When people ask me where I’m from, I usually say Northeast Baltimore. That is when the person asking is from either Baltimore or the surrounding towns. If they are not a native Baltimorean, I’d just say, “I’m from Baltimore.” I don’t really know why I do that. Maybe I do it because deep down I know that being from Northeast Baltimore means something socially different than being from West Baltimore, or South Baltimore. It means that someone, from Baltimore, can assume that I went to racially diverse schools, and lived in a racially and socioeconomically diverse neighborhood. It means that my parents and grandparents could possibly be from somewhere other than Virginia or the Carolinas. After I tell them where I am from, they typically reply with, “Oh, you don’t sound like you from Baltimore.”
I was born in the late 80s, and from then through the late 90s, my neighborhood and the neighborhoods within a fifteen-mile radius had a fair amount of black families. Actually, the area was probably mostly white until the mid-90s or so, when the middle-class whites began moving out to Baltimore and Harford counties. In 2002, when we finally moved out to Perry Hall, a town in Baltimore County, our old neighborhood was about ninety percent black.
My parents integrated the street I grew up on. When they moved in in 1976, there were no other black residents on that street. Most of the people there had moved in in the late 40s and 50s when Baltimore had a housing boom after the Second World War. They were white people who probably left the inner city to flee neighborhoods growing progressively black. I wonder what they thought when they saw my mom and dad, two thin black people with thick afros, and Caribbean accents moving into the quaint, but at the time, really nice home on Eurith Avenue. Were they surprised, alarmed, angry, frightened? My mom once told me she could almost feel the stares from windows as she’d walk home every evening after work from the bus stop located at the corner of Hazelwood and Cedonia Avenue. Why were they staring? Did they peer from their windows in wonder, thinking, “How did she afford to move out here?” My parents were in their mid-20s when they purchased the home. But they probably looked a little younger. They weren’t harassed or treated poorly by their neighbors. When my dad first opened his auto repair shop on Bel Air Road, he placed flyers on the windshields of the neighbors’ cars along the street. I wonder if anyone took their car to his shop.