Revival seeks healing on streets A CRY TO GOD FOR HELP Murders, drugs alarm worshipers CITYWIDE REVIVAL CRUSADE

October 05, 1992|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

It was a celebration of African-American religion and culture.

It was a knitting together of a sometimes frayed community fabric.

But the Baltimore Determined Revival Crusade '92 that ended last night at the Camden Yards ballpark was mostly a desperate cry to God for help.

The revival came at a time when murder in Baltimore is running at a record rate, and young black men are disproportionately both trigger men and victims.

As the Rev. Frank M. Reid III said yesterday, "Evil is having a field day."

The worshipers came from city and suburbs, by bus and car, in jogging suits and in their Sunday best. They filled the box seats from foul line to foul line in a stadium where black faces were rare this baseball season.

They bought revival T-shirts, African kente cloth, $4 socks that say "Jesus, King of Kings," and, of course, ballpark hot dogs.

And they prayed for a miracle much bigger than an Oriole pennant -- a healing of society's wounds, a restoration of faith, a deliverance of young men possessed by drugs and violence.

"It's been amazing. There's almost as many people as for the Orioles -- and more than I've seen in church," said James R. Galmore, 85, a ballpark employee and parishioner at New Shiloh Baptist Church. "I think they feel something like I do -- with all this stuff going on, it's just not safe to walk the streets."

The revival-goers were mainly middle-aged "church people," the stalwarts who fill the pews of black churches every Sunday. But there were plenty of families and some young men.

Two celebrated preachers, Dr. Reid of Bethel A.M.E. Church and the Rev. Harold A. Carter of New Shiloh Baptist Church, took the field in white suits and hit back-to-back home runs with their sermons.

In rumbling cadences, they dragged the worshipers through the depths of a city's despair before lifting them back up to renewed hopefulness. They repeatedly brought the ballpark crowd to its feet as they urged the people to draw closer to God.

It was clearly the young men the preachers most wanted to reach -- the young men who too often become foot soldiers in the drug war and die like grunts.

"We lose them to the street," lamented Jerome Dyson Wright, an author who taught himself to write while in the Maryland Penitentiary for armed robbery. He was selling his three novels and a selection of African-American art on the stadium concourse.

"I had a lot of people reach out to me, and I ignored them," he said. "I ended up getting 10 years the first time and 30 years the second time."

Now Mr. Wright lectures to youth, telling them that the "worst thing out in society is 10 times better than the best thing in the Pen."

He conceded that it is very hard to convince youngsters making wads of cash dealing drugs to "take the slow way of making a living."

But the streets are so deadly now, he said, that "we have to stop being afraid to go out and reach them. No matter how hard-core, they do want somebody to reach them."

Not coincidentally, most young men at the revival came with family -- with the mothers and fathers, aunts and grandmothers who take them to church.

Antoine Payne, 15, and his mother, Strelsa Bryant, 40, sat in a terrace box and reflected on what keeps a young man out of trouble.

"I've been in church since I was born," said Antoine, a student at Carver Vocational-Technical High School and member of Bethel A.M.E. "Most people on the street corners won't admit they go to church, but a lot of them do."

"Are you ashamed to be here?" Ms. Bryant asked her son.

"Of course not," Antoine replied. "God gives you a decision about what to do -- you can follow His path or your own path."

"You learned something!" Ms. Bryant said in mock surprise. "You make me feel proud."

Rodney Farmer Sr., 34, an electronics technician from Odenton, sat next to his 12-year-old son, Rodney Jr., a student at Arundel Middle School.

"First of all, you have to be an example," Mr. Farmer said. "Then you have to talk to him and encourage him, take him to positive events like this."

"Church is very important," he said. "It teaches a way of life, not necessarily that you have to worship in a certain way, but values -- how to live, how to treat people, respect for human life and for yourself.

"If everyone took just one kid, that would be a beginning right there."

Several young men gave a grim assessment of their peers' prospects and of the despair that has gripped Baltimore.

Derick Harrison, 15, a Douglass High School student, said most of his male classmates are at risk of "going down the drain."

"They think nothing's going to happen to them. They need a bad experience before they wake up," Derick said.

Aaron Lee, 26, a Persian Gulf war veteran, said he found Baltimore dramatically changed when he came home six months ago after a five-year Army hitch.

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