With the glittering Baltimore skyline over his shoulder, investor-philanthropist Eddie C. Brown told 70 middle-school children from some of the city's poorest neighborhoods yesterday that they could ascend its highest peaks.
He is giving them a little boost to make it happen: $5 million.
"All we want is for you to succeed by achieving your potential," Brown told the children during a rally to launch the Turning the Corner Achievement Program on the fourth-floor terrace of the Maryland Science Center.
"Hopefully, all of the pieces - the mentoring, the tutoring, the family counseling - will remove the obstacles in your path to help you achieve," he said.
Brown announced in January that his family's foundation was donating the money to start the five-year program, a significant effort to provide educational and personal support to African-American children.
Yesterday, the children - half from the city's west side and half from the east - gathered with their parents to officially launch the program. The children sat in small groups to talk about what it would mean for them.
In a room dominated by a huge wall poster of the space shuttle Columbia orbiting the earth, Turning the Corner's program director, Marc Laveau, asked the children what opportunities the program presents.
After several mentioned meeting new friends, swimming, trips, and having a support center, Laveau asked if there was anything more.
A boy in a white T-shirt and jeans raised his hand and said, "We get a chance to make a difference with our lives."
The schools selected for the program are Diggs-Johnson Middle on the west side and Lombard Middle on the east side. Thirty-five sixth-graders were chosen from each school, and new pupils will be added each year as they enter middle school.
The program has three components: academic support, youth development and family services. The Diggs-Johnson pupils, for instance, will spend six hours every Saturday at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and attend a three-week summer camp there. They will also get after-school help from tutors at the Druid Hill YMCA twice a week.
The program has hired teen-agers in the neighborhood to run team-building and community service projects. The needs of the children's families will be analyzed, and they will receive job placement and drug rehabilitation services if necessary.
The children seemed ready.
"They know that something special is happening here," said Andrea Brown, who has two grandchildren in the program. "My girl wants to be president of the United States and my boy wants to be an astronaut. I want them to understand that no matter where they come from, no matter what the circumstances are, they can do that."
Brown is founder and president of Brown Capital Management Inc., one of the nation's oldest black-owned investment firms. He and his wife, Sylvia, are prominent Baltimore philanthropists whose beneficiaries include the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Maryland Institute College of Art.
But he wanted to do more. He formed a "brain trust" that included his barber, Lenny Clay, whose West Baltimore shop at West Fayette Street and Carrollton Avenue was at the intersection of "hopelessness and distress," Brown said yesterday.
"I'm really distressed at the condition of our neighborhoods in the black community," he said. First he committed $2 million to the effort to help children. Told even more was needed, he upped it to $5 million without blinking.
Yesterday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings thanked him for it.
"So many people who achieve great things, they forget from whence they came. They forget so many people are still trying to climb," said Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat. "Eddie and Sylvia, thank you. There are so many of our children who are destined for greatness. They simply need a little push."