Custodian Annie Ricks got a hefty raise, Sister Loretta Rosendale is getting more money for Head Start programs, and skeptic Bob LaPointe now knows that cumbersome bureaucracies will respond when residents make enough noise.
Each attributes the recent good fortune to the leadership of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, a potent alliance of churchgoers, unabashed liberals and current and former members of the city's downtrodden.
By demonstrating its own political power in last November's elections, BUILD positioned itself to play a significant role in setting the agenda for what the city should do for those who have the least.
This past year, for instance, BUILD persuaded state leaders to set aside $10 million to begin a rainy day fund for poor people and devote $2.5 million to expand Head Start early childhood classes. It even won approval for so-called living-wage raises for about 90 custodians at the Rosewood Center for the developmentally impaired in Baltimore County, boosting their pay to $7.70 an hour from as low as $5.15 an hour.
Their efforts have been an inspiration to other groups, including Progressive Montgomery, a sister organization now trying to institute a living-wage bill in the suburban Washington county. The bill is based loosely on a Baltimore measure that requires higher wages to be paid to workers employed as part of city contracts. BUILD promoted the living-wage concept in 1994, and its passage in the city was the first in the nation.
"They started a national trend," said Ann Ciekot, director of advocacy at the Center for Poverty Solutions, a statewide anti-poverty group. "Now there are 30 cities and municipalities across the country with living-wage ordinances."
Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden (R-Howard) said many of the group's initiatives, while well-intentioned, have negative effects. The living-wage proposal in Montgomery, he said, could wind up hurting economic development.
"All of these goals are admirable, but they tend to drive businesses to other areas and in the end could be counterproductive," said Madden, acknowledging that the group is "a very aggressive advocate for the people who need a voice."
BUILD's success in state political circles is no accident. Hundreds of church members fanned out across 59 precincts during last fall's gubernatorial election, delivering literally thousands of voters to the polls in communities accustomed to having their voices go unheard. The biggest beneficiary was Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D), who endorsed--and vowed to implement--the group's priorities if he won reelection. Glendening delivered.
"We got basically everything we wanted," said Arnie Graf, a BUILD organizer, who also advises BUILD's sister organizations along the East Coast.
That's partly because a booming economy allowed state lawmakers to turn their attention to neglected needs. It also helped that Glendening, who proudly labels himself a "progressive," believes in many of BUILD's issues. As Prince George's County executive, Glendening worked well with Interfaith Action Communities, a BUILD counterpart, and has been close to the Baltimore group since before he was elected governor.
"You have been a great partner," Glendening told a cheering crowd last July from the pulpit of Ames Memorial United Methodist Church.
Glendening aides said the governor also was impressed that the 20-year-old organization does not merely want to advance its own political power. They specifically cited the group's support for the publicly administered Joseph Fund, a $10 million rainy day account that will be available statewide to boost programs for the poor during economic downturns.
But BUILD's more outspoken leaders, while lauding Glendening's action, say there is another reason for his generosity.
Glendening "recognized that if he had any future political aspirations that he was dealing with a group that could both reward and punish politicians," said the Rev. Douglas Miles, a BUILD leader and pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church.
The group's relationship with politicians can sometimes be uneasy. Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, while embracing BUILD's basic planks, has had his tussles with the group.
BUILD steadfastedly opposed Schmoke's push last year for a referendum on slots at the racetracks. And Schmoke said the relationship became "strained" when the group's leaders asked for specific budgetary commitments on individual projects.
The group, however, does not apologize, and members contend that setting specific goals is the only way to hold politicians, and themselves, accountable.
BUILD has been around for 20 years, starting as a branch of the national Industrial Areas Foundation. Its roots are in Baltimore's black churches, but its membership is diverse with Baptists and Catholics, blacks and whites fighting alongside one another to create a better community. Its basic philosophy is to share power and responsibility.
"You never do anything for anyone that they can do for themselves," said the Rev. Vernon Dobson, a BUILD founder and pastor of Union Baptist Church. "You involve the people who are getting the relief. . . . We hold each other responsible."
If a member church pledges to bring 50 people to a meeting, then it is expected to do so. No excuses. And that's why last fall's voter registration drive was so successful. BUILD leaders targeted 59 precincts to canvass with door knockers who developed months-long relationships with their charges and, on election day, made sure their neighbors and friends voted. A net increase of 2,511 voters cast ballots in those precincts than did in 1994, even though registered voters decreased by more than 12,000. The increase in those areas represented 95 percent of the increase citywide.
"The BUILD example and leadership was important in generating an increased, progressive urban turnout in Maryland," wrote election watcher John T. Willis, Glendening's secretary of state, in a congratulatory letter to BUILD late last year.
BUILD thrives when people like Annie Ricks, who helped form a union at the Rosewood Center, realize that they can make a difference. Afraid at first about losing her job, Ricks was jubilant this past spring when Glendening approved a pay increase. Her new raise arrives in her check on Friday.
The money will help her buy things many people take for granted: "The first thing I'm going to do is get my hair done and buy me a new purse because this one is raggedy," she said.
Sister Loretta Rosendale, of St. Veronica's Head Start in Baltimore, said her 18 Head Start sites will share in the $2.5 million in state money. She said the most important thing she has learned from BUILD is how to foster relationships and alliances. "We couldn't have done it [won the funding] as St. Veronica's Head Start," she said.
Bob LaPointe's involvement with BUILD has been the civic lesson that never quite registered when he was a student. Last fall, he knocked on doors and heard people's frustrations. He urged them to vote and helped fashion a legislative agenda around their concerns.
"It's not just haphazard," LaPointe said. "I could follow the process from the people I talked to on the streets . . . [to] Election Day and then through the legislative process. I knew it wasn't fabricated."
CAPTION: Students in the Head Start program at St. Veronica's Catholic Church in Baltimore play a learning game with their teacher, Lydia Dorsey.
CAPTION: Jamal Grant gives thanks for his lunch at St. Veronica's, a beneficiary of state funds being used to expand Head Start.
CAPTION: Tanya Vukov shares a lunch break with her son, Tony Simuel, 3. BUILD, an alliance of churches and others, lobbied Maryland for Head Start funds.