Group works to engage people in Baltimore's 'sacred places:' outdoor gardens and green space

Sixteen-year-old Khadeejah Barnett stomped and clapped in unison with her step team Saturday across the labyrinth at Thanksgiving Place, drawing dozens to the pocket park near Waverly.

Using the energy and excitement of the percussive dance, an Annapolis-based foundation wanted to entice people to visit the neighborhood garden in hopes they would find unity, healing and strength near the grass, trees and shrubs. The idea is, stepping into a green space brings an opportunity for mindfulness and reflection.

“If nothing else, this just gets you outdoors, to enjoy the weather and have good, wholesome entertainment that everyone can enjoy,” said Cassandra Barnett of Northeast Baltimore, who watched the performance by her daughter and the step team, “Queens with Attitude” from City Neighbors High School. “My philosophy is, you can always be at the right place at the right time.”

The event was part of the “Step into the Garden” series hosted by the TKF Foundation throughout October. The next event will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, 4940 Eastern Ave. The series will end at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 27 at Jubilee Arts, 1947 Pennsylvania Ave., with a screening of “Step.” Each includes free entertainment and food.

Erin Robertson, who runs the 25-year-old foundation, said its mission is to use nature in urban settings to transform communities and the people who live in them. The foundation has invested in a network of “sacred places” across the country, including in Baltimore. Thanksgiving Place, created about 15 years ago on the site of the old Memorial Stadium, is one of them. It features the labyrinth as an interfaith mediation tool, carillon bells, benches and a journal where visitors can record their thoughts.

Robertson said the step series is intended to remind the communities surrounding the micro-parks that the space is there for them to gather or find solace. She said the foundation calls them “sacred places” because each is designed with the community’s involvement using elements they find healing.

“They can see something beautiful and wonderful happening in their local gardens, so they can be inspired,” Robertson said. “We want to bring hope to these communities.”

Performing along with “Queens with Attitude” was the “Ladies of C.L.A.S.S. (Cultivating Leadership, Academics, Sisterhood and Service) from Roland Park Elementary/Middle School.

Loretta Williams, 83, wandered down from her apartment at Stadium Place to watch the step performances and get lunch in the park.

“They were really good,” Williams said.

Lynette Neptune-Harried of Govans said the event accomplished just what the organizers had hoped.

“As you can see, music has a tendency to draw people in and have people be a part of something,” said Neptune-Harried, whose daughter performed with Ladies of C.L.A.S.S.

“This is a very beautiful space.”

ywenger@baltsun.com

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