Community has to be built: one step, one person, one day at a time.
Things are buzzing in Reservoir Hill, the neighborhood that my family and I moved to last January. Dan Rodericks and Jacques Kelly have written about the renovation of an apartment house at Brookfield and Reservoir Streets, lovingly restored by Alex Aaron, a young graduate of Howard University who is raising his family nearby. David Bramble, another West Baltimore resident, is responsible for a $100 million project at the intersection of North Avenue and Park that combines over 100 market rate townhouses with subsidized apartments that will make a meaningful dent in housing affordability, and promises essential amenities like a grocery store and other retail. Connecting streets to Bolton Hill that were blocked sixty years ago are being re-opened. Dorothy I. Height Elementary School at the corner of Lennox and Linden streets was built during the pandemic and provides both school and community spaces to residents. A years-in-the-making renovation of Druid Hill Park is nearing completion. The St. Francis Community Center at Linden and Whitelock is expanding.
But the energy is not just about physical construction. Reservoir Hill is predominantly African-American and has been stably integrated for decades, with a mix of socio-economic classes and religions. Beth Am synagogue is an anchor on Eutaw Street and it is common to greet girls wearing a hijab on the way to school. Spirit is palpable in our corner of Baltimore—we are weary at times, but we are also a people of welcome and wonder. Recalling one of our family’s favorite children’s books, The Big Orange Splot, our neighborhood is us and we are it. “Our street is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.” (Daniel Manus Pinkwater) What does your dream of community look like?
One of the gifts of my sabbatical is that I had several months to devote to the people who have become our neighbors. Sarah and I begin each day with our extraverted rescue poodle Darcy, walking at dawn. Angelo helps us cross North Avenue, with his miniature stop sign and whistle tooting. He is a semi-professional pool player when he’s not a crossing guard, and he and I embrace warmly most mornings. We’ve begun to know the folks who used to live in our house—a nurse mid-wife who has lately earned a doctorate to affect policy for the Black women she serves, and her social worker husband. Emmanuel is a fellow dog-walker who has a sweet spot for Darcy. Around the corner are young transportation engineers, one of whom has just taken a position at Morgan State. Next door is a fellow empty-nester, and we compare notes about daughters who are making their way in the world. Two doors down is a friend who brought me a sweet potato pie as a “thank-you” for my shoveling his walk when it snowed last month. And down the block is another Sarah whose “puppy” now outweighs her by 20 pounds! She and her husband, both in their 70’s, decided that a rambunctious new dog is exactly what they need “at their age!”
We’ve got struggles, too. Amtrak is constructing a new tunnel that traces an arc under the West side, from Reservoir Hill to Sandtown, and we are gathering with others to ensure that the residents are included in the plans going forward. A ventilation stack will be located yards from Dorothy I. Height School, and in a neighborhood where childhood asthma is quite common, we are understandably concerned. Not everyone is happy about the style of the new rowhouses being built. And my dog’s desire to make friends with everyone felt threatening to a man a couple of weeks ago. Making community is always two steps forward, one step back…
In the same way, if Redeemer and Baltimore are to be community, each of us has to set that as an intention and build it: one step, one person, one day at a time. What will you do, how will you be, this week?