By Rev. Dorothy S. Boulware, Special to the AFRO

The question was asked and answered many times at the August 13 celebration of the AFRO’s 85th Clean Block Anniversary at Cylburn Arboretum. What do you love about Baltimore? Each time the first response was wrinkled brows or far-off stares. But the light bulb always came on. I love the crabs. I love the people. I love the neighborhoods. The neighbors. 

Each guest, appropriately dressed in white, declared their hesitation was not due to shortage of things to love, but so many things from which to choose. Videos of their responses were to be posted to social media sites, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, which only added to the excitement.

This was the prevailing atmosphere for the event that also observed the media company’s 127th anniversary and the launch of its book, “The Thing I Love About Baltimore,” a compilation of chapters by Baltimoreans with the foreword by U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who was also the featured speaker for the evening.

Bernadette Owens, who started AFRO Clean Block when she was 9 years old.

Another highlight was the introduction of two celebrated Clean Blockers;

*Bernadette Armstrong Owens, who still sweeps and cleans her Lafayette Square community, having started as a Clean Blocker in 1953 at 9 years old.

*Alice Emmanuel Clash now 95. She started at 10 years old in the 700 block of Arlington Avenue. She tells the story of having almost dropped the late Del. Howard P. Rawlings when he was a baby.

Alice Emmanuel Clash, one of AFRO Clean Block’s oldest members.

“We’re glad she didn’t,” the Rev. Frances “Toni” Draper, AFRO CEO and Publisher, said, adding great appreciation for their support and attendance. It was noticeable that everyone wanted to be included in the number of those who had at one time been an AFRO Clean Block worker and winner. Hands went up vigorously when the question was posed.

“I was a Clean Blocker,” said the Honorable Bernard “Jack” Young, Baltimore’s mayor, when he had his turn at the mic. “We did it because it was the right thing to do.” He added that with all the good in the city, “We can do better,” and said the city can be changed with everyone’s help.

Congressman Elijah Cummings was the keynote speaker for the AFRO Clean Block’s 85th anniversary celebration.

“Our Congressman,” as Rev. Draper addressed him, attributed three lessons to his experience as an AFRO paperboy; to work hard, to pay his bills and the importance of tipping. He talked about walking from South Baltimore to Edmondson Village only to have people refuse to pay him, which didn’t keep him from paying his AFRO handler; leaving him without.

“I didn’t just sell the AFRO, I read it,” Rep. Cummings said. Summoning the memory of Parren Mitchell, Lillie Carroll Jackson and similar heroes of justice, he said, “We must carry on what others have started.”

“The Thing I Love About Baltimore” is available for purchase ($25) online at, on or in the AFRO office at 1531 S. Edgewood Street in Baltimore.