Black leaders want more voice in Annapolis governance

Group hopes to meet with mayor often

March 09, 2000|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

Two weeks ago, a well-known community activist stood before the Annapolis mayor and pleaded with him to do something about the poor living conditions at the city's public housing developments.

The activist described the plight of an elderly woman at Obery Court/College Creek Terrace whose windows were knocked out three months ago, and how water pipes were bursting and plaster was falling in several apartments.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson responded by making plans to visit last weekend.

The swift reaction is what the activist, Robert Eades, and other black leaders in the area were looking for during one of their first organized meetings with city officials in several years. Their group, Alliance for Progress, plans to meet with Johnson every other month to discuss issues affecting the African-American community -- and perhaps bridge what they see as a divide between the community and city government.

"We feel, as African-Americans in the city of Annapolis, that we have no rights and no respect," said Eades, 43, a lifelong resident. "But the mayor seemed pretty open."

Alliance's meeting with Johnson covered issues ranging from the lack of minorities in high-ranking city positions to the residents' desire for increased police patrols on Clay Street.

After meeting with Alliance, Johnson was optimistic.

"I think it went well," he said. "I'll listen and talk to anyone I can."

The next meeting is planned for next month.

For years, African-Americans have said they see a racial split in Annapolis. In a city where they account for about 15 percent of the estimated 35,000 residents, many say they don't have the voice in local government that they deserve.

A few months ago, black leaders concerned about these issues called a meeting between Johnson and representatives of African-American communities throughout Anne Arundel County, said Clemon H. Wesley, co-chairman of RESPECT, a countywide organization guiding Alliance.

Detailed notes were taken during the meeting, and an organization was formed to monitor what the city government does -- in an effort that community leaders hope will hold the city accountable for actions that affect African-Americans.

Before, Wesley said, "there were no repercussions [city officials] had to worry about."

During the meeting, a participant suggested naming the group Alliance for Progress, and the members decided to let RESPECT organize the group.

RESPECT, which stands for "religion, economy, social, political, education, cultural/civic and technology," began in May 1999 when representatives of several African-American organizations in the county decided to develop an umbrella group to coordinate initiatives in the community.

"One of the problems in the African-American community in the county is a lack of information," Wesley said.

A month later, RESPECT was introduced at a community gathering and was well received, Wesley said.

The organization meets the first Thursday of each month and holds quarterly meetings with County Executive Janet S. Owens.

"We'd like to establish a similar relationship with Mayor Johnson," Wesley said.

Johnson came under fire from the black community last year when the city council passed an anti-loitering bill.

He was later denied attendance at the annual dinner for the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and its supporters. He had been invited the year before.

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