Police tape is one of the few resources McElderry Park receives regularly from the city, which the East Baltimore neighborhood has found a less than willing partner in its efforts to improve the lot of its residents.
Crossing signals disappear from intersections as one approaches the East Baltimore neighborhood of McElderry Park, whether from the direction of Patterson Park to the south or the pristine campus of the Johns Hopkins Hospital just a few blocks to the west. It is a reminder of the lack of investment, to say nothing of the resources that have been allowed to decay and disappear, in this heavily impoverished community, where young men populate street corners as they struggle to support themselves and their families.
“We ain’t got nothing we had when I was like 15, 16, 13,” said a 24 year old who gave the name Bones. “No recreation centers. No parks. No types of organizations doing things like Safe Streets is doing. That’s the only thing we’ve got for this community right now.”
Safe Streets is a program of Living Classrooms that sends outreach workers to engage young people in neighborhoods plagued by violence as well as provide some community activities, but Bones says he can remember a time when there were about seven recreation centers in the area. Now most of what is left are the limited resources of the street economy.
“The only thing we’ve got out here is sex, drugs and money. Whatever statistically we’re known for, that’s what we’re known for because we don’t have nothing no more,” said Bones.
That lack of resources in the neighborhood pushes many young men out into the streets, whether it is the lack of recreational options or the lack of jobs.
Weeks after residents cleaned up a park in McElderry Park, debris was still awaiting removal by the city.
“Most of what young people are out here doing, they’re trying to feed their families,” said Gardnel Carter, violence interrupter coordinator with Safe Streets East. “If you take them out of that situation and give them something better, they wouldn’t be doing it.”
Bones would agree, saying the streets provide no real future, but that young people in places like McElderry Park see few alternatives.
“What it is is insanity,” said Bones of the street life. “These kids down here, such as myself, we’re used to doing the same thing over and over again seeking different results, because we don’t have nothing else to use but the things that we have, such as drugs, such as guns, such as females, such as prostitution . . . We’re using the same things we used when I was 15, 16. So what do you expect for the kids in the next generation coming up to do? Worse. It gets worse.”
Radikal is a 27 year old affiliated with the Piru street gang who recently came home after doing 10 years in prison for a carjacking. Radikal says he was an athlete and successful student until about 16, when his mother became addicted to drugs and he was left to the streets his mother had managed for so long to keep him away from. He says he wants to carve a different path for himself then the one he took at 17, but he is worried his past will limit his options to the point where the streets will be his only recourse.
“At the end of the day, I try not to go back into the wrong path, but I try not to waste my breath , because when a person is sick and tired of being sick and tired then they’ll do what’s beneficial for them to get on another level,” said Radikal. “Right now don’t nobody see no hope, but I’m highly optimistic doing the right thing, but the thing is, they say I’m part of a gang, they say I’m a felon, so I automatically scrutinized and chastised for who I became and what I’ve been through, when it should be the other way around.”
“So, at the end of the day, I’m continuously being oppressed and I’m continuously being opposed, but I still just take the licking and keep on ticking. I just try to keep going forward with it because I do believe that at the end things will get better. But until I see things get better it’s hard for me to believe that, but I trick myself into believing it so hopefully things do get better,” continued Radikal.
But for things to get better, resources are needed, and residents of McElderry Park have found the city a less than willing partner as it has struggled to improve the neighborhood’s lot. Weeks after residents organized by the McElderry Park Community Association had cleaned up a park next to Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle School, bagging up trash and piling old 4 by 4 pieces of lumber with rusty nails protruding from them in one corner of the park, the Department of Public Works had yet to come and remove the debris.
“We need some rec, and get the park situated right,” said Deshawn Brown, 23. “We ain’t got nowhere for our leagues or nothing to . . . The only thing we’ve got here right now, as far as for us to do, is that park. They’re knocking down all the houses and all that, wish they would build something for us, but they ain’t doing that.”
David Harris, president of the McElderry Park Community Association says he is trying to obtain funds from the city to rehabilitate the park further, but that such support has been slow to materialize. Brown says that while the community is in need of more resources, money that comes into McElderry Park rarely serves to buttress the neighborhood.
“ other interests, they ain’t doing nothing for the community. As you can clearly see everything is still the same,” said Brown.