How Do We Build Community When We Can’t Be Near Each Other? (with PeacePlayers Baltimore and TAP Druid Hill)

This is the second part of a series. Click here to read Part 1.

Baltimore City reported its first case of coronavirus over the weekend. Mayor Young announced a second case yesterday, though Maryland’s official count still has it at one. The state has 57 confirmed cases as I write this, with the majority in the DC suburbs, and six in Baltimore County.

Today Governor Hogan announced a set of new measures to deal with the outbreak. Among other things, all state emissions inspection locations will become drive-thru testing centers, and MARC train service is being cut in half.

The Baltimore Sun has live updates here, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has a podcast dedicated to issues around COVID-19 that you can subscribe to.

If all this is stressing you out, Hopkins mental health researcher Laura K. Murray offered steps to manage anxiety in The Sun yesterday. One of the recommendations is to limit your media intake. Yes, you can go ahead and close the browser now if you need to.

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For those looking to help out, Delegate Robbyn Lewis pointed out on Twitter that blood donations are especially important right now. You can schedule an appointment at a Red Cross donation center here.

Here’s a a mutual aid spreadsheet for Baltimore residents to offer help with childcare, pet care, emotional support and any other issues that might come up for neighbors and visitors. There are also sign-ups to support vulnerable neighbors in several Baltimore neighborhoods.

A number of rec centers, senior centers and schools are operating as food distribution sites. Click here for the map. You can also find food pantries through the Maryland Food Bank here.

Learning packets for students in city schools can be downloaded here.

Please email me if you have any more resources to add.

Continuing this series of asking people, How do we build community when we can’t be near each other, I reached out to LaToya Fisher of PeacePlayers Baltimore and Graham Coreil-Allen of TAP Druid Hill. Here’s what they said…

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Brittany Young of B-360: “We All Need Positive Outlets in a Very Stressed City”

Dirt bike culture is a part of Baltimore. The question is whether it can thrive in the city without generating conflict.

Brittany Young thinks so, or is at least working toward that goal. She’s the founder of B-360, which stands for “Be the revolution.” The revolution is a fundamental change in people’s mindset toward dirt bikes and the people who ride them.

“We all need a positive outlet in a very stressed city,” she told me.

But wait a second: Aren’t dirt bikes disruptive? Aren’t they dangerous? Aren’t they illegal? Haven’t people been killed, both on the bikes and in their pathways?

I’ve heard people in Baltimore defend street riding, or at least romanticize it while they acknowledge the danger. But not Brittany. She said B-360 and the Baltimore Police Department have the same goal: zero dirt bike riders on the street.

Instead of cracking down on riders with a police task force, though, B-360 tries to steer them toward spaces where they can express themselves and relieve stress without posing a danger to themselves or others.

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After repairing their bikes, B-360 students learn how to ride safely out of traffic in preparation for their showcase.

More than that, B-360 uses dirt biking as a launching point toward education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Moving from the pavement to the classroom, popping a wheelie can be framed as a math equation. A fascination with dirt bike design can be used to learn 3D drawing and printing. Repairing dirt bikes can be translated into practical job skills. Brittany uses the intersection between dirt biking and STEM education to show young people – especially young black people – how smart they already are.

This aspect of Brittany’s work has been well documented, and is worth your time to look into. There’s this article in The Baltimore Sun, for example. And this one in Forbes. And this one in Vice. You’ll also find several videos on the B-360 website that focus on STEM education programming.

For this story, I want to focus on dirt biking in Baltimore.

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In a City of Neighborhoods, Morrell Park Is Distinct – but Distinctly Baltimore

To me, climbing up Washington Boulevard from under the I-95 overpass into Morrell Park feels like crossing into a different world. The land of sports stadiums, Horseshoe Casino and the Montgomery Park building – all just a short distance behind me – seems like a faint memory.

And yet one thing is certain: I’m definitely in Baltimore.

Morrell Park mural

The neighborhood’s unassuming Charm City flavor was on display when I spoke with Wendy Roberts, President of the Morrell Park Community Association. As we wrapped up the interview – during which we talked about everything from children’s activities to 311 requests to race relations to violent crime – Ms. Roberts told me it was just like “having a conversation with my neighbor.”

(As a resident of the Charles Village/Old Goucher area, roughly five miles away, I took it as a compliment.)

If you’re wondering how to pronounce the name – MOR-rell or mor-RELL – Ms. Roberts told me it doesn’t matter. Everyone says it differently, and the variations increase when you factor in the Bawlmerese dialect that is very much alive and well in Morrell Park.

In spite of my impression of the neighborhood as a world of its own, Morrell Park was originally part of Charles Carroll’s “Georgia Plantation” that surrounded Mount Clare Mansion in Carroll Park to the north. (The plantation also included Westport, Violetville and Mount Winans.) Ms. Roberts hasn’t yet tracked down exactly when the land in Morrell Park was sold to housing developers, but she continues to search the history books and shares what she can find with the community.

Morrell Park map

Today the boulevard that serves as Morrell Park’s main street – lined with taverns, small businesses and chains like Royal Farms and Aldi – is also a popular route in and out of town from points southwest. It’s been a source of disappointment for Ms. Roberts that the neighborhood hasn’t seen the kind of development that’s happened in nearby Pigtown since the stadiums and casino were built.

“We are the main street that goes through to the stadiums or the harbor,” she said. “As a community, we would like to try to make it a little better so that it looks nicer for when people drive through.”

Of course, development in Baltimore often comes with conflict over displacement, or preserving the neighborhood’s “character” (a loaded term, I know). And perhaps the lack of recent development compared to nearby areas is one reason Morrell Park defies stereotyping.

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Jeff Thompson of HEBCAC: “There Just Is an Amazing Amount of Resilience” in East Baltimore

Read the follow-up to this story here.

I was trying to nail down the scope of what the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition (HEBCAC) does when I asked Deputy Directory Jeff Thompson if he saw the organization primarily as filling people’s needs or acting as an agent of change.

He didn’t think much of my distinction.

“We are agents of change,” he told me, “because we help people transform their lives.”

That is to say, helping East Baltimore residents beat addiction, secure housing and find work does fill needs. But it does much more that. It enables people to unlock their potential and become assets in their community.

HEBCAC was originally conceived in the 1990s as an umbrella group, encompassing 11 East Baltimore neighborhoods (and their neighborhood associations) stretching from the Hopkins East Baltimore campus to the borders of Baltimore Cemetery.

HEBCAC

As funding sources and the city’s development priorities have changed over the years, HEBCAC’s role in the community has evolved. Relationships with local associations have become less formal, and the organization now focuses on providing social services and community development within its service area.

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