Faith-based rally seeks revival of Pennsylvania Ave. district

Something has been missing from Pennsylvania Avenue, a former hub of local African-American entertainment, which James Craigen noticed as soon as he moved back to Baltimore about 16 years ago.

But Craigen, a former resident, said he thought he caught a glimpse of it on Sunday.

The first Pennsylvania Avenue Weekend Homecoming Festival concluded Sunday with a faith festival at the intersection of West Lafayette and Pennsylvania avenues. Ministers preached revival and recommitment to more than 100 attendees, several looking like they'd just left Sunday service.

"This is our community. They have said things about us to get us to disown, to get us to disinvest, to disbelieve who we are, but we are now reclaiming our community," said the Rev. Lester A. McCorn, pastor of Pennsylvania Avenue AME Zion Church. "We may not be in great numbers today … but this group right here, this is all we need."

Amid the dilapidated, boarded-up rowhouses, some in the crowd said they found inspiration in the music and the message.

Craigen said he was pleased to see a coordinated effort by the ministers to connect with the community.

"They talked about the spirit of Pennsylvania Avenue before, but that was based on a different kind of spirit," said Craigen, who lives in Bolton Hill. "This is a spirit based on a Christian commitment to work with that tradition and legacy in trying to make a significant change and direction for the community."

Patricia Smith, said she had flashbacks to fond memories of decades-past Halloween and Christmas trips to Pennsylvania Avenue.

She called the faith celebration a "good start."

"I thought it was a very good plan — to bring people out and for some young people to learn what went on yesteryear," said Smith, who lives in northwest Baltimore and still attends church in the area.

Organizers discussed coming community service projects, which include serving meals to 5,000 needy families and welcoming students and teachers back to school.

The Pennsylvania Avenue Redevelopment Collaborative organized the weekend festival, which included a Cadillac parade, live music, a fashion show and the opening of the avenue heritage trail — homes, churches, schools and businesses have markers describing the site's importance.

The group is working to rebuild the avenue's commercial base through tourism.

"We have the assets," said James Hamlin, the organization's president.

The faith community is an important asset as well, said the Rev. Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., senior pastor of Union Baptist Church. Baltimore once held the largest number of black churches in the country.

"You see people here from all walks of life that have come together, all in one place with no incidents because they understand that we're all part of a psychic and spiritual community," Hathaway said.

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