"You are far too negative," says my mother. "You might consider writing about some positive things once in a while."
"But, Mom! I like being negative."
"Think about it," she says. "It wouldn't hurt you to pray a little, too. You might see things differently."
(In a warning tone) "Listen to me, now."
OK. OK. My mother believes that every ugly, depressing, wicked thing that happens in the world is offset by two or more wonderful occurrences.
Here, then, are a couple of examples of good things getting done and the good people who are doing them. I am sharing these stories with you because I am my mother's son and because she told me to do this.
St. James Episcopal Church, massive and gray, sits across from West Baltimore's Lafayette Square in an urban community plagued by unemployment, poverty and drugs. Some of the finest people in the city attend this 170-year-old church -- people like Rosie Hutchinson, a retired city school teacher.
"You don't keep your blessings," says Mrs. Hutchinson, "you pass them on."
And so, three times a week throughout the school year, neighborhood children attend the St. James Academy after school. There they get a snack, tutoring and help with their homework. Mrs. Hutchinson volunteers as the director of the 4-year-old program. Some 55 to 60 neighborhood kids, ages 5 through 12, attend regularly.
"When you help someone else, they benefit and you benefit," explains Mrs. Hutchinson. "I benefit because I see the growth in the children, the differences in their attitude, the improvement in their school work."
St. James Academy has become a congregational project. Members of the predominantly black parish volunteer as tutors. Other members adopt needy families during holidays, providing food and clothing.
This Saturday, the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall will host the "St. James Jazz Fest" to raise money for the academy.
The concert will feature some of the greatest jazz artists ever to appear on the same stage, including vocalist Shirley Horn and a seven-piece all-star band that includes Milt Jackson on vibraphone, Donald Byrd on trumpet and Jimmy Heath on sax. Some of these performers and local educators will conduct a jazz workshop for children at the church Guild Hall, 829 N. Arlington Ave. Proceeds benefit the academy. Tickets, you will be pleased to know, are still available. Call 462-4438.
Frances Beckles, a professor of social work and mental health at Morgan State University, calls her new publication "The Green Book." She describes it as the "most comprehensive directory of public and private scholarships ever; the Yellow Pages of financial aid."
The cost of attending college increased 7 to 10 percent last year, according to an annual national survey conducted by the College Board. Yet, Dr. Beckles says, millions of dollars in available scholarship money goes unused each year because students and their families do not know the money is available.
"My own education was possible only because of my family and financial aid. So I know how important it is," says Dr. Beckles.
A native of New York's Harlem, she had to piece together money from her family and from such groups as the Elks and the New York Mission Society in order to attend school. Now, she is returning that favor through her directory.
"Every high school student in Maryland, every parent and every counselor ought to have this book in their hands," she says.
"The Green Book" includes financial aid and scholarship opportunities that are available to virtually everyone: athletes, health care providers, visual and performing artists, women and minorities; full- and part-time students; members of low- and moderate-income families, and even affluent families.
The aid can be used at four-year and two-year institutions.
The directory even includes sample letters and tips for applying.
Dr. Beckles says she hopes to update "The Green Book" every year. The directory costs $19.95. Information can be obtained by calling 1-800-786-0595. She says it is not too late to seek aid for this year.