With three row-houses set aside and over $300,000 in funds secured from the state of Maryland, once distant plans for creating a library to preserve and teach the history of East Baltimore are now coming into fruition. The East Baltimore Historical Library (EBHL) has garnered support from the University, East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI) and East Baltimore Community school, Inc. (EBCS), as well as many other organizations throughout the city.
The EBHL will be located on Ashland Ave. next to the new Henderson-Hopkins school. Its mantra, “Create a Sacred Space,” reflects its mission to preserve and share the history of the East Baltimore community, a history which has been threatened by the recent large-scale development projects in the area, which is located just north of the Hopkins medical campus.
The idea for the EBHL came about 14 years ago as the Middle East neighborhood in East Baltimore prepared for the large scale urban renewal project that was, at the time, in its initial phases. This project, which is managed by EBDI and supported by partnerships with the U.S. Government, the State of Maryland, the City of Baltimore, the Johns Hopkins Institutions and many more organizations, aims to turn the once ailing Middle East neighborhood into a mixed-use, mixed-income community.
The 88-acre development project required the acquisition of 2,000 properties and the displacement of approximately 750 families, who had resided in the neighborhood. In light of these major changes to the Middle East neighborhood, local community organizer and activist Nia Redmond came up with the idea of creating the EBHL.
“I came up with the idea about the library at the last public hearing. They gave the last public hearing for residents to be able to testify… and it was there, listening to people testify, that when I got up to testify, I started talking about the history of this neighborhood and the importance of us documenting our history before we relocate,” Redmond said. “Once they moved out those families, we would lose the history of that neighborhood forever.”
Redmond, at the time, was managing the only after school program in the Middle East. She had started the program in 2001 with the help of Towson University. The program, titled Kids’ Scoop, had children from all around Baltimore work together to create and distribute their own children’s newspaper.
“That neighborhood was one of the worst drug neighborhoods in East Baltimore. Can you imagine, 88 acres and no after school program?,” Redmond, who is from the area, said.
Redmond emphasized the critical role that the children had in creating the EBHL. From selling T-shirts to raise funds to coming up with the idea of using a dandelion on the logo, the kids involved in Kids’ Scoop were the primary drivers of the project.
“Everywhere we went, those children were taking T-shirts and talking about the meaning of the library,” Redmond said.
While most of the children who participated in Kids’ Scoop were relocated due to the urban development project, some have come back as young adults and are now helping spearhead the development of EBHL in its later phases.
However, Redmond also noted the large impact that president Daniels’ has had on the development of the EBHL.
“It was actually not until Ron Daniels showed up that I think people started taking us seriously,” Redmond said.
Because of Redmond’s positive reputation in the Middle East neighborhood, Redmond was added to the board of EBDI as a community representative. It was there that she caught the attention of Daniels.
“Nia was a constant voice for the library, arguing for it [and] advocating for it when she could, as a community representative on the EBDI board. And I was also very involved in the design and construction of the Henderson-Hopkins school,” Andrew B. Frank, the Special Advisor to the President on Economic Development and Daniels’ representative on the EBDI board, said. “I went to Nia with the idea that the library, which at the time was a concept sort of looking for a place to land, [and told her] that perhaps the goals of the library would align with the goals of the school. And that we actually had space within the Henderson-Hopkins building that could accommodate the East Baltimore Historical Library.”
Frank now serves alongside Redmond on a working group that meets to help plan the next steps for the library.
“I was moved by Nia’s advocacy for it, and, like the rest of the EBDI board, agree that it’s a necessary thing to happen in East Baltimore,” Frank said.
But the road to making the EBHL a reality has not been without obstacles. According to Redmond, the largest obstacle that the project has faced has been leveraging the funds needed to renovate the space and create a functioning library.
“The people in that neighborhood themselves, they don’t have the wherewithal to raise funds to create a library,” Redmond said. “So that has come through politicians.”
Redmond noted that the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, Inc. (HEBCAC) took the EBHL project under its auspices and, with the help of the late Delegate Hattie Harrison, who served as chairperson of the board of HEBCAC at the time, brought the issue to Maryland’s legislature in 2012. In what was Harrison’s last bill in the House of Delegates, she helped secure a grant of $250,000 in the form of a bond bill to EBDI’s Board of Directors for the purpose of renovating the library.
Furthermore, just last month, another bond bill was passed in Annapolis providing $100,000 to EBCS’s board of directors for the for the acquisition, planning, design, construction, repair, renovation, reconstruction and capital equipping of the library. The project has also gained support from Fusion Partnerships, Inc, a fiscal sponsor for grassroots programs and projects working for social justice in Baltimore.
According to Redmond, the EBHL provides an opportunity for the University to improve its relationship with the East Baltimore community. Redmond has already praised Daniels’ support for the project.
“You know how you always hear President Daniels talk about how it’s a new day, about the relationship between Hopkins and East Baltimore. Well, part of Ron Daniels’ legacy is not just going to be what he has done inside of Hopkins. It is going to be this project that Hopkins has come in and helped actualize. That’s going to be part of his legacy,” Redmond said.
Thus far, planners of the EBHL have already begun to create content and programs for the surrounding community.
“We are trying to put programming together because it will be a family library. We want to do things like teach children about genealogy,” Redmond said.
To Redmond, knowing one’s family tree can introduce children to role models in their family that they may not have known.
“I thought that it was important for children to find out where they came from. They have heroes in their own families; they just don’t know their family’s stories,” Redmond said. “So if you get children to go look at their genealogy and find out where they came from — there are plenty of heroes in their family, they just need to search their family tree.”
Furthermore, as Redmond notes, getting to know one’s family’s history can be a source of strength.
“When you have children that don’t have enough substance happening in their immediate family, then children are going to have to look beyond their immediate family to find the strength they need to draw on so that they can go on to college,” Redmond said. “That strength is in their family once they start looking up their genealogy.”
Another project that is in the works is the I AM East Baltimore storybook project. This project involves creating 21 to 25 page picture books documenting the stories of families that now reside and have resided in East Baltimore. Excerpts from the stories can be found at the I AM East Baltimore Facebook Page. The storybooks will become the first exhibit of the library upon its opening.
Redmond emphasized her desire for Hopkins students to become involved in this project, noting that interested students should message the I AM East Baltimore Facebook page to learn more about volunteer opportunities.
“Children started it, children actually wrote the logo in the door — there has been so much involvement from the children. I would like to see Hopkins students help come run that library. I’d like to see them helping young people,” Redmond said.
Editor's Note: An article from 2011 was previously reprinted online and in the May 1, 2014 print edition under the headline "East Baltimore school stirs controversy." The article above reflects the current situation in East Baltimore.