50 city children spend night under the stars

September 11, 1994|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Sun Staff Writer

Shanta Davis has been to pajama parties before -- but none like the one she attended this weekend on a basketball court in the Lexington Terrace section of West Baltimore.

"It was fun. We had pillow fights," said Shanta, a 9-year-old fourth-grader at Lexington Terrace Elementary School. "It was like a slumber party, only outdoors."

Shanta joined more than 50 neighborhood children on a basketball court in the 220 block of N. Fremont Ave. where they met the Oriole Bird, listened to scary stories and slept under the stars Friday night.

The event was organized by Barbara McKinney, a self-described community activist who has lived in a Lexington Terrace housing project for 35 years.

"It's important to get these kids out of the community," said Ms. McKinney, who also organizes group trips to King's Dominion and creates a haunted house every Halloween for neighborhood children. "I'll never let children be without activities."

This is the first year Ms. McKinney has conducted the outdoor slumber party, which began at 5 p.m. Friday and ended last night.

Parent Deborah Michie was pleased with the party, despite a few logistical problems.

"It's important so they can be kids," said Ms. Michie, whose 8-year-old daughter, Sharde, attended the party. "It's a lot of drug activity around here, and it makes them feel safe."

Ms. Michie also approved of the event because it gave her a rare opportunity to go out. But she admitted that she returned Friday night to check on her only child.

Security was provided by the Nation of Islam, Baltimore City police and Housing Authority police. In addition, four members of the Maryland National Guard from the Fifth Regiment Armory stayed with the group all night and showed the children a Humvee, an amphibious assault vehicle used in the Persian Gulf War.

Having the children meet members of the military was important to her, Ms. McKinney said.

"The military is out there providing college loans," said Ms. McKinney, who told the children: "You have a freeze on jobs right now, go and get some of that college money and do something with your life."

Yesterday, however, the children weren't thinking about the future. They were too busy recounting their memories about their first night under the stars -- with yesterday's breakfast of pancakes, sausage and lemonade.

"We played Frisbee, we played basketball, we listened to scary stories," said Aaron Walker, 9, a fourth-grader at Lexington Terrace Elementary School.

"I liked everything," said Lakeya Lewis, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Lexington Terrace Middle School.

Logistically, some headaches popped up. Ms. McKinney said various city agencies failed to provide adequate security, portable toilets, running water and a stage for performers.

She specifically criticized the Baltimore City Housing Authority, saying: "I'm doing some of their work. I'm keeping drugs out of the community at Lexington Terrace."

But Housing Authority spokesman Zack Germroth said Ms. McKinney didn't contact the proper authorities for her needs.

He also said no city agency provides portable toilets and that she should have contacted the management office at Lexington Terrace-Poe Homes and the city Public Works Department to gain access to running water and toilets.

Ms. McKinney "is extremely creative and ambitious," Mr. Germroth said. But "she does have a tendency to work outside the system. She has her own network that sometimes includes the Housing Authority and sometimes doesn't."

Ms. McKinney said that, despite the problems, she's ready to organize another outdoor slumber party for neighborhood children.

"We are a public housing community," Ms. McKinney said. "Community means involvement and taking care of each other. I'm proud of my community, and I love my children."

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