Intersection of Change celebrates 20 years of revitalizing vacant lots and buildings in W. Baltimore

Posted at 1:13 PM, Jul 28, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-28 18:12:15-04

You'll be hard-pressed to find much greenery in West Baltimore, until you walk to the intersection of Presstman Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.

There, within the concrete jungle, is a beautiful oasis of trees, bushes and a koi pond. It's all party of the grand vision of the non-profit Intersection of Change.

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This group, originally known as the Newborn Holistic Ministries, was founded by Elder C.W. Harris and his wife Emilia Harris in 1996. It was in response to the slow decline in the neighborhood, which Emilia says began after the riots of 1968. They wanted to know what their neighbors needed to thrive, not just survive.

"It's not what other people think we need, it's what the community residents, those that live here, work here, those that have raised children here (need)," Harris said.

Intersection of Change started with renovating a vacant building into a rehab center for women, called Martha's Place.  Women come to stay for six months to beat their addiction and learn how to get back on their feet.  Not long after opening Martha's Place, Emilia Harris realized there was another need: Proper housing for their graduates.

"I would go with them to apartments and it was deplorable," she said. "They're not livable for these women, it's almost like sending them back into that world."

That's when they began taking over a small section of row homes on the other side of Presstman Street, creating long-term housing where the women can stay until they can afford their own place.

"It's all about giving someone a step up, giving someone hope," she said.

 In the 20 years Intersection of Change has been around, they've completely transformed the intersection of Presstman Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. They spruced up a rundown park and fountain. They've painted murals on empty walls, and in 2009 opened the Jubilee Arts Center, which has a dance and art gallery and several art studios.

"It was the process of saying what is available, what is the need, and what is in our capacity to try to take the next steps," said Todd Marcus, executive director of Intersection of Change.

Marcus says the civil unrest witnessed in West Baltimore last year stems from decades of poverty-related issues, the very issues they seek to address and resolve in a peaceful and productive manner. They encourage their neighbors, and people who live outside their neighborhood, to learn what they're all about.

"When people come and see what we're doing in person that starts helping to break down a lot of the stereotypes that are still at play in our community," he said.

Change doesn't happen overnight; it requires a lot of time and a lot of commitment. Intersection of Change is willing to put in the effort for the next 20 years and beyond to bring about positive change.

"It's one life at a time, one corner at a time, until there is revitalization here," said Emilia Harris.

Intersection of Change is celebrating its 20th anniversary with several events planned for September. They'll be outlining their vision for 2020.  To learn how you can help, visit their website.

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