East Baltimore homeless advocate Bea Gaddy has much in common with famous Baltimore abolitionist Frederick Douglass.
Douglass freed himself from Maryland slavery, emerging as one of the nation's most famous slavery opponents. Gaddy escaped homelessness, climbing off Baltimore's streets to become the city's most recognized advocate for the poor.
The lives of Douglass and Gaddy came together yesterday as the University System of Maryland bestowed the 2000 Frederick Douglass Award on Gaddy.
Gaddy's achievements seem endless: breast cancer survivor, widowed mother of five, newly elected city councilwoman, minister, drug and alcohol counselor and creator of 11 Bea Gaddy family services centers.
"You have not cursed the darkness. You have lit a candle," University System Chancellor Donald N. Langenberg said as he handed Gaddy the gold medal award.
Gaddy became the fifth recipient of the award. Last year's winner, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, greeted Gaddy at the Enoch Pratt Free Library event yesterday with a smile and hug.
"People all over this city will share in this award," Mfume said, wearing the medal he received last year. "All of the people she's fed and helped over the years."
Described by City Council President Sheila Dixon as an "agent of kindness," Gaddy characteristically used the honor to call on state leaders to aid the less fortunate.
With House Appropriation Committee Chairman Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, sitting in the front row, Gaddy said a state measure to deny convicted felons food stamps should be thwarted. "The job is not finished," she said. "We've only just begun."