Training sharpens skills of neighborhood leaders

June 05, 1994|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Sun Staff Writer

Ronald Bailey takes his community work seriously. His business cards read: "Ronald Nathaniel Bailey, Community Activist, Proudly serving the people of Baltimore City."

And he chairs the Do It Now Coalition, working with a group of tough West Baltimore neighborhoods to arrange neighborhood cleanups, vigils against drug dealers and overnight camp-outs for poor children.

But only after finishing a six-month training program for neighborhood leaders can Mr. Bailey say he's ready to begin solving his community's more difficult problems: drug addiction, crime and illiteracy.

"Folks don't know all they have to do is raise their voices to get things done," he says with new-found confidence.

The training program, sponsored by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, gave Mr. Bailey the self-assurance and skills to address a crowd of people, write a grant proposal, incorporate an organization and run a successful meeting. This spring, he and a dozen others were the first graduates of the program, which is designed to help them tackle the inner city's most pervasive problems.

"A lot of grass-roots leaders are always on the dance floor of community activism," said Roxie Bratton, who ran the Leadership Initiative Fellows Program. "We wanted to get them to the balcony" to be able to stand back and see the bigger picture.

The work these leaders do "is brickyard stuff. It's not glamorous. People don't get pats on the back. They're doing it because it's the right thing to do," said Mr. Bratton.

Participants came from geographically diverse neighborhoods linked by poverty: Franklin Square and Coppin Heights in West Baltimore, Park Heights in Northwest, Sharpe-Leadenhall in South Baltimore, Latrobe Homes in East Baltimore and Upton and Orchard Mews just west of downtown.

In each of those neighborhoods, community involvement is an uphill battle. Leaving home to attend a meeting can be dangerous when there are gun-toting drug dealers lurking on the corner.

And the neighborhoods face some unusual problems. In Orchard Mews, for example, trimming trees along the street is essential -- to remove branches where drugs are hidden.

Mr. Bailey lives in Upton, a neighborhood he describes as "a dumping ground" for people renting slum housing.

"Just getting them to come to a meeting, to get them to have a mind-set of a sense of community is an accomplishment," said Mr. Bailey. Community organizations, he said, need to offer neighbors "something -- a youth program, an after-school program, or a scholarship fund" to get them involved in activities.

And running community meetings can be frustrating, because people want to complain about rats in the alleys, instead of focusing on "education and political empowerment," said Cathryn Chance, president of the Orchard Mews Neighborhood Association who also participated in the program.

Still, she has found new energy from the CPHA training, and is ready to start a voter registration campaign aimed at signing up 3,000 voters.

On a recent Saturday, Ms. Chance and Mr. Bailey met with others at CPHA's downtown offices to hear a speech and watch a slide show about the Southeast Community Plan, an elaborate blueprint drawn up by dozens of Southeast Baltimore community leaders to tackle problems from illiteracy to housing to unemployment.

The impressive plan left them with a feeling of hope, they said.

Mr. Bratton said, "There's this undercurrent of good will and participation and commitment that are holding the neighborhoods together, no matter how dismal it looks at the time."

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