Live music and the smell of Cuban beef stew filled the air in a hard-to-find Baltimore City park known as The Field, as several hundred people turned out July 26 for WAVEscape, Waverly's early version of National Night Out on Aug. 6.
"Look at these neighbors," said Debra Evans, who helped organize the first-time festival. "They brought their lawn chairs and put them out in the middle of The Field. To me, that says community."
More visions of community are expected Aug. 6 as Charles Village and several other communities prepare for their own versions of the annual National Night Out — "America's Night Out Against Crime," according to http://www.natw.org the website of the organization National Association of Town Watch, which organizes National Night Out, now in its 30th year..
Other neighborhoods in north and northeast Baltimore expected to participate include Pen Lucy, Wilson Park and Kenilworth Park.
Charles Village will be the most active, with three community groups holding separate events. The Charles Village Civic Association will celebrate at Saints Philip and James Catholic Church, 2801 North Charles St., from 6-9 p.m. The Harwood Community Association will hold its event in the 400 block of Lorraine Avenue, at Barclay Street, also from 6-9 p.m. And the Old Goucher Community Association will hold an event in the Calvert Street Park at Calvert and 23rd streets, from 3-9 p.m.
The Charles Village Community Benefits District is helping to support the events by providing hot dogs, fliers and safety materials, said Sharon Guida, an attorney, who chairs the safety committee of the Charles Village Civic Association.
National Night Out is viewed as a way to strengthen communities, prevent crime and develop partnerships with local law enforcement agencies.
"You get to know your neighbors," Guida said. "The more you know each other, the better able you are to spot when something is out of order and people are there who shouldn't be there. You can learn how to make your community safer — keeping lights on from dusk to dawn, don't keep curtains open — things that the police have been trying to drill into our heads for years."
The celebratory spirit of National Night Out was evident at WAVEscape, where people found their way to an idyllic park that even some local residents were surprised to learn existed.
"It's a little hidden gem," said Ricquel Ricks-Cumbo, who brought her four children to the park at 30th and Montpelier streets. "I really just discovered it myself."
While local musicians served a smorgasbord of styles, resident Angela Merchant dished out generous helpings of Cuban stew and other menu items cooked by her mother, Sonja Merchant-Jones, owner of the catering business SMJ Homemade.
"I love this neighborhood," said Angela Merchant, who grew up in Waverly and lives in the nearby Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello neighborhood known as CHUM. "I think it's one of the last family neighborhoods."
WAVEscape was also a showcase for 901 Arts, a Waverly-based youth arts center dedicated to providing art and music programs to the children and teens of the Better Waverly neighborhood, according to its website, http://www.901arts.org. A drum line and singers from 901 Arts performed at the festival and 14 youths in 901 Arts' Youthworks Summer Program also participated.
"It's been eye-opening," said one of the workers, Candace Jones, who lives in the area, attends the Baltimore School for the Arts, plays classical guitar and was paid minimum wage for 25 hours a week to do projects such as helping paint the arts center.
Even former Waverly residents were drawn to the event, including Nick Sheridan, who lived in the neighborhood for 15 years.
"I've always loved Waverly," Sheridan, who now lives in the Mount Washington area, said.
Making his presence felt at the event was Northern District community liaison officer James Barnett, who spent much of the evening talking to children.
"I think this is the start of something," Barnett said.