Symposium draws about 350 to discuss `Setting the Agenda for Black Baltimore'

Concerns include justice, education, health care, political representation

March 04, 2001|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The purpose of the day could have been summed up in the opening song -- a choir's soulful rendition of "We Shall Overcome."

Instead of singing "some day" at the end of that phrase, the choir and crowd sang "We shall overcome today."

About 350 people gathered at Coppin State College's James Weldon Johnson auditorium yesterday to discuss concerns in Baltimore's African-American community.

But instead of just talking about the problems, those convened were determined that, at the end of the day, plans would be in place to solve them.

The four-hour forum, titled "What's the Deal, Baltimore: Setting the Agenda for Black Baltimore," was the brainchild of a Baltimore native, the Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, whose Empowerment Temple A.M.E Church has grown from 43 members to 1,600 during its first 10 months.

"Our people, particularly our young people, are just tired of all the talk and are waiting for some marching orders," Bryant said.

Bryant's idea grew out of a national forum held in Washington in February. As a panelist at the "State of the Black Union" symposium -- seen on C-Span by 53 million viewers -- Bryant said he left "emotionally massaged, but spiritually unsatisfied" that anything would come of the event.

So he returned to his hometown to work on such issues as education, economics, justice, health, technology and politics. The goal, he said, is to bring about a new era for black Baltimoreans.

"The last civil rights era was about what people were doing to us," he said. "This is about what we need to do for ourselves. We have the wherewithal. We have the resources. We have the know-how. We just haven't pulled it all together to make a change."

Bryant assembled area leaders and started a robust dialogue, highlighted as much by applause and amens as it was by poignant statements.

Afterward, participants formed small groups to devise an agenda. Some of the many ideas they developed include: grooming members of the black community to run for office; starting health ministries in churches; encouraging people to "shop and buy black"; and creating community-based computer training for adults.

The panel included Maryland Democratic Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, vice chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus; Councilwoman Bea Gaddy, a 2nd District Democrat; State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy; Del. Salima S. Marriott, a West Baltimore Democrat; former state Sen. Larry Young; Andrey L. Bundley, principal of Walbrook High School; Brian Morris, chairman and chief executive officer of Legacy Unlimited financial services company, and Kenneth Tucker, spokesman for the clothing line HOBO; the Rev. Harley Wilson, pastor of Israel Baptist Church in East Baltimore; Emmanuel Moore, marketing and promotions director for the Afro-American newspaper; and Dr. Iris R. Mabry, a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Bryant said he hopes those who participated yesterday will return quarterly to work on the projects, and bring helpers with them.

A member of the audience, Cassandra Beverley of Abingdon, said, "This is a good start. But we have to be able to follow through. We need to know what are our priorities, and how are we going to go about working on those issues to bring about positive change in the black community."

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