On Saturday August 3, 2019, I traveled from my home in the Lauraville community in Northeast Baltimore to the Reservoir Hill community in West Baltimore, to attend back-to-back events: The annual Reservoir Hill Resource Fair and Music Festival (11am-4pm) and the annual Hands Across Baltimore/Hug Don’t Shoot/Ceasefire Weekend (6-8pm).
I had been so excited to attend these events until the day arrived. I woke up with an odd sense of dread. But my determination to follow through on my promise (to myself and, for good measure, to others) to “show up” won out. I decided to record my trip across town on video, something I’ve wanted to do for a long time (but as a passenger—not a driver!), to share the diversity of Baltimore’s many named neighborhoods, of which we are immensely proud, given our relatively small size and population. (Only the first two legs of my 20-minute trip are shown: [https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ksgxiswpga26tqn/AADb0qTeTcEZ0HFEV9CYBt-pa?dl=0&preview=20190803_121008.mp4 and https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ksgxiswpga26tqn/AADb0qTeTcEZ0HFEV9CYBt-pa?dl=0&preview=20190803_121630.mp4]
The Reservoir Hill Resource Fair and Music Festival is sponsored by the St. Francis Neighborhood Center (SFNC), a nonprofit that provides educational programs and counseling for neighborhood youth and their families. Currently, the Center’s building is undergoing major renovations so that programming can be expanded. [For further information about the Center, visit their web page.]
Vendors from a variety of organizations and services offered information to festival goers, while product vendors (jewelry, art, food, etc.) sold their wares. All the while, there were games for children, and food, drink, and musical entertainment for all. In addition, bags of nonperishable groceries and back-to-school backpacks were given to neighborhood families. This year’s fair was held in German Park, a popular, established (but newly renovated) neighborhood gathering place/playground and basketball court. Some vendors helped raise funds for the ongoing work of SFNC. My “job” was to help sell SFNC tee shirts (donated by a local representative who passed them on to my friend and fellow volunteer Miss Juanita for sale) as a fundraiser.
However, a lot of my time was spent listening to and making a few “snippet” videos of the musical artists, all of whom were excellent: Kevin Pinder and The Powers To Be [https://scontent.fphl2-3.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t39.24130-6/10000000_2307932829333223_8808471397513969536_n.mp4?_nc_cat=104&efg=eyJ2ZW5jb2RlX3RhZyI6Im9lcF9oZCJ9&_nc_oc=AQkjIV1YPDQA0AlOJez3DEibIB7d3A8_W-surEILAjZsQmyMf10RyDY1axzdt3AedGo&_nc_ht=scontent.fphl2-3.fna&oh=bdcd5000a5376471a89e8c609dc94601&oe=5DD9BE4F], Eze Jackson and the Baltimore Youth (with students who have learned to create their own rap songs), Christen B (our incredibly talented emcee, who also performed solo, accompanied only by two music machines, one providing rhythms and the other augmenting her voice into three-part harmonies and other vocal background sounds—so sorry I didn’t capture her on video!), Cloud Kickers International [https://scontent.fphl2-1.fna.fbcdn.net/v/t39.24130-6/10000000_358273221515919_4660546408261747778_n.mp4?_nc_cat=103&efg=eyJ2ZW5jb2RlX3RhZyI6Im9lcF9oZCJ9&_nc_oc=AQlQCcPNK-_4Ij4wuXmGXU50fq862ChBpppdHsKBVYqgdfT_DRTwmvVSlATulvtU3tA&_nc_ht=scontent.fphl2-1.fna&oh=7d9a712914aa46e9fd09dfbaee98770d&oe=5DEDE131], and Jonathan Gilmore and the Experience. I urge you, readers, to search for all these artists’ names online and support their work.
Hug Don’t Shoot™ is a Baltimore non-profit organization, founded by Val Jenkins, that works year-round to promote peace, empathy, and compassion as the viable alternative to violent crime in our City. It provides resources and programs to support youth and to help families of victims of crime.
The Hands Across Baltimore/Hug Don’t Shoot/Ceasefire Weekend was the second annual event sponsored by Hug Don’t Shoot, bringing together citizens, community advocates, and allies from across Maryland to stand together hand-in-hand over a more than 5-mile radius of Baltimore City, to promote peace and end gun violence. Saturday’s event, which spanned North Avenue from Hilton Street to Milton Street, featured timed ecumenical prayers, engagements with people both within participating communities and with drivers along the route (who honked their horns in support), and other activities.
While hanging out in Reservoir Hill—after the Resource Fair and before Hands Across Baltimore, I was horrified to learn of two violent events in Baltimore on my Facebook newsfeed. First, the news that a 4-year-old boy who’d been missing since August 1st had been found dead on Saturday—and he had never been missing at all. His mother was implicated in his tragic death. The seconad was a murder that afternoon, in the streets of my own neighborhood of Lauraville.
With those events weighing on our minds, my friend Juanita and I walked up Eutaw Place to join our contingent of friends and community partners at the Ceasefire event on North Avenue, where Rabbi Daniel Burg of Beth Am Synagogue was scheduled to lead our group’s prayer. With him were members of his congregation, other Reservoir Hill neighbors, and friends, including Councilman Leon Pinkett, Rev. Kevin Slayton, and Father Tim (making ours a truly ecumenical gathering).
Soon after, at Rabbi Burg’s suggestion, we formed a circle on the corner. After telling us a Biblically rooted story about a man searching far from home for treasure, only to find that that he’d left the treasure he sought back in his hometown, Rabbi Burg asked for our thoughts/reactions to the story.
I recorded some of our responses in the following video: [https://www.dropbox.com/sh/ksgxiswpga26tqn/AADb0qTeTcEZ0HFEV9CYBt-pa?dl=0&preview=20190803_183110.mp4]
Like so many urban centers, Baltimore City has more than its share of problems. But on this Saturday and in this moment, in Reservoir Hill and beyond, my faith and my love for my City grew tenfold.