Doc Cheatham hosts the “Positive Rally,” at the TransAmerica Corporation’s Tower. (Screenshot)

By PK Semler
Special to The AFRO

Nothing surprised Baltimore business elites more than when they found out Baltimore’s civil rights firebrand Marvin L. “Doc” Cheatham was holding a “Positive Rally” at the TransAmerica Corporation’s Tower thanking the Dutch insurance giant for helping his Sandtown/Easterwood community in West Baltimore open a quality supermarket in the nation’s most egregious food desert.

With signs declaring “Investment not Charity,” “West Baltimore welcomes TransAmerica” and “TransAmerica Growth With US,” — Sandtown/Easterwood residents marched outside the TransAmerica Tower Oct. 6 for the assistance the subsidiary of the financial conglomerate has given to Joe Haskins’ The Harbor Bank of Maryland that is, in turn, helping the community attract a quality food store of the likes of a Giant (Ahold), Safeway, Aldi, and Lidl. 

Nothing has frustrated “Doc” Cheatham — one of four regional directors of the Million Man March on Washington some 25 years ago –- more than the struggle to bring back a food market that has been absent from his Sandtown/Easterwood neighborhood for the first time since World War II.

“This is not a food desert but food apartheid,” said Cheatham, who uses his Disturbing the Peace radio show on Cathy Hughes’ WOLB 1010 Baltimore radio to weekly berate Baltimore City, state, and federal elected officials for their abject failure to address the food insecurity crisis in West Baltimore.

But Cheatham said he found new hope and inspiration after reading in the {AFRO} about the transformative “Shark Tank” initiative by Federal Insurance Depository Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chairwoman Yelena McWilliams’ one billion dollar leveraged investment fund that minority-owned FDIC depository banks like The Harbor Bank can use to finance such projects such as building a supermarket and retail center in Sandtown/Easterwood.

In fact, McWilliams specifically named The Harbor Bank as the institution that can facilitate the investment sought by “Doc” Cheatham and added White suburban banks like Capital Bank of Rockville can earn much sought-after Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) credits by participating in the fund led by Truist /Microsoft /Discovery (CNN/Time Warner).

Cheatham’s march on TransAmerica has already triggered similar grassroot action by residents in Cherry Hill in South Baltimore and East Baltimore. East Baltimore residents are still seething at Save-A-Lot’s decision to close their food store on the 900 block of North Caroline Street in October of last year, during the worst and most deadly moments of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Residents in Cherry Hill say they want Catholic Charities, which owns the main shopping center in the neighborhood, to replace the current low quality Family Dollar grocery store with a higher quality store offering fresh meat and vegetables.   Those residents, who said they have repeatedly raised the issue about poor food choices with their Council member Phylicia Porter. 

Council member Porter has not yet responded to the {AFRO} request for comment at time of publication. 

The heads of Maryland’s Knights of Columbus, KoC State Deputy Vince Grauso and State Secretary Christopher L. Powers told the {AFRO} that they would love to work with Cherry Hill residents in finding better food options for the community located just over the bridge from Under Armour’s Kevin Plank booming tech start-up center at Port Covington. 

However, in the Cherry Hill strip mall, a JP Morgan Chase banking branch sticks out almost as much as the TransAmerica Tower in the inner harbor.   

Cherry Hill residents and other food desert residents may not know that JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon at the end of September directed his bank to invest $1 billion in Black owned banks, including The Harbor Bank.  JP Morgan Chase spokeswoman Carolyn Evert went on to note that this is on top of more than $1 million since 2017 the bank has invested in The Harbor Bank for small business relief, technical assistance, and JP Morgan’s Our Fair Share fund.

Following the TransAmerica rally, Cheatham led a neighborhood meeting at the Easterwood Sandtown Park and Playground at 1537 McKean Ave where in the empty lot across the community park a sign proudly declares:  Possible and Future Site of our Returning Food Market. 

In the most appropriate and uniquely Baltimore style, Cheatham’s “positive rally” ended with the fanfare of the Dynasty Marching Band celebrating individuals joining forces in the pursuit of transformative change.   

This article is part of multimedia series “Securing the Bag,“ focusing on the most effective responses and solutions to Baltimore’s food insecurity; the series is funded by a grant from Solutions Journalism Network. See more on AFRO.com 

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