Coppin Heights seeks to regain community pride


Stanley Gordon's West Baltimore neighborhood of neatly painted houses with porches decorated by colorful flowers has been blighted by dilapidated, condemned buildings.

Stumps rise from cement sidewalks where large trees once provided shade. Soft drink cans, plastic bags and paper clutter the sidewalks. Drugs, crime and violence have disrupted residents' lives.

"This was a homey place. A good place to raise your kids," said Mr. Gordon, 72, who has lived in the 1800 block of Moreland Avenue for 40 years. "But the area has changed -- not so much in looks as it has in attitude."

Despite the changes, Mr. Gordon has stuck it out. He and other residents of Coppin Heights are trying to turn the neighborhood around by renovating houses, encouraging home ownership and providing recreational equipment for children, among other programs. Yesterday, they sponsored the first Coppin Heights Festival to restore pride to the community.

"We're going to redo this neighborhood, build a new vision for the young people of the community," Mr. Gordon said. "The festival will excite the people in this neighborhood into taking pride in it."

The festival, which included a police-escorted parade, African storyteller Nzinga Ama and face painters, was designed to bring the residents together in celebration of a Coppin Heights where people care about their neighborhood.

Daniel Powell, president of the Ash-Co-East/Coppin Heights Neighborhood Association is committed to the community.

"I could leave . . . but what would that be doing to my brothers and sisters?" Mr. Powell said. "I feel that together we are stronger, and I want to stay to help pull people up by the bootstraps."

Many people have decided to pull up Coppin Heights by giving it a face lift. With help from Neighborhood Housing Services, a non-profit organization that provides affordable home improvement loans, rundown housing will get a new look.

Representatives of NHS, which has undertaken renovations in Govans, Irvington and Patterson Park, believe the agency can do the same thing in Coppin Heights.

"There is nothing wrong with these neighborhoods," said Al Hathaway, director of the NHS in Coppin Heights.

Things just need "to be lubricated so that everything works together smoothly," he said

The first task has been to get Coppin Heights renters to become home owners and take an interest in their new property.

"If all the renters would be able to buy their homes, they would have a better feeling about the neighborhood and themselves," said Elaine Cole, 35, who rented the house in the 1600 block of Ashburton Street for six years, until NHS made it possible for her and her husband, Marvin, to buy it last year.

"Buying makes you proud of where you live, and we are," Mrs. Cole said.

NHS will also work with community leaders to renovate houses and attempt to sell the homes to people like Coppin College employees, giving the community a steady foundation of homeowners.

"We can build our neighborhoods into anything we want them to be," Mr. Powell said. "Lily M. Jackson [former president of the NAACP's Baltimore chapter] used to say that we are like sleeping giants. If we'd wake up, we'd be surprised at how much we could accomplish."

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