Dorothy "Dottie" Moore had just returned to her Baltimore hotel from a church convention ordination service when she got a message confirming an unexplained intuitive fear she had experienced -- her 19-year-old son was hurt.
She learned later it was much worse. Her son, Henry "Butch" Moore III, had been fatally beaten outside the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center in Columbia.
"At the time it happened, I actually felt it," she said. "I was in church. I was doing all the right things. Why was this happening to me?"
The director of the county's Community Action Council, a nonprofit help organization for low-income people, Ms. Moore has searched nearly 20 years for ways she could use her loss on June 3, 1976, to aid the community. Her grief produced a vision of a comprehensive mentoring program for young black men 18 to 25 that was unveiled yesterday by county government, social service and religious leaders.
The program will include workers from the Community Action Council, 20 local churches and three black fraternities, as well as several county government agencies. The objective is not only to offer these men role models, but also to give them training, jobs and leadership skills.
"Our black kids today have suffered, especially young black males," Ms. Moore said. "They seem to be more at risk than the females. . . . I guess my son's death was one of the hardest things I've dealt with in my entire life."
Mr. Moore was clubbed with a wooden object by 25-year-old Herbert S. Robinson, of Columbia, after an argument between the two outside the interfaith center.
Robinson was convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
"I hated that boy so bad," Ms. Moore said of Robinson. "I was so angry at that boy that I could have killed him."
But sitting in the courtroom during Robinson's trial, Ms. Moore looked at his parents and realized that "they had also lost a son."
"It brought some tears to my eyes. All of us want the best for our kids," she said.
For two years, Ms. Moore was in therapy, learning to cope with her son's death. Therapy and time have soothed her pain but have failed to eliminate it.
It wasn't until last April, during a visit to the Maryland House of Correction in Jessup, that Ms. Moore found any way to gain peace about her son's death.
"I saw hundreds and hundreds of inmates, and they were all black," she said. "I was wondering if society wanted to get the young black men off the street. That was the point I really released Butch and said, 'You've got to do something . . .,' and I thought of this program."
The idea differs from similar efforts by targeting adults, rather than high school, middle school or elementary students, Ms. Moore said.
The program also aims to provide training -- whether vocational or through college -- and jobs, she said.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker said that the Howard County Office of Employment and Training would help the men in the program receive the needed skills by placing them in existing training programs.
Members of the clergy have promised to help generate money for the program, and groups such as the Baltimore-based Associated Black Charities are also expected to provide money. The program will cost an estimated $30,000 a year, mostly to pay for a project director, stipends for speakers and for activities.
During the first year, the program is expected to serve 120 young men. Some of them could be referred from the county courts.
Ms. Moore has spoken with county District Judge Louis Becker about placing men facing prison time for minor offenses in the program.
"All of our black males do not need to go to the detention center, nor do they need to go to the Maryland House of Correction," she said.
Judge Becker would not comment on whether he thought the program would work.
At 4 p.m. Saturday, members of the clergy who have supported Ms. Moore's proposal, plan to hold a celebration to kick off the program at the Long Reach Church of God in Columbia.
"We don't want our young black men to be locked into low self-esteem," said Rev. Robert Turner. "If the black man is off on the wrong track, that will affect the spouse and the children. . . . We want to help develop their self-esteem."