By RAYMOND L. SMITH
WARREN - Ali Bashir has been working to put ''neighbor'' back in the '''hood.''
The 74-year-old former jazz drummer, foster parent and community activist sometimes grumbles that advancing age is slowing him down, but friends and colleagues say they wish they had half the energy that Bashir has.
Bashir, president of the Southeast Side Community Association, is working to organize a series of safe houses around his Milton Street neighborhood where children can go with the knowledge they will be safe.
''It is difficult to get volunteers,'' Bashir said. ''People are more cautious today.''
Sitting in the basement of his Milton Street S.E. home, Bashir's eyes light up and his voice rises with melodic richness when acknowledging how fortunate his life has been. He credits his wife, Marcelaine, their six children, and more than a dozen foster children they have had.
Family, religion and community define Bashir, who grew up in Warren, one of 11 children.
At age 19, he said he began playing music, concentrating on jazz, but also playing blues, R&B, disco and pop.
''We learned to play everything, because that's what was needed to get jobs,'' he said.
One day, after reading a Tribune Chronicle article about the need for African-American foster parents, Marcelaine convinced her husband they had to reach out to help.
''We believe we have a responsibility to our neighborhood and our community,'' he said.
After a period of nervousness and adjustment with their first foster child, things calmed down and the couple found not only did they enjoy reaching out beyond their own family, but they were good at it.
The couple kept most of the foster children for two years and described most as good students. Besides giving them stable home lives, Bashir says they provided the children attention and listening ears to whatever concerns they were having.
''Most young people simply want attention,'' Bashir said. ''They want to know someone cares about them.''
One of the children wrote for a school assignment how grateful he was for his foster parents.
''Although they are not my biological parents, they are the best,'' the child wrote. ''They rescued me from a rough and dangerous situation. They treat my sister and I like their own. I don't know where we would be without them.''
Melanie Jones, secretary for the Southeast Side Community Association, described her friend as having a driving passion for children.
''Especially for males who are struggling with decisions, as they are living in poverty, in crime areas and marginal home situations,'' Jones said. ''He has a firm belief that although there are many successful single female parents, there are also many single parents needing help with their efforts to encourage their sons to be responsible men.''
Jones says some neighborhood kids affectionately call Bashir ''Grandpa.''
Over the years, Bashir has participated and led many community projects, including a food co-op that he operated for six years in the early 1970s.
''The thought was the more people who put their money together to buy food, the bigger the discounts we could get at the stores,'' Bashir said. ''It was for anyone who wanted to participate. We were all poor people. We all could use a hand.''
The food was sold for about $5 a bag.
More recently, Bashir has been working with the Southeast Side Community Association.
''He organizes neighborhood cleanups, services on various neighborhood based committees, mentors kids and attends City Council meetings,'' Jones described. ''He collects cans for recycling and uses the funds to buy and repair bikes for kids in the neighborhood.''
Fred Simmons, who has known Bashir for more than 50 years, is amazed that his old friend has so much energy.
''Most of his volunteer work happened after he retired,'' Simmons said.
For Simmons, the unique aspect about his longtime friend is his ability to deal with all kinds of people.
''I'm amazed at his skills with talking to troubled youth who many people fear,'' Simmons said. ''He always takes time to help young people, especially male children, and teens who do not have fathers.''
Simmons said it has been Bashir's example that convinced him in getting more involved with the community.
''We are part of a group of retired men who meet at area churches monthly to promote mentoring young men,'' Simmons said. ''Ali has a firm belief that a group like this can make a difference, even if a small amount of youth respond.''