Clay St. to hear Chavis message

January 13, 1994|By John A. Morris | John A. Morris,Staff Writer

One of the nation's leading civil rights advocates is gearing up to tackle drug abuse, poverty and crime in urban neighborhoods like Annapolis' Clay Street.

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr., executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is expected to address the new focus during a lunch Monday with Anne Arundel County civic leaders at First Baptist Church, a half-block from Clay Street.

"He wants to talk about what we can do to heal those ills," said Terhea Washington, director of public relations for the national group. "He believes anything that threatens our communities or hinders our communities from doing well and thriving are civil rights issues."

Monday's lunch is in celebration of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, but organizers said they chose First Baptist Church because of its location.

"That's a community that's long been plagued with crime and drugs, and it is literally in the shadow of the Arundel Center and the state capital," said Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat.

"There is no better opportunity to demonstrate that Dr. King's 'dream' has been detoured than coming to Clay Street," he said, referring to Dr. King's famous speech.

Although blacks and other minorities have secured the right to vote and gain equal access to public places, Mr. Snowden said, they are still denied the right to live in safe neighborhoods because they cannot escape poverty.

The Rev. Leroy Bowman, pastor at First Baptist, said, "We want to do everything we can to make sure that [Dr. King's] dream comes true. We don't want it to remain just a dream."

Many past and current Clay Street residents are trying to heal themselves and their community, said Bertina Nick, who is working with the South County Residential Project to create better housing in the community. Residents have formed safety and revitalization committees with the police and city government, she said.

The City Council has set aside $300,000 to refurbish the Stanton Center as a multipurpose community center, and U.S. Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest has made a dozen official and unofficial trips there during the last year.

"There are some very strong people in the Clay Street area, and all they need is access to the political process," the 1st District Republican said. "It's good Dr. Chavis is coming there. It's a reward for all the hard work they've already done."

Ms. Nick said she hopes Dr. Chavis can "energize and inspire" Clay Street residents to do more.

"Law and order will not be how we solve the problem, because the police come and then they leave," Ms. Nick said. "The community has to take responsibility for policing themselves."

Neither will Dr. Chavis "save us," Ms. Nick said. "He's a nationally known speaker who can draw people out and motivate them. But he doesn't live here."

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