Bea Gaddy, 60, has been poor and hungry. She has been a single mother. She has been on welfare. Despite these experiences -- or maybe, because of them -- Bea Gaddy has made it her life's mission to provide food and shelter for the city's homeless. Since 1981, she has operated the Patterson Park Emergency Food Center, Inc. in East Baltimore.
Sometimes she has had to shoulder this burden single-handedly -- going from door to door to collect canned goods and clothing; cooking hot meals in her own crowded and cramped kitchen. At other times, the purity of her devotion has inspired the privileged community to support her efforts.
"We are professional beggars," said Mrs. Gaddy yesterday, describing her work. "There is never enough. We've got 15 people in the shelter right now that we cannot find a place for; 15 people: women and children, blacks and whites. It is always like this."
Those who work with Mrs. Gaddy marvel at her energy, her charisma. They laud her determination to treat people with dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances. Some people call her the "Mother Theresa of Baltimore."
She is the type of person, in my opinion, who deserves recognition from a national group as prestigious and powerful as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. Or, the group could honor Harlow Fullwood, a former police officer who built his own successful business and has devoted himself to community affairs; or Dr. Ben Carson, a renowned surgeon who spends much of his time speaking to young people on faith and community service; or Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, the university administrator who designed a successful program that helps young black men and women succeed in math and the sciences; or any number of people whose accomplishments I don't know about because they live in other communities or because no one has bothered to recognize their achievements.
But the foundation, which holds its 23rd Annual Legislative Weekend in Washington this week, has rounded up the usual suspects: They will honor the same predictable group of athletes, celebrities, businessmen and politicians who are honored again and again.
Arsenio Hall, the comedian and talk show host, will be presented the 1993 Congressional Black Caucus Chairman's Award in honor of his "exemplary achievement as an out standing role model for young African American males." Dick Gregory, the comedian, lecturer and civil rights activist, will receive an award for his "community service and dedication."
Other honorees include: Dr. Benjamin Chavis, the newly elected executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Lani Guinier, the law professor who achieved celebrity status after President Clinton first picked her for assistant attorney general, then dumped her in the face of a conservative challenge; and Berry Gordy, the founder, president and chairman of Motown Records.
I do not mean to take anything away from the achievements of any of those honorees. Rev. Sullivan, for instance, developed principles which became the standard code of ethics for businesses operating in apartheid South Africa. Mr. Ashe conducted himself with an admirable dignity and valor after he contracted acquired immune deficiency syndrome. And what can you say about Arsenio Hall? Hey, he's rich, famous and on television.
But such men and women are nationally recognized personalities. Our society cries out for a definition of "achievement" and "role model" that is broader and cuts deeper than that found on "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous."
We need to honor teachers and social workers and police officers, grass-roots organizers, struggling artists, dedicated parents, and committed church-goers -- the type of people who are the backbone of any community, the hard-working people who give all they've got and ask for nothing in return. We need to hold such people up for national acclaim. We need to shout as loudly and as clearly and as often as we possibly can that these are true role models.
Arsemio Hall is amusing true, But his career has not been nearly as inspirational as Mrs. Gaddy's.