Part I: 2019: The Year of Words in Action
Without experiences, writing is an empty exercise. Without writing, experiences are devoid of meaning.
My goal for 2019 was to act on my words. After the first 4 years of writing baltimoreblackwoman, I realized that observing life wasn’t enough—I needed to DO. For myself, my family, and my community. Yet, without those 4 years of writing and the relationships I’ve built as a result, I would not have been in a position to act. The writing and doing are intertwined.
Three Poetry Readings
This year of doing began with a poetry reading on the Quintessential Listening: Poetry Online Reading podcast, hosted by Dr. Michael Anthony Ingram, on Monday, January 7th [https://www.blogtalkradio.com/ql_p/2019/01/08/quintessential-listening-poetry-presents-pov-with-pinchback-oldham-and-viti]. It was only my second public reading, and my first on radio, recorded from the comfort of home. Invited by my friend Lynne Spigelmire Viti to be part of a trio of poets, along with her friend, Tzynya Pinchback, we learned, hours before the broadcast, that Lynne had to back out. Tzynya and I carried on, and although we’d “met” many times before, on Facebook, we really became fast friends after the broadcast.
My second poetry reading—with a bonus musical performance—took place on Sunday, September 1st, at the invitation of my friend Rafael Alvarez, as part of his Labor Day Literary Extravaganza at Ikaros Restaurant in Highlandtown. Two weeks before the event, I was asked to write a Labor-Day-themed poem. “The Boss,” a story about my great-grandfather, emerged, as did two Labor songs I performed on guitar. Thanks to a recording glitch at the reading, I had to recreate it the next day at home [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkqT6OeIrm0; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoEPXvYOdHE].
My third and final poetry reading of 2019 occurred on Saturday October 12th, again by invitation. This time, I was asked to write and read an original poem with the theme “Coming Home,” as part of a celebration of Beth Am Synagogue’s return to its Sanctuary after a large renovation. This reading also had to be recreated at home [https://www.dropbox.com/home?preview=20191231_003824.mp4].
Birth of a Published Short Story Writer
In late 2018, Tyzynya Pinchback introduced me to a wonderful new publication called midnight & indigo. I’d purchased and read the first annual print volume. In a rare bold move, I contacted the publisher, excited to see a literature journal by and for Black Women Writers—something I’d searched for. By early summer of this year, I took a leap of faith, penning my first short story and submitting it to this journal. In August, I received the news that my story, “Age-isms,” had been selected to appear in the electronic edition of the journal, with a September 26 publication date [https://www.midnightandindigo.com/age-isms/]. My mustard seed-sized act of faith had yielded success(!), proving to myself that when I put my mind to it, I can produce. Whether I write another short story is another story.
IFO and LIA
Over the past 3 years, I’ve written a few blog posts about my association with Beth Am Synagogue and its Reservoir Hill community organization, In, For Of, Inc. (IFO). In another rare, bold move this year, I became co-chair of IFO, awakening leadership skills I hadn’t used since my employment years. Along with renewed confidence, I regained management and people skills, which led to another leap of faith—rejoining the Lauraville Improvement Association (LIA) in the neighborhood I live in. Before I could blink, I’d been nominated for and voted onto the LIA Board, where I learned I needed a different set of leadership, management, and people skills, which I am still growing into.
But more importantly, I learned that in both community organizations, I am battling the same issue: how to bring together black and white (or Jewish) communities to live out a common purpose, and to demonstrate that the black experience is the human experience.
Morgan State University Oral History Project and 2019 Founders Day Convocation
This opportunity, to tell the story of my black community within Lauraville, was a dream come true, and it came about because of my renewed membership in the LIA, which was then working to reconcile its own racist relationship with Morgan State and the larger black community. The interview was recorded on October 9th [https://drive.google.com/file/d/1SYAuNcsm1oJNZe8W0DVEGyNVZvZW-oBD/view?usp=sharing].
A month later, on November 7th, I joined my fellow LIA members at Morgan’s Founders Day Convocation where not just Lauraville, but all the Northeast Baltimore communities pledged to put their divisive pasts behind them and begin a new era of unity across all our communities, including Morgan State.
oldwestbaltimore.com – Preserving the History of Booker T. Washington Junior High School
On October 31st, I had the honor of meeting with #NegroHistoryDetective, nannyjack&co. owner, and former MPT host Philip J. Merrill and his mother, Betty J. Merrill, at R House, a Remington neighborhood food emporium. Philip is another Facebook friend I was finally getting to meet in person. I was donating the original 1942-1943 Booker T. Bulletin, the junior high school newspaper for which my father, the late Oliver F. Oldham, had been the inaugural Editor-In-Chief, to Philip’s historical collection of memorabilia and documents from Booker T.
2019-10-30_234718 After giving him the documents and accompanying notes, we had a lively, one-hour conversation, sharing stories about West Baltimore, our families’ shared home neighborhood, and discovering that Betty and I are both Western High School grads, 10 years apart!
Last Words on 2019
Out of all these experiences—and more (going to plays, concerts, and events around town), the greatest lesson I learned this year is that connections between people are the most important element of life, especially in Baltimore. Despite its ugly, corrupt, and dangerous reputation on the national stage, this City is really a jewel of a small town, where if you take the time to sit down and talk to each other, you’re more likely to find common interests, memories, and values than you might imagine.
Wishing you a Happy, Safe, and Prosperous New Year,