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Maryland

Mayor Says Call To Action Is More Than Talk

P. Kenneth Burns
/
WYPR

    

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake started a conversation Tuesday she said she hoped would encourage African-American men to step up and reach out to children.

In a news conference before her Call To Action To End African-American Homicides forum at the Empowerment Temple AME Church Rawlings-Blake said the event was about recruiting black men to serve as mentors and role models for children and not just talk.

"There's service providers here and we have called upon particularly men in our community to come forward and we want to connect them with the resources," she said.

Several organizations were ready to recruit, including Big Brothers Big Sisters and Roberta's House, a family grief support.

Dwight Mayo, a recruiter for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maryland, hoped men in the audience hear the call to help children in the community.

"People just need to step up a little bit more so they can give these kids a chance to say that I'm here; I don't have to struggle no more; I don't have to stress out no more; somebody's here to help me out," he said.

Mayo, 39, said life was different before he met his mentor when he was 12.

"I was a kid who went through multiple things; I was disrespectful; I didn't have a whole lot of motivation; I didn't have no guidance," Mayo said.

The forum was an outgrowth of a call to action she issued in her State of the City address March 9. She said then city residents should be just as outraged that 189 of the city’s 211 murder victims last year were black men as they are about police misconduct.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake issued the call to action during her State of the City Address on March 9 as she referenced the city's 2014 homicide rate.  Of the 211 murder victims in Baltimore, 189 of them were black men.  She said she wants to recruit black men to serve as mentors, coaches and volunteers to make a difference in the lives of children, during the address.

But critics said she was blaming the black community for crime in the city.

The Rev. C.D. Witherspoon, president of the Baltimore City chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, argued the mayor not only came across as blaming the black community, but showed she does not understand black-on-black crime.

"Baltimore City is a predominantly African-American city,” he said. “If you go to a city where there is a majority of a certain ethnic group, you're going to have crime centered around the particular ethnic group."

But Rawlings-Blake said Tuesday she was not blaming black men for the city's violence.  She said she was speaking out against the homicides where the vast majority of the victims were black men.

The Rev. Jamal Bryant, Empowerment Temple’s pastor, who served as moderator, spoke to the criticism.

"Let me say to all of the Baltimoreans who are skeptical about whether this is going to work, please before you put your mouth on it, can you please try it first,"  he said.

Darryl Burrell, who was in the audience, praised Rawlings-Blake and said he did not feel the mayor was blaming black men.

"What she's saying was that we as black men can make a difference because a lot of the problems and the crime is being committed by younger black males," Burrell said, "We can change that by becoming part of their lives."