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.
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.
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.