Neighbors celebrate a shared heritage

June 22, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

Brian Robinson had an emergency plan in place in case the African American Heritage Program at Wheaton Park was rained out Saturday.

Valencia Burnett, the "official cook" for the event, never thought he'd need it, although organizers almost moved the event indoors out of fear of rain.

As the sun began to peek through the clouds about 2:30 p.m., Burnett's faith paid off.

Little children crawled onto the playground equipment, lanky youths shot hoops and grandmothers pushing strollers stopped to chat as the scent of burgers on the grill wafted through the air.


But there was more going on in Wheaton Park Saturday than a block party. It was just a part of Robinson's plan to make his dreams for the Jonathan Street neighborhood a reality.

"We're giving people the opportunity to learn about their African American heritage in Hagerstown," he said. "We want to preserve the community with the help of the children."

Children are at the core of Each One Teach One, the 3-year-old nonprofit organization Robinson directs. Each One Teach One matches children with adult mentors and sponsors monthly neighborhood gatherings like Saturday's event.

Since the group was established, other organizations have stepped up to partner with them. Several - including Ekklesia Ministries, Gateway Ministries and the NAACP - had members present Saturday.

"So long, the spiritual leadership from the inner city has been missing from programs like Each One Teach One," said the Rev. Darin Mency of Ekklesia Ministries, who will conduct worship services in Wheaton Park at 10 a.m. today. "We want to deal not only with the spiritual needs of man, but the total needs of man."

Robinson said he wants to see the neighborhood follow up its sense of pride with some action.

"We want to make this neighborhood a nice place to live," Robinson said.

Robinson gets his inspiration from his own heritage, he said. His great-grandfather, Walter Harmon, owned 37 properties in the Jonathan Street area - including the Harmon Hotel, at the present site of the Three Minute Car Wash.

Robinson wants to buy properties in the neighborhood and restore them. He already has his eye on a few.

He has enlisted the help of historic preservationists, who will gather here July 21 to discuss ideas for restoring and preserving the neighborhood.

"Once we start preserving the spirit of what was here, I think we're gonna see the neighborhood turn around," he said.

His message seems to be getting through. Nikki Medina, 16, said she was interested in "changing the environment."

"We want to see more coming together and less violence," she said. "Hagerstown is a nice little town and, if we work together, we can accomplish many goals."

The Herald-Mail Articles