Black men answer leaders' call to action

Hundreds join quest to aid youths

May 22, 2008|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,Sun reporter

Inspired by a mobilization effort in Philadelphia, leaders of Baltimore's African-American community vowed yesterday to recruit at least 5,000 black men to bring positive change to their communities.

The goal is to reduce the city's rates of violence, high school dropouts and absentee fathers. More than 50 men representing churches, educational institutions and civic groups gathered at Calverton Elementary/Middle School in West Baltimore to announce the initiative.

The group will meet on Father's Day, June 15, at the Baltimore Convention Center, where there will be opportunities for men to sign up as volunteers with more than 100 community organizations. Several service providers will be on hand to offer men whatever assistance they need to be productive residents, be it job training or substance abuse withdrawal. Plans for follow-up meetings are in the works to maintain the momentum generated in the next few weeks.

The initiative is modeled after 10,000 Men Philly, an assembly held in October. Former state Sen. Larry Young is credited with the idea of replicating the Philadelphia program in Baltimore. Organizers said they are trying to recruit 5,000 men because Baltimore is about half the size of Philadelphia.

Many recruits will be steered to volunteer in the Baltimore school system. Last month, in the wake of high-profile instances of violence in and around Baltimore schools, city schools chief Andres Alonso issued a public call for 500 volunteers. About 700 people have signed up, and Alonso said yesterday that the system has doubled its goal, to 1,000. The system will conduct background checks and pair volunteers with school assignments over the summer.

"We all stand on the shoulders of others," Alonso said at yesterday's news conference. He said the community needs more "shoulders for kids to stand on."

Alonso has long said that a widespread community mobilization around Baltimore's children is needed to transform failing public schools, and yesterday he and school board Chairman Brian D. Morris said the call to action is what the city needs.

"A community that is afraid of its children is doomed for failure," Morris said, referring to a recent outcry by Canton residents who don't want a new school in their neighborhood. On the other hand, he said, a community that is prepared to "sow a seed" in the lives of its children is "destined for greatness."

Yesterday's news conference attracted a diverse group of black men who have joined together, from former Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm to former drug kingpin Melvin "Little Melvin" Williams. Dozens of them gathered around a podium with a sign that said "Our Community, Our Responsibility." A spokesman for a group of ex-offenders said they, too, want to help improve Baltimore by sharing lessons learned with the younger generation.

The event was held at a school that has seen violence inside and outside its walls in recent weeks. Calverton was on lockdown multiple times in April after a police officer and a high school student were shot in the neighborhood. And earlier this month, a 13-year-old boy was charged with attempting to rape a staff member after he and another boy broke into the school on a Sunday.

Raymond V. Haysbert Sr., chairman of the Greater Baltimore Urban League, said that the men who are mobilizing are "not satisfied with just being dissatisfied."

"I have never been so proud of my community as I am now," he said.

sara.neufeld@baltsun.com

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