Baltimore & Me: The Shift List

“My intuition is telling me they’ll be better days.” – J. Cole, “Change”

Dear Baltimore,

No doubt: Violence in 2019, and for the last decade to be honest, pushed the city close to the edge, leaving many of us frustrated. Confused. Angry. Heart-broken. Empty. A lot of us, if we’re honest, are feeling a little numb.

The year is now 2020, and from where I sit, “perfect vision” can’t be realized if we’re too paralyzed to open our eyes. As we move forward together standing for peace in the streets, I give you the words of one of our city’s master lightworkers, Erricka Bridgeford, to carry with you:

“DON’T BE NUMB!”

What’s a lightworker, you ask? That’s a loaded question, depending on who you ask. The word comes with different connotations. But in simplest terms, the lightworker is an individual who has awakened to his or her soul’s mission, or purpose, in this physical life to heal. The light worker knows he or she was created to endure the planet’s most crucial times and commits their life’s work to the elevation of collective consciousness.

Lightworkers are driven to spread love, freedom, knowledge and understanding through embodying their authentic truth. Therefore, it’s safe to say, light work is not only reserved for the preachers, prophets, and psychics. But the light is in all of us. It’s a conscious choice to accept the work that comes with it. It is up to us as individuals to choose the “light” path.

Want to come back to reality, you say? The fact thats there was another record number of homicides in 2019, left some heavy baggage. It’s unfortunate; it hurts; it’s “abhorrible,” many have said.

But the truth is there’s a shift going on in the streets. A certain kind of collective energy is stirring up that is focused on healing the soul of this city and catalyzing change within the systems that have marginalized and manipulated Black communities in Baltimore for decades.

The truth is there are lightworkers popping up in all corners of the city, and I’ve created space here to acknowledge a few of the charmed ones who are contributing to high vibratory frequency healing movement shifting the collective consciousness of this city.

First on my Shift List is Sarah Wallace, a beautiful sunflower I met two years ago at a Mayor’s Call to Action meeting where I learned of her passion for intergenerational connectivity and community development.

At the end of 2018, we had some girl talk about our plans for 2019. She declared plans were for herself in the upcoming year, and Sarah saying this this year, she was going to focus on giving more to herself. I am most proud– and most inspired– to acknowledge that Sarah fulfilled that New Year’s promise to herself in a major way.

(Left-right): Fly Girl Network Founder Tiffany Ginyard; 2019 BNLP fellow Sarah Wallace; Baltimore Healthy Start Executive Director Lashelle Stewart; and 4-year-old Eden Wallace, Sarah’s daughter.

Courtesy Photo

(Left-right): Fly Girl Network Founder Tiffany Ginyard; 2019 BNLP fellow Sarah Wallace; Baltimore Healthy Start Executive Director Lashelle Stewart; and 4-year-old Eden Wallace, Sarah’s daughter.

At the end of 2019, Sarah successfully completed the Bunting Neighborhood Leadership Program fellowship (BNLP) with a dynamic group of program directors, entrepreneurs, activists and food justice warriors. The program is a Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute initiative “that aims to equip the next generation of Baltimore’s community activists with the knowledge, skills, and tools to be transformative leaders.”

Since 2016, the Bunting Neighborhood Leadership Program has cultivated and trained three cohorts of neighborhood-level and community-based leaders to: identify effective ways to conduct and process needs assessments; engage the community utilizing the power of collective consciousness and acting together; develop systems of accountability and measurement to track the progress and impact of community initiatives and plans for change.

Sarah was already a transformational leader before the Bunting Leadership Program took an interest in her. Like we say ‘round way, she’s “been been.” She’s been the former Director of Operations of A Baltimore Girl’s Story, a local nonprofit women’s empowerment organization, and project manager for then Mayor Pugh’s Women’s Intergenerational Coalition, a community group by leading women in Baltimore.

Currently, Sarah is an active board member for Baltimore Healthy Start, a local nonprofit focused on reducing perinatal health disparities in disadvantaged communities.” Her community service parlays into business opportunities that allow her to support the city’s social entrepreneurs with strategic planning and brand management in her role as founder and principal consultant of Vision to Life, a consulting firm. She is also a Community Advisor for the East Baltimore Research Project (EBRP), a community-driven data project focused in Middle East Baltimore. It’s five-year mission is to give the residential communities within the project the data tools that they want to spark the change that they personally want to see.

Courtesy Photo

Congratulations, Sarah, for the work you put into yourself last year to make shifts happen in Baltimore. In 2020, we are looking forward to watching your perfect vision for this city unfold as you do. I am in total agreement with your cohort’s class superlative: “Most likely to win the Nobel Peace Prize.”

