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More than just preachers Wielding power: Twenty years later, BUILD continues to make its presence felt.


THE FIRST TO admit they have won only some battles would be members of Baltimoreans United for Leadership Development. Twenty years after it began, BUILD is still fighting the war against poverty. It has had successes. The clergy-led group spearheaded the Nehemiah housing program that, since 1987, has constructed 300 houses for low- and moderate-income families in the Sandtown-Winchester and Penn-North neighborhoods and 28 houses in Cherry Hill.

Another 300 homes are planned for Sandtown-Winchester and 150 are being constructed or renovated in three Eastside neighborhoods. But BUILD isn't confined to the construction business. It has been politically active while stopping short of making endorsements, leaving that for the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. BUILD has instead conducted voter education projects that have any local politician who expects to win responding to its surveys.

Fearing BUILD's wrath, both Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and then-Council President Mary Pat Clarke endorsed a bill backed by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal xTC Workers that has made Baltimore the national leader in "living wage" legislation.

The 1995 law set a graduated wage scale for janitors, cafeteria workers and others employed under contract at city schools and public buildings. The victory has been bittersweet for BUILD, however, as it has not been able to similarly push forward its longtime goal of a "social compact" that requires Inner Harbor hotels and restaurants to pay service workers considerably more than the minimum wage.

BUILD's latest project is called Child First, in which a number of city schools will be used as community centers where children can learn to dance, play games and get help with homework. BUILD used city and state funding to start the program. Now it wants the Ravens, the Orioles, the National Aquarium and other entertainment venues to earmark money each year for Child First as a way of investing in the children of Baltimore.

After such a busy two decades, one can only expect good things from BUILD over its next 20 years in Baltimore. It has been a positive influence, generating change and concern for city residents who have needed a little help.

Pub Date: 2/15/97

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