As part of a Baltimore Ceasefire 365 initiative, three local community organizers — Charlene Rock-Foster, Nadean Paige and Dwayne Richardson — held an event on Saturday in the Belair-Edison neighborhood of Northeast Baltimore called the “West Meets East Ceasefire Tailgate.” The tailgate, hosted on Cliftmont Ave., sought to connect community members with helpful resources and generate a sense of community that both West Side and East Side residents could share in, the organizers said.
Baltimore Ceasefire 365 is an organization that holds quarterly “ceasefire weekends.” It was established in 2017. In response to high homicide rates, local organizers urged Baltimoreans to observe a 72-hour respite from the killings.
Although there were still a number of killings during the initial ceasefire weekend, the idea was enthusiastically received and a movement grew up around the idea. The tailgate was held in the spirit of this Ceasefire movement.
Khalil Shabazz, a Northeast Baltimore resident who was at the tailgate to distribute free funnel cakes, explained how an event like the tailgate fit into the vision of the Ceasefire movement.
“I see the kids playing. They’re safe. They don’t have to look over their shoulders for crazy traffic or violence or anything like that,” he said. “It’s better to have these types of experiences than to have people crying and sobbing over someone getting murdered. This is a win.”
The organizers of the event described themselves as supporters of the Ceasefire movement. However, they said, the tailgate was something they did as residents of these communities and for other residents of these communities. Rock-Foster, a resident of Frankford in Northeast Baltimore, described the importance of resident-led community empowerment in organizing a movement.
“We don’t have to be in any particular position to pull together an event that promotes life and that promotes unity. We can solve our own problems, because everything that we need is among us as a community,” she said.
Paige, a resident of Rosemont in West Baltimore, agreed with Rock-Foster’s sentiment.
She explained that their communities have fundamental sources of strength that they can rely on, and that their organizing work seeks to tap into that strength and use it to support everyone.
“We have to... build from within without always looking for someone to come in and save us. Everything that we need is right within the community, we just need to identify [the people who need help] and give them the support that they need to move forward,” she said.
Paige added that the tailgate was essentially about developing a sense of a Baltimore community that spans the traditional division within the city and empowers more people to access more resources.
While it was an added bonus that it was a Ceasefire weekend, she said, the event was fundamentally about creating a sense of shared community between residents of the West and East sides, which would consequently then help combat violence and other social ills.
“We’re bridging the gap,” she said. “In the history of Baltimore, there’s always been this East and West thing and we wanted to bridge that gap, come together, and… just have community in Baltimore, people collaborating and working together to put resources in peoples’ hands.”
The event’s host, Richardson, explained that he thought even just hosting the tailgate had the potential to do a lot of good for his community. People do not need a lot to make them feel good, Richardson said. Oftentimes, it can be as simple as showing up to someone’s neighborhood with a friendly presence.
“This made my day, seeing all these different people that don’t even live in this community take the time to come to my community and show love to all these people around here,” he said. “It’s not about hundreds of people being together all the time, it’s just about a few people looking out of their window and seeing something positive going on.”
Edwina Garnett, a Belair-Edison resident and senior at Coppin State University, echoed Richardson’s statement.
Garnett said that while she lives very close to the lot where the tailgate was held, she never knew about the events that are hosted there because she always just drives past it. Seeing members of her community coming together with members of other Baltimore-area communities at the tailgate for the first time meant a lot to her, she said.
“It feels good to be around people that live in the same community that I do, but also other communities. It means unity. [People] coming from the West Side [to] East Side communities here — that means unity for me, for the community,” she said.
Rock-Foster posited that events like the tailgate help people like Garnett rediscover ways of practicing community membership that are less individualistic and more communal.
That kind of community membership was something that Rock-Foster learned out of necessity growing up. Now, though, people need to be taught it, she explained.
“We lost the art of engagement,” she said. “So it’s at these events of collective organization and community building [that] it starts out with saying something as simple as, ‘Hello, how are you doing?’ and showing a smile… Eventually, people get it.”
When asked, both the community organizers and community members like Garnett said that they would like to see more Hopkins students get off campus and show up for their events and in their communities.
“I would love to see them at community events, whether it’s a Ceasefire [event] or a run or a walk. It’d be good to see Hopkins students engaging with the community,” Garnett said.
Rock-Foster, who is a community affiliate with Students Against Private Police, agreed that students should engage more with the communities around then and the wider Baltimore community.
But, she added, students should recognize the long history of the Baltimore-Hopkins relationship and pay attention to the consequences of their actions.
“Be more intentional about how you show up in the community,” she said. “But most importantly, listen, and then provide the resources that they need.”
Paige agreed that students should show up consciously and deliberately.
“No matter where they’re from, while they’re attending Hopkins, they’re residents of Baltimore,” she said. “They should be just as invested in Baltimore as we are, because whatever affects the city is also going to affect Johns Hopkins.”