Homework Club

Voices From Eager Street
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Image courtesy of Google Maps

2412 Eager Street is the house in the middle of the photo above, the one with the piece of plywood dangling from the second floor window. The photo is from 5 years ago, so when we began working on the house, the crooked plywood had fallen and the intact sheets had become even grayer.
During the early to mid 1990s, however, 2412 was a hub of activity in the neighborhood. The house served as the headquarters for the neighborhood “Homework Club”. Spearheaded by Ms. Janice and her neighbors, the club served as an unofficial rec center where kids could go to play, learn how to make pizza, and, of course, do homework.

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Ms. Janice: “You never saw children run after school to come do homework. But we found out too that the classes that these children were in were so overcrowded that the teachers couldn’t see the kids that needed help. I would ask some of these kids that were in the fourth or fifth grade to write their address, like if they lived in 2410, they would write ‘2000, 400, 10.’ And I’m like ‘how can y’all be passing them?’ The teachers aren’t seeing this. So we started Homework Club right here, and their grades started going up.”
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“It had to be about 20 years ago, because they’re grown now. One guy came to me, and he said ‘Ms. Janice, you don’t remember me?’ and I’m like ‘no.’ And he said ‘if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have graduated from Morgan State University with a degree in engineering.’ All because of Homework Club.”
In the first photo below, you can see Ms. Janice teaching kids how to make pizza. In the top right of the frame, you can make out the transom window over the rear door and the trim around the rear window. The second photo shows the rear door and window from the outside, as they appear today.

 

 

Voices From Eager Street: Ms. Mabel

Voices From Eager Street
Ms. Mabel moved to Eager Street in 1965 and she now lives right around the corner at the intersection of Montford and Ashland. She was kind enough to tell us about her memories of the neighborhood.
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Ms. Mabel with her great-granddaughter, Chloe

On her background:

“My family moved around this area in 1965. We moved from Biddle Street. And then before that we lived near Broadway, and then before that we lived at Durham Street. Before that, I was born in North Carolina. We lived at 2334 Eager Street. I lived there from 1965 to 1974, and then I moved to Bradford Street.”

On what the neighborhood was like when she moved to Eager Street:

“When we moved around here, every house was full. There weren’t any vacant houses around here. We had to get used to the trains going by. But there were a whole lot of kids in the block, and everybody knew one another once we all got acquainted with each other. The kids would be out roller-skating, playing hop-scotch, playing touch football and wrestling, you know how kids do. Running down the alleys. It was a nice neighborhood.
It was mostly Caucasian people. When I say Caucasian people, I mean everyone who’s not black! There were about 6 or 7 black families. Then the Caucasian people moved out and people of color started to move in. It was a tight little neighborhood. Like I said, there weren’t as many vacant houses. All the kids played together, all the kids grew up around here.”

On her home at 2334 Eager Street:

“It was only a 3 bedroom house. Three bedrooms upstairs, but it was really two, but there was a little small room in the back. We had the little porch on the back, and then a bathroom. Downstairs, it was straight through, and then you had a kitchen, living room, dining room. Out back, you had a little grass.
I had my four children, my mother had her children. All of us stayed in there. We had pretty good times in there. Listening to music, play cards in the back yard, people sit out front and have cookouts. A lot of social things. Kids out there playing football. Kids going up and down riding bicycles- Big Wheels, which got on my nerves. It was a lively little neighborhood.”
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Ms. Mabel’s old house is the one in the middle. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

On rowhouse living:

“You don’t have no windows. You only got kitchen windows, front windows, bedroom windows and back windows. You ain’t got no windows on the side. The good part is you’ve got neighbors on the side of you. The bad part is you can sometimes hear arguments coming through the wall. Other than that, they’re pretty good. Just the thing about the windows.”

On when she started to notice vacant housing:

“That was in ’85, or maybe into the mid 90s. I’d say about the end of the eighties into the early nineties. The people that moved in here, as they got older and their kids grew up, some of them died off, the kids moved away, some of them moved away. This used to be a lively little neighborhood, and then we started having problems with drug dealers on the corners. People moved out and most of the time people didn’t move back in.
Landlords weren’t fixing the houses up. And then people would move out, drugs and stuff started moving in, and nobody really moving back into the neighborhood. The markets moved out. Most of the small businesses that were around here closed down. There were a lot of little black entrepreneurs around here that had their own businesses, and as they got older, nobody didn’t take it over.”

On why she stayed in the neighborhood:

“I don’t get out that much. I’m more like a person that likes to stay around one neighborhood. I’m not the type of person to keep moving from place to place. I’m a settled person. I move to a place, I’m not just gonna jump and move just because.
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Ms. Mabel looks out from her new house on Ashland towards the space where 2334 Eager Street used to be.

On what’s next for the neighborhood:

“I hope, since they’ve started, they don’t hit a snag and stop. Because if they start fixing it up, if things around here change, people might start moving back in. Sometimes people just remember a neighborhood like it was, how bad it was. But we did a lot of stuff around here to try to keep stuff down, keeping the alleys clean. The City wasn’t doing it. Vacant yards, trash piled up knee-high. I would call the City to try to clean the yard up next to me, and they kept passing the buck. It wasn’t their problem, so we got together and made a community organization. Trash was everywhere. Rats, four-legged rats, two-legged rats! We started trying to keep it clean around here.
People’s attitudes really have to change. That’s the only way that neighborhoods change and come back to life again. If you keep having the same attitude, things ain’t gonna change.”

 

 

“In these homes were living vessels- there was laughter, there was happiness.”

Voices From Eager Street
Proponents of blight removal cite vacant houses as dangerous eyesores that drain neighborhoods of vitality. We agree with this assessment, and that’s why we’re such strong believers in the project we’re doing on Eager Street.
But we’d like to advocate for a bit of nuance and context when discussing blight and vacancy, because we’d hate to ignore the memories and emotions attached to the houses on Eager Street, “blighted” though they may be. In what is proving to be a frequent occurrence, Ms. Janice said it best- referring to the houses we’re deconstructing, she urged us to remember that there’s more to those structures than toppled bricks and broken windows: “In these houses were living vessels- there was laughter, there was happiness.”
Ms. Janice was kind enough to share some photos of Eager Street from decades past, reminders that the houses we’re deconstructing were once homes. Click below to see the gallery.

Voices From Eager Street: Ms. Janice

Voices From Eager Street
Ms. Janice

Ms. Janice

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.”
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Ms. Janice points to the home she used to own on Eager Street

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.”

Ms. Janice and her mother, Ms. Eartie

On the bigger picture:

“I think if this works….it’s like the little red hen- nobody wants to get on board until they see it’s finally working. But I believe that after the work is done, people will really see it, I believe that it can spread out. Because I don’t think that our city should look like a Vietnam war zone- too many vacant houses in this city just sitting around doing nothing. I think you need to bring life back to them. Because in these homes were living vessels- there was laughter, there was happiness. Bring the life back to our city. And this a good way to do it. You’re giving jobs, you’re giving people opportunities to work, you’re taking the material, and instead of it being wasted, you’re taking the material and you’re profiting from it. And you’re also not letting this lead and stuff go into our water and into the air. So it’s just a win-win-win all the way around. And one thing I like about this, is you’re not just creating jobs, you’re creating careers. Because you’re training people, you’re getting good skills that you can advance with. And another thing I like is they’re giving guys opportunities, and women opportunities, that other people don’t give them. People that might have made bad decisions, they’re given a chance, not just to get a job but to get a career. That right there is a blessing all by itself.”