Residents and other organizations are working hard to protect Baltimore’s historic Cherry Hill community. (Courtesy photo)

By Tashiera Allen and Jamar Dorsey
Special to the AFRO

South Baltimore’s historic Cherry Hill community has a story to tell. Much like the esteemed AFRO-American newspaper, Cherry Hill’s history must never be forgotten.

Did you know that Cherry Hill was an isolated peninsula adjacent to a city landfill and incinerator and later developed as a community for soldiers returning from WWII and Korea? This location was selected after several other options were opposed by Whites who did not want African Americans moving too close to their neighborhoods. 

According to Cherry Hill Development Corporation executive director Michael Middleton, “The development of the Cherry Hill community was the continuation of a segregationist mentality.” 

Today, Cherry Hill residents and community institutions celebrate 75 years of Cherry Hill Black history, culture and excellence in the face of historic injustices.

To truly know Cherry Hill, one must know Cherry Hill’s residents. Ms. Ernestine Brockington is a 96-year-old Cherry Hill resident who has lived in Cherry Hill for 51 years. According to Ms. Brockington, there are many things that she loves about Cherry Hill. However, she is very clear about what stands out most about her community. “I love the people and area most,” said Ms. Brockington.

Ms. Shirley Foulks is another dynamic Cherry Hill resident who has called this community home since 1969. Foulks, a great-grandmother and playwright, has traveled throughout the United States screening the documentary Lom Nava Love. Lom Nava Love focuses on how Foulks uses cross-generational art to communicate the abilities, strengths and power Black families innately possess in her South Baltimore community. 

According to Foulks, over the decades many have powerfully contributed to Cherry Hill’s history. Sarah Jane Bundy and Madeline Wheeler Murphy are two Cherry Hill activists Foulks will never forget. Foulks fondly recalls memories of both of these activists and their love for families in Cherry Hill. “Sarah Bundy and Madeline Wheeler Murphy were deeply involved in activism in Cherry Hill through community and church affairs,” said Foulks. “Both helped generations of children grow into adulthood with a strong dose of pride for Black culture and excellence. They should never be forgotten,” she said. Foulks proudly shares about Cherry Hill’s Black history and culture through community arts programming held at Mama Shirley’s Cultural Arts & Wellness Center. The center, named in her honor, is located in the Cherry Hill Shopping Center and has offered arts programming virtually since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Ayize Sabater, a recent graduate of Morgan State University’s doctoral program in urban education leadership and co-founder of NM Consulting along with his wife, Dr. Rhonda Lucas-Sabater, has provided training for Cherry Hill cultural arts organizers over the past five years. Dr. Sabater agrees that Cherry Hill’s history should not be taken for granted. Through a partnership with the Youth Resiliency Institute- a community arts organization dedicated to culturally responsive community arts engagement and organizing, Dr. Sabater reminds Youth Resiliency Institute cultural arts organizers about the importance of Black history, culture and excellence in Cherry Hill. “If you do not sing your song, who do you expect to sing it for you? We have to teach our children about our roots and our culture from our position of understanding how we have been situated in this world historical perspective- the highs and the lows, the good and the not so good. We have to tell it from our perspective or else we are going to be painted out of history,” said Sabater.

Cherry Hill resident and community leader Ms. Cleoda Walker see’s Cherry Hill’s greatness as growing for years to come. “Our motto in Cherry Hill is ‘working together works.’ I see an uprising in community spirit and see more and more good and blessed things in the community. I love seeing children in Cherry Hill understanding the importance of speaking up, speaking out and getting involved,” said Walker.

Current residents and organizations working in Cherry Hill are making history in their South Baltimore community in many ways. Here are just a few of the great things happening in Cherry Hill today:

Safe Streets Baltimore is an evidence-based, public health program that works to prevent gun violence and change community norms. In 2019, Safe Streets Cherry Hill (Zone 294) celebrated a year without a homicide.

The annual Peace in the Streets free Thanksgiving giveaway is organized by Cherry Hill leader, “Termite” and the Cherry Hill Eagles football team. The annual event provides meals to hundreds of families in Cherry Hill and beyond.

Youth cultural arts organizers in Cherry Hill participating in Youth Resiliency Institute programming are honoring Cherry Hill’s motto by interviewing Cherry Hill elders for a book celebrating Cherry Hill’s history.

2021 will be the fifth-year anniversary of the Cherry Hill Arts & Music Waterfront Festival. This Black led and founded festival celebrates the cultural arts and history of Cherry Hill. The Festival has quickly become one of the East Coast’s premiere waterfront festivals.

Each day, youth in the historic Cherry Hill are protecting Cherry Hill’s Black history, culture and excellence with an eye on the future. Cherry Hill Strong!

This commentary was written by Tashiera Allen and Jamar Dorsey as part of “Cherry Hill Youth Voices,” a partnership between the Youth Resiliency Institute (Fusion Partnerships Inc) and the AFRO.