College turns academic eye on black Baltimore

Coppin, Urban League join forces to publish essays about city issues

December 11, 2004|By Kelly Brewington | Kelly Brewington,SUN STAFF

Coppin State University unveiled yesterday The State of Black Baltimore, a 329-page collection of essays exploring issues such as the city's foundering school system, drug abuse, Ebonics and alleged discrimination in the city Police Department.

The book is a collaboration between Coppin State and the Greater Urban League of Baltimore.

Written primarily by university professors and local experts, the book includes contributions from prominent black Baltimoreans such as civil rights activist and former Rep. Parren J. Mitchell.

Mitchell, 82, suffers from health problems and sat in a wheelchair during yesterday's ceremony.

Coppin State President Stanley F. Battle said he hopes the book shows the university's commitment to strengthening Baltimore's black communities while elevating the level of academic research being done at Coppin.

"We need to take a look at the challenges facing this city," said Battle, who has made it his mission to reinforce ties with the university's surrounding West Baltimore community since he arrived at the school 19 months ago. "And this book won't be the end of it. You'll see presentations. You'll see institutes. We will invite you to campus to talk about these issues."

The book launch coincided with the university's unveiling of the Raymond V. Haysbert Research Center, named for the Baltimore businessman and former owner of Parks Sausage Co. who serves as chairman of the Greater Baltimore Urban League.

The center will do research on African-Americans in the Baltimore region.

"I'm excited because this project is a pivotal point for the academics of Coppin," Haysbert said at a reception at Coppin State. "The university will now be recognized not only as a teaching college but a research institute."

Battle said what sets the project apart is the generosity that produced it. He said the project would have cost $280,000 if people had not donated their time and work.

"Everyone who took part in this did it for free," he said. "The printing, the copy editors. People were pushed - hard. Because we had to get it done."

Mitchell, Maryland's first black congressman, wrote the book's foreword. In it, the eight-term congressman says Baltimore's struggles are not over:

"Some claim blacks have not made any progress. Those who make those claims do not fully understand how pervasive past discrimination was. Progress has been made, but prejudice and discrimination still exist, and much work needs to be done," he writes.

Notable chapters include one titled "Baltimore: A City in Crisis," by Circuit Judge Thomas E. Noel, who calls the nation's war on drugs a "dismal failure."

Noel argues for reforms to drug laws and fills the essay with statistics such as the city's homicide rate, racial disparities in sentencing and the rates of heroin use.

In another essay, Coppin State Assistant Professor Dr. Leontye L. Lewis profiles successful teaching at Leith Walk and Rosemont elementary schools while arguing for a curriculum better tailored to the needs of African-American children.

This year, the city school system has been beset by arson fires and acts of violence in and around schools.

"I want people to know that in the midst of all the chaos in the school system, there are great things going on," she said. "We have to break away from the status quo. These students need to feel connected. Right now there is no connection."

The book's theme is similar to work the National Urban League has done since the 1980s with its annual "State of Black America" report. Besides the national study, several city branches of the Urban League have published their own local version.

Battle said he helped launch a version in Milwaukee, while he was the vice chancellor of student and multicultural affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

"I've wanted to do this since I arrived here," he said.

So did Baltimore Urban League President J. Howard Henderson, who said he was grateful for Coppin's financial support. Proceeds of the $25 book will go to the Urban League.

"This is not a report that will just go on the shelf and collect dust somewhere," Henderson said. "This is to be used and reused."

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