Presently she is helping organize a rally of citizens and community groups at City Hall. The event, scheduled from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. this Thursday, will show the power of grass-roots activism and call attention to such issues as removing billboards that advertise alcohol and tobacco. During the past few years, CPHA has helped organize coalitions that have won new housing code enforcement and liquor permit bills. More than 900 illegal billboards in inner city neighborhoods have come down.

"People in communities are putting oodles of time and effort into keeping their communities clean," she says. "What we're able to do at CPHA is organize groups of people to identify an issue, come up with a solution, and fight for it."

Ms. Ferebee, 39, has green-blue eyes, stands a mite under 5 feet 5 inches, and wears clothes that survive 14-hour days but often fail the fashion standards of her 10-year-old daughter. Consistently self-effacing, she is skillful at steering conversation toward the groups CPHA helps.

For starters, there are the participants at the upcoming rally: the City-wide Liquor Coalition, the Coalition Against Childhood Lead Poisoning, Marylanders Against Handgun Abuse, the Banner Neighborhoods Community Forum on Sanitation, Citizens for Decent Housing and the Coalition for Beautiful Neighborhoods -- all groups with particular approaches to improving the city.

But can they affect the poverty? The schools? The drugs? The shootings?

Little victories count

"We are working with several groups that are organizing anti-drug marches," Ms. Ferebee says. "Citizens have to organize and come up with solutions to problems. Take the billboard victory. Although it doesn't get people to stop shooting each other, it teaches communities how to identify a problem and get the resources needed to solve it. We have to keep doing that with every problem we have. Each little victory leads to another."

Founded in 1941 by Frances Froelicher, CPHA was the city's first housing organization, created to shatter indifference toward Baltimore's slums. Its early work helped establish the city's first housing code and housing court. Over the years, CPHA mobilized community improvement groups to keep an eye on city agencies, celebrated Baltimore's renaissance with the guidebook "Bawlamer" and started the Community ResourceBank to provide material support to neighborhood groups.

Since Ms. Ferebee became executive director in 1987, the organization has almost doubled its annual budget to $350,000 and significantly broadened its concerns.

It released report cards on every elementary school in the city, providing the public with school-by-school achievement data for the first time. It assigned staff to help community recycling efforts. It began sponsoring symposiums on city life and opened a technical resource center which has helped more than 100 neighborhood groups.

Racial diversity

And it managed to change its image as a largely white organization -- president-elect Grayland Smith is the first African-American president -- by making sure board members represented the various concerns of the city's neighborhoods as well as Baltimore's racial diversity.

"Hathaway has put CPHA back on the map," says Lenneal Henderson, professor of government at the University of Baltimore and one of the authors of "Baltimore and Beyond," a report on the city's future.

"For a period of time, the organization was kind of stumbling, not sure where to go next, and she brought it all together down a very nice path. She has involved us very effectively in housing and planning issues with the city, not against the city. We are now as prone to collaborate with the city as to be critical of it."

Others talk of Ms. Ferebee's skill at persuading people from different communities and professions to dedicate themselves to improving city life.

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