Armed with songs, carolers to seize streets

December 18, 1992|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,Staff Writer

Tonight, on one of the longest evenings of the year, the people of Lafayette Square and Harlem Park will sing back at the night, strewing the streets of West Baltimore with Christmas carols that defy darkness and celebrate light.

Neighborhood residents, community activists, area ministers and general well-wishers will gather at the Urban Services Center, at 600 N. Carey St. There, they will pick up their song sheets and begin the second annual caroling tour through this community of stately 19th century town homes interspersed with boarded-up rowhouses. It's a journey that will pass through territories marked by drug trafficking and the pride of residents.

"People tend to knock more places that are on the west side of town," says Arschel Morell Jr., a community leader and a technician at WJZ-TV. "Well, many of us are not only surviving, but thriving. The media does not tend to project that there are a lot of people enjoying life in places like Harlem Park and Lafayette Square. People need to know that we are."

Although fears about crime after dark are pervasive, many communities in the metropolitan area make a point of uniting for Christmas caroling expeditions. The notion of bringing different generations together to sing about hope and goodwill seems to inspire people from all backgrounds.

In Stoneleigh, a Baltimore County neighborhood of roughly 500 homes dating to the 1920s, for example, the annual caroling tour is held the Sunday before Christmas. The activity, in this community where couples first meet while jogging and dinner dances are still organized by the neighborhood association, has persisted off and on for almost 40 years. It was resurrected again four years ago.

"The intent is to enhance the spirit of the community," says Terry Woulfe, social chairman for Stoneleigh's neighborhood association and host of this year's apres-caroling party. "We want to get everyone out to see their neighbors."

In West Baltimore last year, about 30 carolers started at Edmondson and Carey, walked to Harlem Park Square, up Calhoun to Harlem Park, then east on Harlem Park to Carey and down again. They were gone about an hour and a half; it was cold and a little rainy. Lacking song sheets, they sang "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" quite a few times.

" 'Joy To the World' was people's favorite," Mr. Morell recalled. "People were leaning out of the windows watching us crazy people walking down Carey Street in the cold; I'm sure they thought we were slightly touched. A lot of people came to their windows after we passed."

Indeed, flanked by communities with some of the city's worst murder rates and busiest open-air drug markets, Lafayette Square/Harlem Park-area residents are more accustomed to the sounds of small arms fire.

"We made a special point to stop on most of the street corners where they do drug deals and pray for peace to come into our society. We did a lot of praying to the Holy Spirit," Mr. Morell says.

The caroling is sponsored by the Coalition for Better Harlem Park/Lafayette Square as part of its anti-drug organizing effort. A community party with hot cider, cookies and Christmas gifts for the children will be held afterward at the Urban Services Center.

"It's a very good street activity that keeps the streets clean and pulls the neighborhood together for the holidays," says Esther Boone, a community organizer for Citizens Planning and Housing Association.

"The holidays are not always the best times in a low-income area and this creates a situation for people to come together and smile and say nice things to each other."

CAROLING

%

WHEN: 6 p.m. today.

WHERE: Urban Services Center, 600 N. Carey St.

WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Stoneleigh community pool parking lot.

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