By David Marshall
Special to the AFRO
A team of eight community educators moved with tactical precision along the 1100 block of North Stockton Street, Oct. 24. It was the first stop of what would be a three-hour long campaign. They carried big packets of get out the vote door hangers and fliers. Their job was to end the day with empty hands and worn out feet.
“Doorknobs only, not mailboxes,” shouted Eean Logan to the team of volunteers conquering parts of Upton and Sandtown. Logan is the director of civic engagement and the youth program manager for the resident-led West Baltimore community advocacy group No Boundaries Coalition.
“This is part of our big final push to make sure people who live this community know how to get to the polls, and fill out their ballots,” said Logan. ‘We want to let them know their vote and their voices are important, and we want to help them exercise their rights as best as we can.”
Isaiah Young, 19, darts ahead of the group. With about an hour into the canvass, he estimates he walked up 80 flights of steps to get from the streets to the top of porches placing door hangers. From time to time, residents emerged at the front door. Young said he took time from a socially distant place on the street to let them know what is going on.
“Many people are really surprised to see someone my age out here early on Saturday morning,” said Young. “I’m not an expert, but as a first-time voter, I learned some things that I can teach them. The most important thing to remember is this election is not just about who the president will be, but who will be running the city and city council. These people are the ones responsible for making this neighborhood a better place.”
The challenges of greater Sandtown-Winchester are well known. Freddie Gray grew up here. People around the world watched the neighborhood and Baltimore in the media following the protests and community uprisings after his death in 2015.
According to the city, about 9,000 people live in the neighborhood. Among that population, 20% of working-age residents are unemployed. Community groups have been strategizing for years about how to improve the quality of education and health, and how to reduce crime.
“I still think part of the solution is getting people to vote,” said Diane Marshall, pastor of the Church of Deliverance Apostolic Faith.
Today her congregation set up a food ministry outside in the 900 block of N. Calhoun St. giving out care packets. Marshall agreed to stuff the food bags with No Boundaries Coalition get out the vote flyers.
“When you give people hope and let them know they have the power to change their destiny, big things happen,” said Marshall. “We have also shown people with criminal records how to get an expungement from the court so they can vote again. Some of them who did that went on to better jobs and turned their lives around, by the grace of God.”
Maryrejahlil Lanier, a social work graduate student at the University of Maryland, is among the No Boundary Coalition volunteers participating in the neighborhood canvass.
“People asked a lot of questions. They wanted information especially about how to vote during COVID,” said Lanier. “I also ran into many people who already mailed in their ballots. I’m not surprised by that at all. I think we have to stop making assumptions about certain communities not being civically engaged. The people I talked to are really committed to voting.”
No Boundaries Coalition will host a first-time voter’s day party with free rides to Oriole Park on October 31. Baltimore City Board of Elections and the Maryland Stadium Authority have partnered to open the venue to registered voters as an early voting center as well as on Election Day.
“We are giving out cash prizes to the people who come with the best political costumes,” said Logan. “Voting can be both educational and fun.”
As the team completes the canvass, they head back to the organization’s Pennsylvania Avenue office with just a few flyers left.
Sandtown resident Vivian Cartwell waved goodbye as the volunteers left her street.
“It was good to see them in the neighborhood making sure everybody knows what’s going on,” said Cartwell. They were too late for me. I already took care of my vote. There is too much at stake to sit this one out.”
David Marshall is professor and chair of the Department of Strategic Communication in The School of Global Journalism & Communication at Morgan State University.