For the entire month of January I’ll be dedicating space in the Baltimore & Me column to acknowledge the workers out here shining light on the streets and alleyways of Baltimore with their lives. Meet me here to see who’s up next on the “Shift List.”

Baltimore & Me is a series of letters to Baltimore from a west-side F.L.Y. girl from who loves the city with her whole heart. Tiffany C. Ginyard is a local lightworker and founder of The Fly Girl Network, Inc., an outreach organization dedicated to curating conscious raising media and creating safe spaces for people to BE.

Everybody Loves Grace: Barclay resident beautifies community with green thumb

— Grace Comer and the garden at Guilford Avenue and 21st Street go way back. She remembers when the floor of the garden was the foundation for two homes on the Guilford Street side. She also remembers when those dwellings succumbed to Baltimore’s vacant and dilapidated housing problems and were razed to the ground and left abandoned.

From the back window of her home, Mrs. Grace watched the vacant lots swell with debris and litter. By day: a makeshift parking lot for employees of the Baltimore City Public School System’s district office. By night: a dumpsite.

Residents in the community looked to Mrs. Grace for help. She was actively involved with the neighborhood association as a block captain and known to get things done–even if she had to roll up her own sleeves to see a project through.

“I said the only thing I can help you do is go around there and clean up,” said Comer. And that’s exactly what she did.

The neighbors who sought her help, though concerned, didn’t show up to get down and dirty. But that was OK with Mrs. Grace. She knew their hearts were in the right place. Plus, she was tired of looking out her back window at that sore sight anyway. So, she had an idea to put a garden there. She had done it before, when the riots following the death of

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 transformed the corner store next to her home into a vacant lot.

It took some convincing for her late husband, Cleveland Comer, to buy into the idea. But, no one can really tell Mrs. Grace no and neither did he. So, in 1998 they unofficially adopted the lots and got to work, putting up “no parking” signs to deter people from abandoning cars there.

“In the beginning he didn’t like the idea,” Mrs. Grace reminisced, “Like everybody else, he asked me, ‘Why in the devil we got to come around here when we live around there?’

“‘It’s a part of our community,’ is what I told him,’” she said. “‘Why not? We don’t know what might happen to it if we let it be.’”

This was truly a grassroots effort by the couple— and a labor of love. Before long, local organizations like Civic Works; Parks & People; People’s Homesteading Group; and Youth Safe Haven took an interest in her project and they spent countless hours together pulling weeds, hauling soil and planting seeds and trees.

In the garden’s infancy stages, they scrounged up railroad ties, painted them and bordered the soon-to-be green space to keep passersby from littering, while they prepped the grounds for greenery.

The tree Mr. Comer planted stands tallest in the garden and warms Mrs. Grace’s heart every time she takes a stroll around the corner.

“If he was living he would enjoy it,” said Mrs. Grace, pointing to another tree her late husband planted. “He liked to come around here just to sit out it in it and just enjoy.”

It wasn’t long before support came pouring in once word got out about what Ms. Grace was doing in the Barclay community. Lottie Sneed is a community builder for Strong City Baltimore, an organization that works to reinforce pillars of vibrant urban living such as safe streets desirable and diverse housing stock, quality public schools, a robust and educated workforce, and a deep sense of civic engagement. When she came to work at the The 29th Street Community Center, formerly known as the Barclay Recreation Center, Mrs. Grace welcomed her with open arms and showed around the neighborhood.

“The first day I came to work, I saw this woman out there picking up the trash and cleaning up the debris in the grass and I said to myself, ‘Well, she must be a good person, because she is out there cleaning areas that are nowhere near where she lived. So I went out and introduced myself and helped her clean,’” said Sneed.

“Mrs. Grace just wants to keep the neighborhood clean. She really cares about the community,” said Tarahn Harris, service coordinator at 29th Street Community Center. “She’s still involved. She wants the community to thrive and do well. And for a lady her age, she sure does get around.”

Sneed is also responsible for rallying up volunteers to ensure the upkeep of not only Mrs. Grace’s gardens, but the other community gardens that her efforts have inspired others to create. Anytime we have community work days and we can get some extra help, I try to get people around to Mrs. Grace’s gardens. It’s a lot for one person to do.”

Mrs. Graces’ small act of good citizenship has made a substantial impact on not only the beautification of the community but the people too. Because of her efforts the people who live in her neighborhood are slowly but surely taking more steps to keep the neighborhood clean—and outsiders too.

“[Gardens] beautify the community and your neighborhood,” said Mrs. Grace, who has lived in her home for over 50 years with no intentions of moving. “And when you get out and take care of your block, you get to know your neighbors. If everybody would pull their own, even keeping their front swept. It will make a difference.”

Mrs. Grace is hopeful that with the new redevelopments in the Barclay community, the residents moving in can help to restore the neighborhood back to its glory.