Public Housing--Multi-Generational Entitlement and Despair ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Public Housing--Multi-Generational Entitlement and Despair


CP has often written about what I call the festering wound of public housing in Annapolis but outside of the violence and murder these locations engender, I've never been so blatantly reminded of the anger and despair it has created until a letter appeared in The Capital on Sunday by a Belawn McGowan. Describing herself as "a black woman living in the Clay Street area" she begins by wondering what has happened to the "strong black male" and she refers to Dr. King, Malcolm X and Bobby Seal. I guess she somehow forgot about strong black males who are alive and well including one who may be our next president, as opposed to those who were assassinated in the 1960's, but that's just a quibble. She cites a couple of local "brothers" who she thinks embody desirable qualities, but then she goes on the attack--and she viciously tries to destroy the reputation of two very committed community leaders who are working hard to understand and face the challenges and needs of those living in public housing.

Ms. McGowan, and whoever may have been involved in her nasty attack should be ashamed to have publicly denigrated and questioned the motives of longtime public housing and community activists Trudy McFall and Dennis Conti. What is she trying to accomplish by accusing these two people of coming "into our communities and dropping solid weapons of destruction."?

She says "They start out pretending to care about our youth, first gaining the trust of their mothers." Okay, Ms McGowan, well, I ask you, where are their fathers from which to gain trust? Do you think the lack of positive black male role models might possibly have something to do with the multi-generational despair of public housing? You question the motives of these people, but do you question the motives of so-called black leaders who gain by keeping so many black people mired down in public housing? Or the motives of elected officials who seemingly profit by votes from these "communities."?
She accuses McFall and Conti of trying to "destroy the black community by downsizing public housing with an attempt to build 52 affordable homes along College Creek while telling the people everyone has a right to be homeowners." Does she believe there is something right about living off the generosity of the taxpayers, and being subservient to the whims of a government bureaucracy? Is there something wrong about realizing the American Dream and becoming a homeowner? Does she think that "communities" where people are subsidized by the government are more desirable places in which to live than are communities where people work to own and maintain their homes? Does she really want to depend on government? Does she have any idea where government money is derived? And I'm not evening going to discuss the brick, waterfront homes we--yes we the taxpayers built for multi-generational residents at College Creek.

Black Americans and especially those in public housing must choose for themselves whether they will remain in poverty and out of power or whether they will take their place in society--a place more welcoming and open to them than it ever was, and thanks in part to people such as King, Malcolm X and Bobby Seal. She could honor their memory, rather than play off it, by working to uplift herself and others out of this multi-generational despair. Instead she is attacking two people who not only care, but understand the issues and are working to make things better.

Ms. McGowan says "we all know that public housing exists because there are those who are not so well to do." Yes, that is true, and in this very blog, I routinely criticize the excesses of our society and the huge gaps between haves and have-nots, but that does not mean that the government should be in the business of providing housing, nor does it mean that a bad situation should be perpetuated.

We must tell Ms.McGowan that we all lose when we expect the government to take care of us. We all lose when we see ourselves as victims deserving of entitlement, yet she does not understand how she is being cynically used. Her ruthless attacks on two civic-minded people should not go unchallenged and I invite all responsible community members to write to CP and The Capital to explain to Ms. McGowan where she is wrong. Mr. Conti and Ms. McFall's efforts should be lauded and not denigrated. We all need to work together to transform public housing. One can only wonder if Ms. McGowan was involved in the ouster of former HACA E.D. Pat Croslan.

She ended her attack by writing, "Wake up, brothers, save your community." Maybe it would have resonated better had she said, "Wake up Annapolitans. The semblance of 'community' in public housing can only be saved by creating opportunity for self-empowerment and that begins with taking responsibility leading to home ownership."

C'mon people--speak up! Dennis Conti and Trudy McFall and others who are working to create and implement a better vision for public housing than what the reality of the last 40 years has been, need all our support.

PS--Within minutes of this post, CP received this response from Ellis on Clay Street:

Trudy McFall and Homes For America played a crucial role in helping me become a home owner. What she is doing for Annapolis is historic. I don't think her accomplishments will be appreciated for another decade. I encourage CP to speak with Trudy about the future of the area. You would be quite impressed.

If Clay Street wants to improve it's quality of life, it starts with DAILY ACTION by the GOOD people of Clay St who are fed up with the junkies, dealers, prostitutes and crime. Those problems exist because the GOOD CITIZENS of Clay St CHOOSE not to fight it. ACTION is something that has been completely missing for decades. People like my good friend Larry Griffen from We Care & Friends has done great things for the area as well as many other people but their efforts and accomplishments are fractions of what Clay really needs to become better. It is up to the home owners, the working renters and law abiding citizens to stand up and take their neighborhood back from the criminals. There is NO other way. The ball is in their court.

Paul, keep your eyes open to Clay St. Big changes are coming at the end of the year and REAL OPPORTUNITY--not empty promises-- will be presented to renters of the area. How the community chooses to embrace these new opportunities will determine it's success. Home ownership is a wonderful feeling and everyone deserves it. But to gain it requires work and sacrifice.

And from Stanford Erickson of Annapolis who makes the point that the comments and attitude of Ms. McGowan may push others interested in this issue out of the arena:

Thank you for defending Dr. Dennis Conti and Trudy McFall. Belawn McGowan's Letter-to-the-Editor, which appeared in The Capital May 19, demonstrates why it is so difficult to help the black community in Annapolis. Those of us who have interacted with Dr. Conti and Ms McFall know beyond any shadow of doubt that they are well intentioned and self-sacrificing. However, Ms. McGowan said in her letter that they are "pretending to care for our children" and attempting to "destroy the black community." And, that they are pointing to crime in and around Public Housing to "blow it out of proportion."

I recently have been to some churches in Annapolis where black ministers have asked white Annapolitans to help out and mentor black youth and last Saturday I marched in the churches-sponsored "Stop the Violence Unity March." Most Annapolitans, and I assume the majority of white Annapolitans, want the violence to end in and around public housing and are willing to help. But their concern, their fear, is that the Belawn McGowan's are going to attack them and denigrate their efforts as insincere and detrimental.

We white Annapolitans need for leaders of the black community to come forward and stand with us against attacks like that of Ms. McGowan. This problem of the deterioration of Public Housing in Annapolis will not be solved unless the black community says "Enough is Enough," which was on the t-shirt handed out at the "Stop the Violence Unity March." The leaders of the black community need to speak out and defend Dr. Conti and Ms. McFall. Otherwise, white Annapolitans might begin saying also "Enough is Enough," and go about their business and forget about those in need

From Jess Pachler of Annapolis:

Great comment Paul. I was thinking exactly the same thing when I read her letter. The only thing I might add is her
characterization of public housing as simply a black community, for even
though the majority of residents are black, there are other races
represented in HACA housing. But anyway, great response. God forbid someone
(or a couple of or group of someone's) come in and try to make life and the
future better for the impoverished in Annapolis. Better that we all do all
we can to perpetuate and retain the problems.

Jess Pachler


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