Job seekers gather outside East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI) offices.
Job seekers gather outside East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI) offices. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun)

About 200 people shouted "Jobs! Jobs!" as they marched Tuesday through the streets of East Baltimore. Their voices grew louder and their numbers grew along the 10-block route to the headquarters of a nonprofit overseeing the $1.8 billion redevelopment of the area north of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

They were orderly but vocal enough to bring people to their porch fronts. "If we don't work, nobody works!" became the rallying cry.

'We are out here fighting for construction jobs," said Richie Armstrong, an organizer with Community Services United, a coalition of local churches. "We want to work. We are ready to work, and we have a lot of people qualified for these jobs."

Residents are demanding a share of the thousands of construction jobs coming to the community with East Baltimore Development Inc.'s redevelopment of the 88-acre area north of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Plans call for a health lab, graduate residences, a parking garage and eventually more than 2,000 new and renovated residential units and about 1.7 million square feet of commercial space.

The coalition is partnering with the Laborers' International Union of North America to train workers in basic construction skills and has proposed joining forces with EBDI to establish a pipeline for trained, local workers for a project that will evolve over the next decade.

EBDI's initial development plan would fill at least 15 percent of commercial jobs with skilled and unskilled minority workers, with residents given first priority. For residential aspects of the project, the goal is to have local minority residents fill 20 percent of the jobs.

The protest group's membership included many men ranging in age from late teens to late 60s, who said they had been underemployed for a long time. The group gathered initially at Triumph Christian Church, where they filled the sanctuary and spilled out of the foyer onto East Oliver Street.

"Today we are going to demand those jobs," Armstrong said. "There should be one for everybody here in this church. We can make this community better for ourselves. Just put us to work."

A vast project in their midst should offer ample employment opportunities, said Leichelle Smith.

"We need those jobs," she said. "Why is any one of us unemployed when this $1.8 billion project is happening right here? This march shows how much this community cares."

She carried a sign that said "Help our community help you build." Shannon Davis' sign read, "If you can feed your family, why can't I?" The 52-year-old roofer and a veteran said he has not worked steadily for nearly two years. He has tried repeatedly and without success to get a job with EBDI.

At 61, Goether Roberts still wants to work. "All we want is jobs, and EBDI has them," he said.

Maurice Holmes, a masonry worker, said the rally showed that "we are serious about working."

With the sounds of construction on home renewal projects in the background, the marchers continued their demonstration for about an hour at the EBDI offices, before CEO Christopher Shea came out to address them. He promised to "work as hard as we can to place as many of you as we can."

The coalition will begin training classes in general construction next month to help prepare workers for the jobs that will open up early in 2012, Armstrong said.

Cheryl Y. Washington, senior director of Community and Human Services at EBDI, said she is asking contractors to increase minority participation to 35 percent. She urged the crowd to take the training.

"Don't wait," she said. "Get trained for when the jobs come. Every contractor here wants to hire local residents."