City's men heed 'A Call to Action'

June 16, 2008|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN REPORTER

Leon Henry had previously preached to his 13-year-old nephew the importance of being a black man who gives back.

Henry, the boy's legal guardian, has stressed for years how the city needs more male role models, ordinary men who work honest jobs and are willing to share time and energy to combat a rising violent element rampant in the streets.

A citywide forum held yesterday gave Henry the chance to drive his point home.

"He's got to see me do it, not just talk about it," said Henry, as his nephew, Dwayne Edwards, stood close by during an assembly aimed to attract 5,000 black men to volunteer and give back to the community.

Henry brought Dwayne as part of the family's Father's Day celebration.

"He's got to witness me," he said. "Because one day, it's going to be his turn. And he isn't going to do anything if he can't remember back to me being involved."

Fathers, sons, community activists, job seekers and thousands of others filed into the Baltimore Convention Center for the "A Call to Action" meeting, a mobilization effort organizers say was designed to rebuild and restore positive black men in the community.

The assembly, which its leaders said they hoped would galvanize 5,000 men at the convention center but appeared to have fallen short, was modeled after a similar effort in Philadelphia. In October, groups of men from across Pennsylvania showed up for more than two hours into an auditorium at Temple University for 10,000 Men Philly, a street-level mobilization.

Similar to Baltimore, Philadelphia's homicide number swells well into the hundreds, and the city's leaders are searching for ways to curb the violence.

Mayor Sheila Dixon, schools chief Andres Alonso, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and several local activists sat on stage at yesterday's program, headlined by Michael Eric Dyson, a frequent speaker on black social issues and author of 16 books.

Organizers were looking to energize Baltimore's black community, using the assembly as a starting point to return to the community and combat a rising "thug" culture.

Attendees filled out registration cards with activities for which they would like to volunteer, which included tutoring youths and participating in fatherhood workshops.

A database will contain all the information, and organizers say follow-up calls will be made to alert attendees of mentoring opportunities.

Dozens of organizations such as CARES mentoring program, Baltimore Rising, 100 Black Men of Maryland and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also set up booths at the convention center, with representatives accepting volunteers.

"We took from the Philadelphia movement and hope to build from that," said Thomas Allan Phillip III, a member of the assembly's executive committee. "We want to take it to another level, with fathers taking responsibility for their sons and daughters."

Alvin Gillard, director of Baltimore Community Relations Commission, said the program was also designed to help those looking to turn their life around.

Sylvester Bush, 44, of Baltimore said he heard about the forum and was motivated to come to try to find work.

Bush said he has been in and out of the jail system for years for selling drugs.

"I wish I could change things in my life, but I can't, and it's done now," Bush said. "But I know not to make those mistakes again. I'd love to help the kids because of what I've been through."

Mark Hall Jr. of Owings Mills attended the forum at the urging of his father. Hall, 27, who owns a computer repair business, said he expects to have an avenue to share entrepreneurial advice to students.

"Programs like this, it's a good starting point," Hall said. "We can begin to show people it's a different way."

Toward the end of the program, attendees were asked to read aloud a pledge asking them to establish and restore positive relationships.

John Holmes, 40, said he is confident this one will yield results.

"I have a concern for upward mobility of black men," Holmes said. "But God has ordered this time that black men will rise up and take their place in society."

brent.jones@baltsun.com

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