Annette March-Grier is the founder of Roberta’s House. (Courtesy Photo)

By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
Special to the AFRO

Between rampant gun violence and raging coronavirus, there is tremendous grief and trauma in Baltimore. Unattended and unresolved the twin scourges could lead to the downfall of safe, secure living anywhere in Baltimore. “I have witnessed so much trauma and unresolved grief over the past 30 years,” said Annette March-Grier, president of Roberta’s House recently. 

“My mother, Julia Roberta March, would listen to people who wanted to talk through their grief.” Both Mrs. March and her husband, William C. March started a mom and pop funeral business in their home in the 900 block of East North Avenue in 1957. Accompanying services and burials, people needed to talk about their loss so the Marches listened to widows, widowers and the children of the dearly departed. “She taught us the importance of giving back to our community,” said Ms. March-Grier. So, the idea of an actual counseling center came to Annette “organically” after years of observing her parents spending time listening. The demand for bereavement services became increasingly apparent and the divine inspiration to open the center visited her. “What house will you build for me?” a voice seemingly from God asked her, once Annette settled into a new home with her husband, Dino (Arthur). And so, inspiration became action, property acquisition, fundraising, staff planning and the bricks and mortar for a community service earlier this year moved into a new three story, 22,000 square foot building.

Opened in June of 2007, Roberta’s House is the first bereavement center in the nation founded by and serving the African-American community. The new construction, occupied by staff in January of 2021, is a state of the art facility on the East Baltimore site where the March Funeral Home and family residence once stood. Roberta’s House services are free to anyone suffering the loss of a loved one through violence or the onslaught of COVID 19.

Covid-19 has only magnified the systemic inequalities that persist in the United States and nonwhite Americans, especially African Americans, have been hit hard on nearly every front.

Roberta’s House was created by and named in honor of their mother.  She had four children: Cynthia M. Malloy, Erich W. March, Victor C. March, Sr. and Annette R. March-Grier who are committed to quality funeral services and counseling for families in need. It is Annette, a professional healer as a Registered Nurse, who became the business’ bereavement facilitator. She entered into a perfect storm of grief where families oftentimes start with a devastating unexpected death. It can leave them stressed because of financial unpreparedness and inability to make burial decisions easily. Loss and grief are further aggravated by coronavirus for the past year, government limitations on how many can attend funerals, the guilt and sadness of knowing loved ones dying alone.  

As the public is being served, the staff of Roberta’s House must be kept safe and well by advising all staff members to follow the usual protocols and also vaccinated. March-Grier states that the demands of their workplaces are increasing with more deaths, more staff members getting sick or burned out and workloads becoming more demanding on a stressed staff.

And yet, the work of grief counseling must go on.    

Roberta’s House focuses many of its services on children paying attention to the development stages of the young persons. Childhood grief and trauma are addressed appropriately. Youth are encouraged to ask questions about the finality of death and the afterlife. According to Annette March-Grier, “We assist kids by helping them establish memories of their deceased loved ones. We tell them sometimes things happen in life that adults have no control over. And we encourage their grief resolution by saying it’s okay to cry, to express fear and to reach out for help with their feelings.”

This all-new grief center is the first of its kind in the nation to address the growing concerns of urban grief plus offer support for healing the entire family.

The center contains a room where children can do arts and crafts, an 80 seat auditorium, a prep kitchen and a community room. But some programming takes place offsite such as support groups for students in select public schools, grades K to 12.  Good Grief workshops are also available in schools to give the youth coping skills with grief.  Then there is Camp Erin a weekend overnight, fun camp hosting 35 grieving children ages 6-17. It operates like other camps with the exception of journal writing and a grief walk but holding other activities such as swimming, rock climbing, canoeing and hiking. When death comes into the lives of children it brings anxiety, panic attacks and a lot of depression. Getting the kids to talk, connect with others, play and create is Roberta’s Place approach to healing the youth of their grief or trauma.  

Hundreds have trained to be volunteers for providing counseling to grieving and traumatized adults also. The Roberta’s House Bereavement Center is a much needed service in the Baltimore area. The violence, the virus, the pain and the punishment of death can be overwhelming to all. A place to talk about the grief or trauma can be an emotional oasis in a desert of despair. Roberta’s House, envisioned by Annette Grier March, for 30 years is no mirage.