Frank and Melinda Brown had lived in Baltimore all of their lives. They remembered listening to the first Orioles game on the radio, and witnessing the 1968 Riot first-hand. In their late sixties, the Browns still felt the successes and failures of the civil rights movement. One of the biggest failures was the decline of their neighborhood. Crime was up, and more buildings were being defaced everyday.
The tenement building across the street, where their friend Marvin Ailey once lived, was deemed unsafe, and torn down. For a year, Frank and Melinda couldn’t look out their window without seeing a dirty empty lot. After months of complaining, Frank and Melinda decided they were going to do something about it. Frank woke up early one day, and took the bus over to City Hall. Once inside, he refused to leave until he could speak with someone in city planning. He waited an hour before a representative finally came down, but he didn’t mind. It gave him time to polish his speech.
“Like Martin Luther King Jr., I too have a dream,” Frank told the representative, “and that dream is to one day look upon my neighborhood with pride. I am tired of looking at all the defaced buildings, and the dirty storefronts, and I’m tired of looking at the empty lot across the street from me.”
“I can’t help you with the dirty storefronts,” said the representative, “but if you would like to adopt the empty lot and turn it into a community garden, then by all means it’s yours. Our new public works program, “Power in Dirt,” is looking for proposals.”
So, Frank filled out the mandatory paperwork, and left city hall brimming with optimism. “It’s a new day,” he thought. All he had to do was decide where to start. On his walk home he passed by several walls with graffiti art. For the first time, he recognized that some works showed artistic potential. One mural, an “in memoriam” portrait, brought a tear to his eye. “The garden will have art,” Frank decided.
When he arrived home, he told his wife the good news, and the next day they posted notices all over town.
“New Garden!” the notices read, “Volunteers and Artists wanted. First meeting this Thursday. All invited!”
And by Thursday, the lot was packed with people ready to make a difference. Frank helped the artists pool their ideas to make one cohesive mural that represented the neighborhoods past, present, and hopes for the future.
Melinda talked with hopeful gardeners about mapping out the plots. vegetables and flowers would each be given their own separate areas, and space would be left open for seating and a possible fountain. Not every idea was accepted, and some people left disappointed, but one thing could be agreed: Any garden would be better than an empty lot.
In the following months, the ground was cleared of debris, bricks were laid, and planting plots were passed out in a lottery. City Hall was very supportive, and when the Marvin Ailey Garden was officially opened news crews witnessed the mayor cut the ceremonial ribbon. Many people approached Frank and Melinda that day. These individuals took Frank and Melinda by the hand, and said “Thank you” in a way that endowed those two words with more meaning than they ever held before.
As for the rest of the neighborhood, it didn’t change overnight, but as more empty lots were adopted, and more community spaces were created, the neighborhood’s crime rate declined, and the general outlook of the residents improved. It just goes to show that when people are willing to work hard, and their government is willing to invest in them, there is no dream that cannot be achieved.
This story was written by Alex Schattner (7/19/12)