West Baltimore block party provides relief, resources

Block party in area of riots after Freddie Gray's death provides resources and relief.

Jacqueline Andrews stood admiring as a bright pink butterfly took shape on her granddaughter's face Saturday, and reminisced about watching her Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood reclaim its civility.

In the past week, the market and the laundromat that had been looted in protests that exploded over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray had reopened. And, after the neighborhood CVS was burned down, she was able to get her prescription transferred to a Rite Aid, although it is across town.

Shaking her head, Andrews looked around Saturday at Pennsylvania Avenue Triangle Park as children drew pictures, adults chatted over plates of free food and groups danced to music that blared from a loudspeaker.

"We needed this," she said. "To see everybody together, nobody arguing and fighting. We definitely needed this."

More than 600 turned out at the park Saturday to join the eighth annual Boundary Block Party, co-organized by Jubilee Arts and the resident-led advocacy group No Boundaries Coalition.

Although the block party had been organized well before unrest broke out in the neighborhood, many residents said it was right on time.

Valerie Barber described the block party as the "calm after the storm."

"It's taken me back to my childhood," said Barber, a lifelong resident who said she hadn't seen anything like the riots in her 56 years in the city.

As she sipped from a juice box and showed off her face, which was painted like a cat, she said attending the event was like a reward.

"It's like after you get punished by your parents, and then you get let off punishment," she said. "You just want to have a good time."

The block party featured the youth marching band The New Baltimore Twilighters and the Baltimore Showstoppers dance troupe. Community organizations were on hand to help with everything from voter registration to sign-ups for food co-ops.

Young residents were also encouraged to write down or draw their desires for their communities; the results were strung among trees with line and clothespins.

Among the dozen of wishes: "I wish the city was cleaner"; "Drug dealers stop dealing drugs"; "I wish whites and blacks [got] along." One drawing was of the CVS.

"It's good for the kids," said Doretha Carpenter, who has lived in the city for more than 20 years, pointing to the messages. "Show them that they can do things like this, something positive with themselves."

Political leaders, including state Sen. Catherine Pugh, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, also attended the event.

For all the celebration, however, many residents said the party only reflected the beginning of healing.

"This is just a piece of the puzzle," said Renardo Wise. "I understand sometimes you have to destroy to rebuild. But we have a lot more to do."

Ray Kelly, president of the No Boundaries Coalition, said that in past two weeks, the organization has reached more than 250 Sandtown residents by knocking on doors and hosting a community dinner. From that listening campaign the organization learned that the three main community concerns were jobs, schools and recreation centers.

But the group had been working for more than a year to address issues of police misconduct, and is working to reform the Baltimore Civilian Review Board through legislation.

Kelly said they have had meetings with Young and are waiting for a response from the mayor.

Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts has agreed to three meetings by August. The group has several town-hall style meetings planned in the coming months.

But first, Kelly said, as a prayer closed the block party, "I want people to know this is the true spirit of Sandtown."

erica.green@baltsun.com

twitter.com/EricaLG

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