Event gives community food for thought

Aim is to improve quality of life in West Baltimore by reaching residents

January 30, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A West Baltimore church offered hundreds of people food for body and soul yesterday, with stirring music, powerful oratory, creative workshops and savory fare.

The second Soul Food 2000 drew nearly 600 people to New Shiloh Baptist Church on North Monroe Street. The event, initiated to encourage neighborhood revitalization, opened with spirited rhetoric and finished with traditional favorites like spicy vegetable soup and gospel tunes.

"Soul food has always been a mixture of things -- a dash of this, a bit of that," said Cleo Stewart, one of the organizers. "We are mixing good information into workshops and giving you something to take home."

David Chestnut, president of the South Mondawmin Improvement Association, said neighborhoods combat decay with optimism and knowledge.

"We have leaders, but they are not as knowledgeable about agencies that can effect change," he said.

The idea behind the gathering was to amass information on ways to help communities on topics as varied as lead poisoning and teen music, at one of the city's largest and most active churches.

Jazz "Dru-Daddy" of the R&B group Dru Hill needed no introduction when he returned to his former neighborhood. Lines of children waited for his autograph and heard him promise help "for all you guys."

For the last two months, Jazz has worked with the O'Malley administration on community and scholarship programs.

"I know I am a big influence on kids, and I want to give back in any way I can," said Jazz, who was known as Larry Anthony Jr. when he attended Frederick Douglass High School. "With the city helping, we can do it."

In other workshops, participants shared strategies for safer communities, home ownership and drug treatment. Those who participated in two workshops earned free meal tickets.

"We want to make knowledge available to the community and we want to share each other's knowledge," said Wardie Smith, a member of a drug recovery program who also helped to arrange the event. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat, said he stopped by the event to "remind you all of your greatness."

"We are all leaders," Cummings said. "The mere fact that we are here says we are leaders."

He and other speakers reminded residents that U. S. Census forms would arrive soon in the mail. More than 23,000 city residents were not counted in the last census in 1990, costing Baltimore millions of dollars in lost government aid, they said.

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