“Those who say it can’t be done are usually interrupted by others doing it.” -James Baldwin
Imagine a Baltimore city where we care for our children as powerfully as we care about the winner of the big game or the latest gossip about neighbors or television personalities. Imagine a Baltimore city where we collectively work to save our children like we work to save for vacations and the latest designer clothing. Imagine a Baltimore city where our most vulnerable children and youth are not demonized for living in a predicament that they did not create but celebrated for their powerful resiliency. Imagine such a city existing for children and youth today. Imagine it existing in Cherry Hill Public Housing.
In 1945, the Cherry Hill community was founded as a home for returning African American World War II veterans. Historically, the dreams conjured by children in Cherry Hill have produced political leaders, lawyers, doctors, ministers, and creative, hard-working, educators. However, today, the majority of Cherry Hill’s residents experience dehumanizing levels of poverty, inadequate health care and a lack of educationally and socially relevant programming for children and youth.
On July 6, 2010, with zero public or private funding, A Dream in Cherry Hill was launched in Cherry Hill Public Housing. Through a partnership between The Baltimore City Youth Resiliency Institute (BCYRI), Cherry Hill Homes Tenants Association’s Future Leaders In Training Program and Cherry Hill Homes Management, forty school-age children and youth participated in a free, on-site, arts-based rites of passage cultural camp, which promoted positive self-identity, critical thinking skills, peaceful social interaction, historical awareness and community building. Youth were not simply invited to the camp after it was developed, but they were part of the camp design team, while program parents evaluated their children’s growth within their own community.
A Dream in Cherry Hill practices a new definition of philanthropy. This philanthropy is not rooted in dollars and cents but rests in neighborhood-based collective work and responsibility, known as Ujima. As important, it activates every Cherry Hill Public Homes parent’s ability to contribute to whole-child healthy development and village building right in their own backyard and reaffirms the role of Cherry Hill Public Homes youth as social change agents who possess the full democratic right to analyze and shape policy rather then be used as objects of policy.
My vision for Cherry Hill is deeply rooted within the collective story of vulnerable populations throughout Baltimore city and the world. It is an audacious initiative that calls upon those in possession of skill sets, resources and, most important, courage to actively contribute to community without regard for grant cycles, funding opportunities or restrictions. Furthermore, it is an initiative that deconstructs how, when and who distributes resources to Baltimore’s most vulnerable communities. It supports the building of community from the inside out, while actively shaping what it means to be a human being in possession of the full democratic right to affect change in one’s own voice. This initiative acknowledges that generational trauma must be addressed by a generation of youth healers who can critically (re)member and (re)create the healthy traditions and cultural values of the past for the sake of our future.
The undying promise of A Dream in Cherry Hill vibrantly lives in every vulnerable Baltimore city community. In the words of poet and community activist June Jordan, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”
This Audacious Idea is dedicated to the memory of murdered Cherry Hill youth leader Angelo Dangerfield.