As much as I respect Alvin Gillard, I have to say he gave the wrong answer.
Gillard, the director of Baltimore's Community Relations Commission, stood before the news media in a room at Calverton Elementary-Middle School on Wednesday morning, fielding questions from reporters about the C2A-5000 event scheduled for June 15, Father's Day. "C2A" is an acronym for "call to action." Gillard and a group of about 30 men - all of them black except for Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso - want 5,000 men to come to the Convention Center on Father's Day and volunteer their services to a host of organizations devoted to fighting high crime, poor schools and other social ills afflicting Baltimore.
The news release the ad hoc group sent out says it best: "Continuing violence, high drop-out rates and absentee fathers in Baltimore have led a number of individuals and organizations working with Black men, youth and children to sponsor a special initiative to recruit and challenge a significant number of serious, committed and selfless Black men to become involved in the upliftment and salvation of their families and communities."
The effort was inspired by one in Philadelphia, where a group challenged 10,000 men to hit the streets and talk to young black men, the main victims - and perpetrators - of homicides in that city. Philadelphia's men got motivated when the number of homicides exceeded one per day, soaring to a total of more than 400 in one recent year. Last November, Gillard and about 50 men from Baltimore went to Philly to learn more about that effort and to determine if it could be replicated here.
A female reporter asked if there was any one incident or series of recent incidents that inspired C2A-5000. Attacks on teachers in public schools? The attempted rape of an assistant principal at Calverton? Because if no recent incident or incidents inspired the call, the reporter said, people were going to inevitably ask the question: "Where have you been?"
It was a good question, one that had to be asked. And Gillard gave a direct answer.
"I would tell them it's more important where we are going."
Good point, but the wrong answer. Standing at the podium near Gillard were Earl El Amin, Richard Rowe and Ray Haysbert Sr. of the Baltimore Urban League. Also on hand were Marvin "Doc" Cheatham of the Baltimore NAACP and former city police Commissioner Leonard Hamm. Andrey Bundley, former principal of Walbrook High School and mayoral candidate, was there, as was Willie Ray, who has taken to the streets to protest violence for decades. Ellsworth Johnson-Bey, who founded a group to help former convicts make a smooth transition back into mainstream society, was there.
All these men, as well as those not mentioned, have this one thing in common: they have "been there" - in the fight against crime, violence, poor schools and homes without fathers - for years.
The more appropriate answer Gillard should have given is this: "I would tell people who ask us that that we've been here for decades. Now, where have you been?"
Take El Amin for instance. I first met him 12 years ago. We were standing outside Jones Tabernacle Baptist Church, waiting to go inside for the funeral services of Laroy Hopkins. Hopkins was a public works employee for the city and a part-time security guard at a nightclub who was gunned down in one of Baltimore's all-too-frequent senseless killings. El Amin and his late brother, Eric El Amin, grew up with Hopkins in Sandtown-Winchester. To say they were incensed by Hopkins' murder would be understating the matter considerably.
But even then the El Amin brothers were issuing the call for more black men to get involved in the type of activities espoused in the "call to action." The truth is, Hopkins himself had been - and again, this was for years.
Before joining Jones Tabernacle Baptist Church, Hopkins had volunteered in St. Gregory the Great Roman Catholic Church's "We Care To Get Involved" program. That's what guys like El Amin and Rowe and Gillard and Haysbert and Johnson-Bey are calling for black men to do. It's not that they haven't been doing it. It's not like they haven't been there.
It's that they can't do it alone.
Every one of those men who went to Calverton on Wednesday has issued this call, worked ceaselessly and tirelessly on this problem, for years. But stanching the bloodletting on Baltimore's streets is everybody's business. Improving poor public schools is everybody's business. When poor black boys from fatherless homes end up in the juvenile justice system, that affects everybody.
What these men are issuing is not so much a "call to action" on June 15. What they're asking is: "How long is a group of 30 to 50 people going to be expected to do a job that requires thousands?"
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