Children visit neighborhoods


July 29, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Jessica Peddicord, 6, of the predominantly white Hampden community in north Baltimore, has some black classmates at her school but doesn't know any of them well.

Ife Semper, 7, who lives in West Baltimore's predominantly black Walbrook neighborhood, knows a few white children but hasn't visited their houses or invited them to visit hers.

Asked why they don't socialize with kids of other races, both girls shrugged and failed to offer answers.

But today, the girls will be part of an effort to promote racial harmony in the city. The youngsters will be part of a group of 30 students -- white and black -- who will take a bus tour through Hampden and visit the Lloyd Street Synagogue in East Baltimore. The Lloyd Street synagogue was built nearly 150 years ago and is the third oldest synagogue in the nation.

The students are participating in "Touring Baltimore Together -- A Cross Cultural Experience" sponsored by the city's human relations department.

The students come from elementary and middle schools and the group is evenly divided between blacks and whites. During the trip, they will discuss their racial and cultural experiences with adults and among themselves, said the coordinator of the project, Thomas L. Saunders, supervisor of the city's Victims of Intimidation and Violence Assistance program.

Next month, the youths will tour several locations in the city, including the Great Blacks In Wax Museum, the Orchard Street Church, the headquarters for the national chapter of the NAACP and Pennsylvania Avenue, the once proud thorough fare that served as the cultural Mecca of the black community.

"Most acts of racism are committed because of a lack of knowledge. This will give them a different perspective," Mr. Saunders said. "We hope to improve intergroup relations in the community."

Mr. Saunders said he developed the program after he heard of recent racial problems at the Union Avenue Apartment complex in Hampden. Racial graffiti and a swastika were painted on a nearby playground after two black families moved into the complex. The trouble is the latest in a series of racially motivated incidents that have occurred in the working-class community north of Druid Hill Park.

About five years ago, two white men pleaded guilty to stoning the home of a black family who had moved into the neighborhood. There also have been racial clashes in and around Robert Poole Middle School, in the 1300 block of W. 36th St.

As a deterrent to further unrest, a police car frequently cruises the complex. Yesterday, when several black youths in the cross-cultural program, including Ife, visited the complex to talk to kids from Hampden, a police car was parked nearby.

Louise DiPaula, property manager at the apartment complex, said many of the racial problems have existed for many years, and that some of the incidents are done by people from outside the community.

"The community has a racial problem. It's been all white for so long," said Jessica's mother, Mary Peddicord, 24, who has lived in Hampden for about 10 years and has been a resident of the complex for the last two years.

"I think this [the tours of the neighborhood] is good for the problems here. I'd like to see all of us get along with each other."

Lashella McKenzie, 22, a black woman who moved to the complex with her 2- and 4-year-old daughters in June, said most of her neighbors have been cordial. However, some have made her feel unwelcome.

"I'm comfortable because I don't bother anybody. I have no fear of anybody," she said. "Once, though, when I was leaving a woman looked out of her window and yelled [expletive]. I just kept on going."

Before moving to Hampden, Ms. McKenzie said she lived in a drug-plagued area not far from Sinai Hospital in Northwest Baltimore. She said she had heard of past racial problems at Hampden, but still moved to the community.

"It's good housing here," she said. "If I can't live with the drugs and I can't live with white people, where can I live?"

Heather Tingler, 9, who lives in the complex, said she does not have many black friends but is anxious to make some.

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