Four-by-Four neighbors see no quick fixes

June 15, 1994|By Sandy Banisky and Ivan Penn | Sandy Banisky and Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writers

In East Baltimore's Four-by-Four neighborhood (four blocks wide and four blocks deep), the news from the NAACP leadership summit is just a distant rumble. On the front porches of this rowhouse community, residents talking among themselves have their own ideas on how to improve life for black Americans:

"Job training programs to keep people off the street," said Darryl Rogers, 33, of Ravenwood Avenue. "Recreation centers, so there's someplace for kids to go."

"Parents who raise children right," said Proverb McMorris, 78. "We older people were raised by civilized parents and Bible-reading parents."

"We need more black businesses, especially businesses owne by women," said Sharon Neal, 37, who runs a neighborhood day care center.

In the Four-by-Four, residents are wary of the children who hav begun to hang out on the corners as drugs are creeping in. They are worried

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about the quality of education their children are receiving in Baltimore's beleaguered schools. They want better job training and higher paying jobs. They want stronger parents raising youngsters tough enough to turn away from drugs and violence.

And what of the NAACP African American Leadership Summit, convened 10 miles across town and drawing national attention?

"I've just seen it flashing on the news," Mr. Rogers said.

The Four-by-Four, just east of Clifton Park, is a neighborhood much like many others in Baltimore. Nearly 2,000 people live there, more than 1,700 of them black. Most of the houses are owned by the occupants.

The Four-by-Four has 400 children in public school and 12 enrolled in private schools, according to census data.

The neighborhood's median household income is $31,000, higher than the city median of $28,217. Thirteen percent receive public assistance, below the city median of 16.4 percent.

'Trying very, very hard'

Yesterday's steamy weather drew some residents out to their porches, many of which overlook cheery front-yard gardens. A ++ few carpenters and painters were at work in the neighborhood sprucing up houses. But some of the homes have begun to look worn. And a few homeowners have put bars over first-floor windows.

Still, it's a neighborhood that is "trying very, very hard," said 3rd District City Councilman Wilbur E. Cunningham, who represents the area. "It's stable, because there's homeownership and longevity, and people look out for each other."

"I love the neighborhood," said the Rev. Robert L. Haynes, pastor of New Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church. "I love the people. I walk anywhere. I have no problems. They respect me and they respect each other."

Mr. Haynes was sure his community would see "a trickle-down effect" from the NAACP summit. "I'll tell you what we're hoping won't come

out of this," he said. "We're hoping they won't come out of this meeting saying they have found the answers to all the problems facing black Americans. Because they can't."

But he expects to hear "some guiding principles." He hopes the conference can advise on improving the economy for blacks, increasing moral responsibility and boosting education. "Some agenda should be set," he said.

ucation, jobs

Mr. McMorris, who was sitting on his porch reading the newspaper, said he followed the NAACP proceedings faithfully, even watching two hours of the town meeting held at Dunbar High School Monday night.

"There's one thing they didn't hit on: The lack of education among parents today is ruining our children," Mr. McMorris said. "The family's never been the same since World War II. It's slowly getting worse. The younger children, the children I've seen grow up, as many are doing drugs today as peddling drugs."

What about jobs? "Let's not kid ourselves," Mr. McMorris said. "There's enough jobs for these young men. Get the Sunday papers and see. There's enough jobs. They just won't work."

The summit, he said, "was a very, very good meeting -- just the effort being made was good. And we have to make many many more."

But some of his neighbors were far more critical.

John D. Fulton, a 39-year-old professional window cleaner who lives on Elmley Street, said he had watched some of the NAACP town meeting and was disappointed.

"Five-hundred-dollar suits," he said, as he smoked a cigarette while sitting on a neighbor's porch. "If they didn't look like James Brown and talk nothing, it would be different," said Mr. Fulton, who has lived in the neighborhood for four years.

lot of talk'

Kim Thomas also was skeptical of what the conference would produce. "Jesse Jackson is a lot of talk," she said. "I don't know about the rest of them."

Cynthia Williams, her neighbor, added, "I bet you he won't walk down here and shake anybody's hand."

Ms. Thomas, a 36-year-old nursing assistant, is rearing two sons on $13,000 a year. "It's just hard all around for black people," she said.

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