Ms. Janice has called the Milton-Montford neighborhood home since 1962. For the past few decades, she’s been something of an unofficial mayor of the community, serving as an advocate, activist, and champion of the area around Eager Street. She was nice enough to share some of her memories with us.
On her background:
“I was born and raised in East Baltimore, all my life. I was brought up in this area. When I was 5 years old we lived at 905 Montford Avenue. My mother still lives at 924 Montford Avenue. I also lived at 2403 Eager Street. This area is real special to me, because I’ve seen the transformation. When my mom moved on this block, basically it was all Caucasians, Bohemians. We were the only African-Americans when my mother moved on Montford Avenue.”
On one of favorite neighbors during her childhood:
“Ms. Barbara was funny. She was the last Caucasian on the block, and she used to always say that she was the oldest one. But there was another little lady on Port Street, and they both went to St. Wenceslaus, and the little lady on Port Street was like “Barb was not here before me!” Come to find out she was right! But Ms. Barbara would sit the kids on the steps and teach them about the sun going east and the sun going west, she was like a walking encyclopaedia. She took me into the back of the alley, and we would find things on the trees, and she would show us plants”
On taking back Eager Street during the 1980s and 90s:
“This area at one time was a very drug infested area, I want to say about 27 years ago. It was drug infested. You couldn’t even sit on your steps. They had started taking over the community, and they literally had people afraid to come outside. People started putting bars on their windows…We didn’t know what a 501(c)(3) was, we didn’t know nothing about grants, but we knew that we wanted our community back, so the children started building playgrounds, taking back our community, blocking off the streets, I started getting involved in the community by knowing what district this was, who was our police majors, what DPW department we were. We had to get informed. So we started having little neighborhood community meetings and stuff, we started having little block parties. We started taking back our community.
All of us were going through the same thing in our community, and there were more people not willing to stand up than there were people willing to stand up, so it was a fight. It was a fight against the drugs, for our community and neighborhood. Every now and then you see them trying to creep back in, but they know now. People fought for these communities.
Plans started coming up, we stated getting involved with the city to find out who our representatives were. We started cleaning up the trash, because with trash comes crime, grime, all of it comes together. Plans started. Visions started being fulfilled.”
On deconstructing Eager Street:
“Then they started talking about tearing down, doing demolition. And at first, I fought against demolition. But partnerships started to come together. People started to come together to build back this community. When the project came to Eager Street, it was like instead of tearing it down, they were saying that they could save the brick, give people jobs, and at first I didn’t trust it. Because people say things, but they just don’t do it. Communication is very important. If you don’t communicate, things get lost. And when people leave, plans leave. But if you stay in contact and respect one another, we may agree to disagree and everyone may not have their way, but in the long run it benefits everybody. This project is like a dream come true. Because the people that were still in these houses had the opportunity to be relocated and they got brand new homes, with no mortgages and they got grandfathered in where their taxes don’t go up.”
On retaining a sense of place as Eager Street changes:
“This area is an opportunity for our children to see, just like the sign that says “I’m Here Because It’s Home,” this is not just a neighborhood, this is a community, people live here because they choose to, not because they have to. Some people could have been left, but people live here because their blood, sweat and tears are in this community.
We watched our kids grow up on this lot. My grandson learned how to ride a bike on that lot. My daughter learned how to ride a bike on that lot. And I learned how to ride a bike on that lot. So it’s generations that come up in this community. There are people here that fought for this community- it went from bad to worse, to worse, to worse and now it’s getting better and better and better. And we’re seeing it. So it’s a blessing.”
On the future of the 2300-2400 blocks of Eager Street:
“I hope that this will be an open space for gardening, for some beauty into the community. To educate our children in the community about healthy things, and also, unfortunately, some people can’t afford to go out and rent pavilions for parks and things like that, so I want it to be a place where they can use their own community for family reunions. Use if for joy. Playing, learning, learning how to plant things, for family picnics, putting little play areas so you can hear the laughter and joy that’s back in the community.”
On the bigger picture: