Clay Street gets its own newsletter


Pamela Simms found a summer camp for her 6-year-old daughter, and Silvia Hawkins learned about a quilt show and a jazz festival in the first issue of the Clay Street Newsletter, a publication written by and for residents of the historic Clay Street neighborhood.

Organizers say they want to focus on the positive side of the blighted Annapolis neighborhood that most people associate with crime and drugs.

"It's to show that there is a way out of this mess," said Kirby McKinney, liaison between the community and the Clay Street Improvement Association, which is funding the project.

The front page of the monthly, three-page newsletter lists the scores for the Clay Street baseball team's games. Inside, there is a story on a senior citizens sewing club.

The newsletter, which was mailed to 450 residents, is part of a larger effort to turn around Clay Street. The cost of printing is covered by a grant aimed at revitalizing Clay Street. Once an elite, stylish neighborhood where gleaming white churches dotted the streets and the likes of Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday performed in clubs, Clay Street has fallen victim to urban renewal. Through the 1970s, many of the homes were replaced by office buildings, and many black business owners moved out.

Today, empty soda cans litter the sidewalks, and dusty parking lots abound. A bar with neon signs has replaced an ice cream parlor as a place for neighbors to meet. According to the 1990 Census, the average household income of the neighborhood was $14,368, and 35 percent of residents were living below the poverty line.

Organizers hope the newsletter will help the neighborhood regain a sense of community.

An article on the front page advertises a "Just for Girls Club" and tries to recruit 9- to 12-year-olds to learn about cooking, African dance and nail and hair care. Inside, an announcement congratulates Ersey Jacobs' granddaughter for graduating from Delaware State University with a communications degree.

There is political news, too. The local youth center received more than $2 million for renovation, and Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend recently visited the area, the newsletter reports.

"It is to show that this neighborhood is like any other

neighborhood in Annapolis. They care about their children," said Betsey Sanpere, the community coordinator for the Clay Street Project, who solicited writers for the newsletter and designed it on her computer.

Many readers applauded the newsletter for listing activities to keep children busy during the summer.

"Let the kids know they have something to do besides hanging out on the corner getting into trouble," said Annapolis police Officer Glenn Shorter, who patrols Clay Street regularly.

Although Clay Street has had its share of troubles, police statistics show a sharp decline in crime the past three years.

There were 15 aggravated assaults in the neighborhood last year, down from 29 in 1992. There also were three burglaries in 1994, down from 14 in 1992; 14 robberies last year, down from 21 in 1992; and one homicide in 1994, the same as in 1992. There were no homicides in 1993.

One of the biggest challenges of the newsletter may be increasing its readership. Many of the residents say they have not seen it.

Gwendolyn Tyler, who was on her way home from a store to have a barbecue for her 7-year-old son, Malcolm, said she was disappointed that she had missed the first edition.

"My son wanted to be in a baseball league, and I told him I didn't know where one was," she said, reading on the front page that the Clay Street team had three wins and two losses.

Other neighbors said that having a publication written just for them gave them a sense of importance and pride. "I like it," said Grace Coats, 46, who is disabled and unemployed. "Someone has an interest in the neighborhood besides the people who live in it."

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