The despair that grips many black males in Baltimore City and that can lead to drug abuse and violence is present in Columbia and other suburbs, a state legislator said last night.
"The problems we have in Baltimore City, you've got them here, too," Del. Elijah E. Cummings told 60 people at Wilde Lake High School last night.
"You might want to deny it. You might say that 'My son ain't doing drugs when he takes a dip of alcohol every now and then.' You might say, 'My son is healthy and strong, and he's not going to drop out of school,' " but the problems won't go away, Mr. Cummings said.
The Baltimore Democrat urged the audience to take action to lessen the despair and find solutions to the social problems plaguing black communities.
Because many black males feel neglected by their families, communities and society at large, they often turn to drugs because the drug dealer treats them like family, Mr. Cummings said.
"Even the so-called good kids who come from Columbia . . . they say the same thing, 'I wanted to belong,' " he said.
"We've got to turn this ship around," Mr. Cummings said. "Until we talk about it and say, 'It's real,' we will not solve the problem."
Staff at the Family Life Center Inc., a nonprofit counseling center in Wilde Lake, arranged for Mr. Cummings to discuss "The Report of the Governor's Commission on Black Males."
The report, released in June, painted a bleak picture of the more than 500,000 black males in Maryland.
Mr. Cummings chaired the commission, which found that the life expectancy of black males is steadily decreasing.
Black males are seven times more likely than whites to be murdered and are 76 percent of all males in state prisons, the report said.
Since the report's release, County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke have been the only state officials to express interest, Mr. Cummings said. "That's sad," he said, adding that Ohio is the only other state to commission a similar report.
Jane Walker, the Family Life Center's executive director, said Maryland's report was a gold mine of information that all races can use.
During last night's two-hour program, Mr. Cummings said communities and governments have to do more to provide opportunities for black males.
For example, parents must be honest, caring and loving with their children, he said. Schools must be more sensitive and unbiased.
Mr. Cummings said many young black males told him that they were put off by the educational system because they were "tired of [teachers] putting white people up and me down, as if I don't exist."
He said he related to that feeling because when he was younger, he was often told by teachers that he wouldn't amount to much. "I was told over and over again what I could not be and rarely told what I could be," Mr. Cummings said.
He said drug addicts must receive treatment and inmates must be be given educational and job training opportunities so they can live productive lives when they leave prison.
"You can say throw away the key if you want to, but it doesn't work that way," Mr. Cummings said.
He asked why society is more willing to build prison cells than to provide opportunities. "You have to begin to wonder whether it's intentional," he said.
To try to make a difference locally, the Family Life Center on Oct. 14 began an eight-week mental health program called "Check Ya Self" for black teens to talk about their concerns and relationships.