Signs of respect and success on the corner

City Diary

March 29, 2000|By ELLA DURANT

THIS IS THE WAY it was at Preston Street and Collington Avenue for more than 20 years: Men hung on the corner every day. Most of them did not live in the area. They brought with them very negative behaviors. Loitering, drinking and drugging, urinating, profanity, littering and womanizing were the order of the day.

But on April 25, 1999, the Collington Square Neighborhood Association (CSNA) made the decision to get these men off of this corner. The newly formed association needed to send a message to our neighbors to show that we would take on the tough, longstanding problems and see it through to what we hoped would be a successful end. CSNA wanted to raise awareness of negativity and to promote a sense of pride for our residents.

Several acts of intimidation occurred toward my friend Lillie, my husband, Bruce, and me as we worked toward these efforts. But, we continued to press on toward our goal of having this corner clear of the everyday, all-day negative activity.

This is the way it is, eleven months later, at Preston Street and Collington Avenue: It was not easy to work and it is still a work in progress, but we count our efforts a success. The number of men on the corner has decreased; however, there are the defiant ones. There are those men who refuse to give up the corner. They continue to come.

The blue and white pickup truck still arrives about 6: 30 a.m.; the light blue Lincoln Town car, from the Northwood area, and the blue van come daily. These drivers and some men who walk up now sit in these vehicles, at Preston Street and Collington Avenue, for hours. The driver of the blue van sometimes takes three or four chairs out of his van, and he and a few other men will sit for a few more hours. These actions continue to be the down side of the situation.

But we count our efforts as successful.

The positive side of things: Most days no one is standing or sitting on the corner of Preston Street and Collington Avenue. A few still sit in their cars, but no one is on the corner. This is a beautiful sight. The area looks so much cleaner.

Another positive aspect is that some of the men who used to be on the corner now come to us and tell us how nice things look.

Sometimes they come to make us aware of wrongdoings, things that will clutter the streets or yards. For instance, I was notified of a man putting a sofa, chair and several room-size carpets on the corner of a main street. The explanation for letting me know was " 'cause we know y'all trying to keep things nice round here now." Another time, Bruce was notified that a U-haul truck was unloading old tires into a house and yard in the 2100 block of E. Preston St. Not only was Bruce notified, but several of the men went into the alley with him when he asked the strangers to remove the tires. There are times when the men of the corner pick up trash and put it in trash containers.

We count our efforts and the acceptance and respect of these men a success.

Spring is here, and the weather is becoming ideal for the habitual activity of hanging on the corner of Preston Street and Collington Avenue. The test is on the way: Will these men continue to respect CSNA's desire to have a clean, safe and welcoming neighborhood? The daily sweeping and other cleaning will continue. We know, however, there will be days when we ask ourselves, is it worth it, why stay?

Why stay? We will stay because it is worth it. Baltimore is a fine place to live. Older buildings and churches have architectural designs that are outstanding. There are cultural attractions. The good, friendly, helpful, ethnically diverse population lets me know that it is worth it. In addition, there is the opportunity to have young people see that having an education, a job and wise use of money will let them have a good life in the city, too. Anything worth having is worth fighting for. We must reclaim our city. Yes, sometimes we have to do it one corner at a time.

Today's writer

Ella Durant is a licensed practical nurse who moved back to Collington Square to help rebuild her childhood neighborhood.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods.

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