When the covers were pulled away, Kweisi Mfume could hardly believe it: KWEISI MFUME COURT, proclaimed the two signs that were posted high on the sides of two townhouses in the southeast Baltimore County community where he lived as a child.
"I had to look again to see if it was really there," Mfume, president and chief executive officer of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said with a smile during a street-naming ceremony yesterday in his honor. The street in Turners Station had been Linden Court.
"At first I felt a little embarrassed about the fuss today," he said. Then it was humbling. This was home. And the folks gathered for the event were family -- or like family.
It was here in the Day Village townhouse community -- in Turners Station, just south of Baltimore -- that Mfume was known affectionately as "Pee-Wee." He grew into an national figure, and his old neighborhood wanted to recognize him for it.
"For many years to come, young people will hear the legend and aspire to your accomplishments," Baltimore County Councilman Louis L. DePazzo said about Mfume to the crowd of almost 200 that had gathered for the ceremony.
As part of the event, William S. Ehrlich, owner of Day Village, established a rent subsidy program in honor of Mfume's mother, Mary Elizabeth Willis. The subsidy, which Ehrlich is paying, will allow eligible tenants to pay a fixed monthly rent of $150 for the first six months of a 12- or 18-month lease. Ehrlich also established a $1,000 scholarship program for a graduating high school senior from the Day Village community.
Mfume attributed much of his success to the sense of community found in Turners Station and to his mother, who died in his arms when he was 16.
"I know Kweisi as a man of compassion, conviction and virtues," said Glenard Middleton, executive director of the Maryland branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
"He is a family man, who doesn't forget how to give back and where he came from," said Middleton, a close friend of Mfume's who grow up with him in Turners Station.
A former Baltimore City Councilman, a member of Congress for 10 years and now the head of the nation's leading civil rights organization, Mfume came from humble beginnings and difficult times. But the things he loved in Turners Station seemed to make his memories of life there more sweet than bitter.
"We were a poor family, though I didn't know it because everyone in Turners Station seemed just as poor," Mfume wrote in his book "No Free Ride":
"Life in town was generally good. There was always something to eat on the table and lots of friends to play with. If this was being poor, I thought at times, then poor wasn't so bad after all."