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Nearly 200 people gathered Saturday afternoon in Cherry Hill's Reedbird Park to celebrate a community that organizers say is too often characterized by crime and poverty.

"Just look around — there's no gunfighting, no cussing, no one selling drugs," said Quinn Tyler Wise, a local resident who showcased his handmade dolls during the first Cherry Hill Arts & Music Festival. "It feels like Cherry Hill's at peace, like when I was younger."

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Fanon Hill, executive director Baltimore's Youth Resiliency Institute, said the purpose of the festival was to highlight and celebrate the community's culture and vibrant past. The daylong event was a collaboration among the institute, which seeks to foster the well-being of the city's children, the Cherry Hill Development Corp. and the Cherry Hill Community Coalition.

The festival received a $25,000 grant from the Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts. Hill said the funds finally allowed organizers to stage the event, which they'd been planning for several years.

"We wanted to make sure we provided entry points for community members in Cherry Hill to redesign the narrative surrounding Cherry Hill," he said.

Those at Reedbird Park were treated to music performances and ethnic cuisine. Dozens of vendors surrounded the perimeter of the park, selling books, T-shirts and artwork.

Navasha Daya, TT the Artist, Lafayette Gilchrist and other musicians with Baltimore ties performed. The event allowed the community to "celebrate Cherry Hill's greatness; past, present and future" through artistic expression, Hill said.

Jennifer Brown, who was born and raised in Cherry Hill, said the festival reminded her of ones she used to go to while growing up in the 1970s — back when the neighborhood had a "sense of community."

Cherry Hill has a colorful and significant history, Hill said. Originally planned as one of the nation's first suburban-style communities for African-Americans, according to the ACLU of Maryland, the neighborhood initially thrived economically and once featured scores of black-owned businesses. But families began to leave the area when other Baltimore communities became integrated, which caused the population in Cherry Hill to decline and local businesses to suffer.

Crime and drugs soon after became a problem in Cherry Hill, Hill said. People would drive through the area and see "a community that looked desolate."

Saturday's festival, however, gave residents a reason to remember and take pride in the community's vibrant history.

Michael Battle, Jr., a community leader who grew up in Cherry Hill, sold shirts that said "RICH" — an acronym for "Raised In Cherry Hill."

"We're a small, close-knit community; I take pride in that" said Battle, founder of the Restoring Inner City Hope program in Cherry Hill. "You have to come in to see what's really going on. You can't rely on the media to paint the picture for you."

Hill said leftover funds will go toward art workshops for Cherry Hill's youth and senior citizens, in hopes of fostering a positive reputation for one of the city's southernmost neighborhoods.

The arts festival, which organizers plan as an annual event, will help outsiders see the real Cherry Hill, he said.

"These are times where there are so many social issues in our city," Hill said. "Communities like Cherry Hill deserve a chance to share their strengths artistically."

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