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Quick and Dirty

SECO Goes

Community Group That Launched Barbara Milkulski's Career Shuts Its Doors

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 8/6/2008

One of Baltimore's oldest and best-known community groups is shutting down after 37 years.

The South East Community Organization (SECO), which became famous in the early 1970s for helping to block an I-95 highway expansion through Fells Point and Canton, and which helped launch the political career of U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, has posted on its web site a Request for Proposal (RFP) for micro-scale community-building projects.

The grants, in amounts from $2,000 to $15,000, will come from the proceeds of the sale of a building at 10 S. Wolfe St. that SECO shared with its sister organization, the Southeast Community Development Corp. The building (and one next door) sold last fall for $925,000 to St. Michaels Square LLC, according to land records.

According to SECO board member Glenn Ross, after splitting the sales proceeds with the community-development corporation, SECO has about a $150,000 surplus. "We want to make this available to communities in the Southeast," he says, and the RFP is a way to do that fairly.

The service programs that SECO began and has overseen, including Head Start and an adult literacy program, will continue as standalone nonprofit organizations, Ross says. But SECO, the umbrella group under which myriad diverse neighborhood associations and community groups coalesced to fight against abusive landlords and for better neighborhood services, more inclusive development policies, and affordable housing, will cease to exist after disbursing the money.

"Part of the sadness was, I got to know a lot of people who worked with SECO when I was there," says Ken Strong, SECO's executive director in the 1990s. "So many people with good hearts trying to improve the lives of people in those communities . . . and they were making a difference."

SECO board member Stanley Markowitz says that before the organization cut back on community organizing in the 1990s, it "really gives the community a stronger voice at a time when there are some difficult issues facing cities and facing these neighborhoods."

The highway project was the catalyst, he says. The road was going to be a four- to six-lane highway to I-95 to make getting in and out of downtown easier. "They did start knocking down some townhouses on Boston Street," Markowitz says.

SECO's boundaries extended from the county line to downtown, and from Monument Street to the harbor, Markowitz says. When it began, the neighborhoods were dominated by white ethnic enclaves--Poles, Italians, Greeks, Ukrainians--but SECO continued to thrive as a meeting place for diverse groups as African-Americans and then Latin American immigrants moved into the area.

"It was a rich kind of experience in the melting pot of Baltimore," Strong says.

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