22 ministers taking fight against drugs to street corners by inner-city churches Group plans to 'reclaim' neighborhoods at night

March 27, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

The preachers made their stand against drug dealers yesterday, at the feet of a statue of Billie Holiday, the heavenly voiced Baltimore jazz singer who fought her own battles against narcotics.

The voices of the Rev. Marcus Wood and 21 other ministers from across the city formed a chorus of determination at the drug-weary corner of Lafayette and Pennsylvania avenues in West Baltimore.

Their refrain: No longer would this corner, outside Providence Baptist Church, or any other corner near the coalition's 16 churches be owned by pleasure-peddlers.

"We are prepared to give substantially of ourselves to stop these scourges," Wood said. "Because if not us, then who? If not now, then when? If not here, then where?"

Starting next month, the right of the righteous to own these corners will begin directly interfering with the drug trade as volunteers hold late-night prayer sessions on the 16 corners, try to convert passers-by at 2 a.m. and 3 a.m., and stand on the sidewalks in the way of drug dealers.

This is not the first neighborhood patrol-type program to be launched in Baltimore. But participants said their plan is unusual because it springs from a rare partnership of inner-city churches.

Part of the rationale behind the in-your-face strategy is that the churches felt they had to do something bold to fire the hearts of young African-American men increasingly entranced by the drug-fighting efforts of the controversial Nation of Islam, Wood said in an interview before the event.

"We must speak out against the scourges of racism, crime, drugs and abject poverty that are threatening the very life of our community," Wood, 57, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, told ministers and about 30 onlookers.

Although the coalition has not worked out the dates, the ministers plan to "reclaim" a corner near their churches or in their neighborhoods starting next month, according to Wood and the co-leader, the Rev. Willie Ray.

The first corners where church volunteers will stand late into the night will be at Lafayette and Pennsylvania avenues, and Lafayette Square in West Baltimore. Then, the program -- called Operation Open Window: One Church, One Corner -- will spread to the 15 other participating churches and then throughout the city, the ministers hope.

The rally attracted not only men of the cloth, but also the attention of a self-described heroin and cocaine addict, Charles Duffy, who was walking by.

A 41-year-old exhausted-looking man wearing a black stocking cap and winter coat, Duffy looked up at the statue of Billie Holliday and acknowledged that he, too, was being dragged down by Lady Day's curse.

"Having the church members on the corners, walking up to us and actually talking to us -- I think that could really help by showing us encouragement and compassion," Duffy said.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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