In an effort to combat the sense of hopelessness that grips Baltimore's poorest residents, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and black members of the City Council have set an empowerment conference at which participants will learn about self-help efforts.
At the Conference on Community Empowerment, scheduled for June 11 at Poly-Western Auditorium, community activists will attend workshops in which they will learn about self-help programs and organizing strategies that are being used in other cities.
Members of the council's African-American Coalition said they hope the conference leads to the formation of a community-financed loan fund for black businesses -- an idea pushed by Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, a 4th District Democrat.
They also hope the conference sparks a sense of community awareness that makes people feel more responsible for their neighborhoods.
"Our focus is on our most distressed areas and how people can combat this sense of hopelessness and victimization," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday. "We hope that out of this can grow an agenda of self-help.
"We have two options -- give up in resignation and despair or move forward and do something positive," he said.
Since he began his second four-year term in December, Mr. Schmoke has talked increasingly at community meetings about the need for communities to develop strategies to help themselves with little aid from government.
He has explained that local government is strapped for money and cannot fund large-scale programs. The mayor also has said he is not optimistic that state and federal governments will provide sufficient aid.
Mr. Schmoke said the idea for the empowerment conference came in discussions with black council members after the rioting in Los Angeles that followed the verdict in the police brutality case involving Rodney King.
"This matter was felt in a particularly poignant and painful way among African-Americans," Mr. Schmoke said, noting that the verdict triggered an outpouring of rage among blacks who feel they have little control over their lives.
Despite bleak conditions in poor areas, there are many programs in such communities that are improving the quality of life, Mr. Schmoke said. And many of them were initiated by people who received little or no government aid.
In Baltimore, he pointed to a Saturday school initiated by Principal Willie L. Grier Jr. at Commodore John Rodgers Elementary School to provide students with extra academic help; the Upton Trash Fighters, a group of young people who conduct cleanup programs in their West Baltimore community; and a West Baltimore language school for blacks to learn Korean to bridge the cultural gap and relieve tensions between blacks and Korean merchants.