BALTIMORE — Sporting an Orioles cap and a stiff black beard, William Scipio, 31, quietly made the rounds Tuesday in a small park at the corner of Presstman Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.
It was about 10 a.m., and as a helicopter flew overhead, volunteers arrived, one small group after another. They planned to help clean up debris from the unrest of the previous night.
The event’s organizers eventually got in contact with a local group, the No Boundaries Coalition, which brings together several adjacent Baltimore neighborhoods with people of different economic and racial backgrounds. The organization advised the volunteers to meet at the Presstman Street park instead of the burned-out CVS.
“To have people who are willing to come in and initiate cleanups is fine by me,” Scipio said. “At least we have the hearts of people willing to help clean up versus just sitting home and not doing anything at all.”
As dozens of people flooded into the park, they were directed by Sandtown leaders to areas that needed cleaning. The response reflected an attitude that has taken root in Sandtown over the years: We’re very grateful for the help. And we’re going to remain in control of our own community.
Ray Kelly, the head of the No Boundaries Coalition, was one of those local leaders. He led a group of volunteers down Presstman Street while passing drivers shouted thank yous from their cars. A few blocks down, Kelly bumped into a group of young men from the neighborhood.
“We got help, anything you guys need, volunteers to help you all clean up,” Kelly said. “We want to make sure through this whole process, we got resident leaders coming out and we are dictating what happens in our community.”
The young men joined Kelly’s troop and headed down Presstman to Jolly’s, a small grocery that was raided the previous day. They formed a prayer circle in the parking lot outside the building. “These are real leaders. They’re from here,” said Corey Barnes, a local pastor. He pulled the young men into the middle of the circle. “Let’s surround them.” A chorus of individual prayers began to rise and intertwine.
After the prayer, Kelly rallied the group again. Some volunteers remained at Jolly’s to clean up while others were sent down North Monroe Street. There a car fire the previous night burned part of a community garden.
“We don’t know who, we don’t know how — it just caught on fire,” said Duane Harris, whose father, Elder Clyde Harris, a leader of Newborn Holistic Ministries, helped start the farm. “One of my neighbors caught it on film. I saw it on Facebook. I looked at it, and I said, ‘Man, that’s the farm!’”