For one glorious day, street is place to be

Women throw block party for the children

Maryland Journal

October 02, 2006|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,Sun Reporter

For one day each year, Troy Miller gets to disregard the sign.

Troy, 9, played a game of touch football with six others in the middle of the street in the 2800 block of Harlem Ave.

The barricades closing off both entrances to the block Saturday trumped a nearby red-and-white "No ball playing" sign that usually prohibits such activity. Troy says football is the best part of the annual block party in the tiny Evergreen community in West Baltimore.

"We can't usually do this," he says in between catching passes. "And I really like playing football in the street."

He has Miss Roxanne, as all the neighbor kids call her, to thank.

Roxanne Braxton, 52, lived on the block for close to 18 years. She recently moved a few streets over, but said she told the neighborhood children that as long as she was living they would have their block party every year.

Despite a steady late-morning drizzle that got the party started a couple of hours later than scheduled, Braxton, along with help from Emma Henry, 48, whose house served as an unofficial headquarters, made good on her promise. Henry, whom everyone calls Miss Betty (as in General Mills' Betty Crocker) because of her masterful culinary skills, doled out the hot dogs and hamburgers for much of the afternoon.

Braxton says she decided to host a block party eight years ago after the killing of a teenager who grew up in the neighborhood and who was the son of one of her friends.

People were depressed. Braxton said nobody could offer much in the way of comfort for the family, but she thought that a day with good food, good music, dancing and entertainment might help the block. She received no financial help from anyone back then and receives very little money now, she says.

"I said, `Let me cheer the block up,'" recalled Braxton, who estimates spending close to $700 on food and entertainment each year.

"Now we're just concerned for the kids in the neighborhood. [There is] not too much of a chance for them to have fun. These block parties, they keep people together."

Block parties are nothing new. Neighborhoods all around Baltimore have them throughout the summer and early fall, including an annual one hosted by "Miss Ball" a few streets over. Comedian Dave Chappelle starred in a documentary detailing a block party in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 2004.

In inner-city neighborhoods, block parties gained popularity during the 1970s, something Reginald Reddick can attest to.

Reddick said he lived in the 2800 block of Harlem Ave. for 17 years, starting in 1972, before moving to Towson. Back when he was a kid, Reddick, 41, remembers three blocks full of people and food, dancing and games. Reddick says he heard the familiar commotion of a block party as he rode near the street Saturday, prompting him to pull over, get out of his car and relax in his old neighborhood for a few hours.

"I told Roxanne I'm going to help her out with these parties from now on," Reddick said. "It is good to see all these kids having such a good time."

A few feet away from Reddick, Sean Davis, 33, helped work three grills full of hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken. Davis grew up in the block as well, and after spending 10 years in the military, has returned home only to see the younger generation with "nothing to do."

"Something like this, it's good for a day," Davis said. "Because the kids, they don't have an outlet. You can't use the park because it's riddled with drugs and drug addicts."

Any problems associated with the neighborhood were an afterthought on this afternoon. The biggest concern for the nearly seven-hour party was keeping the dance circle big enough so no one was accidentally hit while watching.

Janniece Payne, 15, says she used to live in the block. She has since moved to an adjacent neighborhood but returns daily and was one of the first to arrive for the party.

Janniece kept the Baltimore House music blasting over the speaker, the same CD full of dance tunes replaying for hour after hour. It is the best music for a dance showdown, and Janniece had as many one-on-one face-offs as anyone.

"Everybody likes to see us dance," she said, referring to the onlookers. "It's just fun.

"I look forward to this day because you don't see us out here all the time. For Miss Roxanne and Miss Betty to do this for us, they're just really good people."

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