At its height, the AFRO Clean Blockers was an army of 8,000 children using brooms, buckets of paint and elbow grease to take back their neighborhoods one inch of pavement at a time.
The initiative aimed its’ entire arsenal at combating urban decay and crime seen in neighborhoods across Baltimore City and they were more than just successful- they started a movement.
Now over seven decades after the program’s humble beginnings, Eastern District police and community leaders are putting a new spin on the program, calling it the AFRO Clean Green Campaign (CGC).
“Ultimately, I’m hoping this is a tool, a way to re-engage our communities and get them to re-engage with themselves,” said Eastern District police commander Maj. Melvin Russell, who helped bring back the program.
“I want this to wake our communities up so that they might see we have everything we need within ourselves to reclaim our own neighborhoods,” said Russell, adding that no city agency is needed to begin actively changing each block of this city.
Launched in 1934, the program was begun by Frances L. Murphy, daughter of AFRO founder and civil rights giant, John H. Murphy, and eventually spread beyond Baltimore boundaries to cities such as Philadelphia, Richmond, Va., and Washington, D.C.
The program began in June and lasted until the beginning of September, encouraging young Baltimoreans the opportunity to add value to their community spaces and neighborhoods, not only during the summer but year-round. Organizations both local and national donated to the pot of funds needed to both purchase materials, such as the iconic tire rings that denoted an AFRO Clean Block, and the small monetary prizes awarded to the youngsters who participated.
"It puts unity back into the community," said Sandy Coles, president of the Greater Greenmount Community Association (GGCA), which has decided to tackle the intersection of Greenmount and North Avenues. "It brings us together and starts communication. People need to realize that strength in numbers can make a difference."
Understanding of the unique culture surrounding the Baltimore stoop, communities in the past both agreed to and enforced regulations that said no one could be seen on their porch or house entrance with untidy or dirty clothing. Deserving blocks hung AFRO Clean Block flags at their doors and those that fell behind in their work had their block captains and co-captains put on notice publicly in the paper.
Similar to the neighborhoods that first participated, community leaders are now encouraging their neighbors to remove abandoned cars and trash from their lots.
“We want them to focus on the beautification and leave the heavy lifting to us,” said Officer Fred Allen, lead organizer of the campaign for the Baltimore City Police Department’s Eastern District. “If there is an abandoned car that isn’t taken care of one week after a 311 report is made, contact us and I will come out personally to ticket or tow as needed.”
In the past the program also gave strict instruction on how each residence should look down to the planters that hung from the windowsills. Though more relaxed, today’s regulations still leave no room for “broken windows, degraded door molding, or uncut lawns,” said Allen.
Furniture such as old couches and broken appliances has also been targeted for removal from front porches this year, but community leaders know nothing can be accomplished without a communal sense of urgency to better their surroundings.
Unlike past years, young people are encouraged to become involved, but neighborhood associations are homing in on specific areas of their neighborhood instead of having block leaders sign up individual streets with a co-captain.
Eastern District police are ready to begin documenting the progress of the competition, but there is still time to complete a registration form and enter the competition that will end on Sept. 1.
During the week leading up to that date, final assessments of the neighborhoods will take place and the winning neighborhood will be crowned at a much anticipated crab feast on Sept.8.
For more information, or to request help with the AFRO Clean Green Campaign, please email Officer Fred Allen at Frederick.Allen@BaltimorePolice.org