Columbia, Md has deep connections to Freddie Gray’s Sandtown-Winchester ‘hood


Sandtown is located in a historically African American area of West Baltimore neighboring the once affluent Upton. In the second half of the 20th century, Sandtown experienced economic depression, housing abandonment, crime, and racial rioting.  Whereas in the 1950s and 1960s famous African American performers such as Billie Holiday and Diana Ross performed there and it was sometimes referred to as Baltimore’s Harlem, by the time of the 2015 protests and rioting over the death of Freddie Gray, 3% of its populations was incarcerated, a third of its housing abandoned, 20% of working age people were unemployed, and a third of residents were living in poverty.,_Baltimore



baltimore_nehemiah-portfolioBaltimore Nehemiah (completed in 1992) is a development of 300 affordable townhomes including 283 of new construction and 17 rehabilitated homes in the Penn North and Sandtown-Winchester communities. The new construction townhomes, containing three bedrooms and two baths, measure approximately 1,600 square feet in size. . . . The Baltimore Nehemiah development enabled a number of low income area families realize their dream of homeownership. Over 70 percent of the buyers had incomes less than 45 percent of the Baltimore area median income and many moved to the development from the Penn North, Sandtown-Winchester and surrounding neighborhoods.


The 236 units in Sandtown-Winchester Square (completed in 2005) are located on adjoining blocks in the heart of the neighborhood and build on the success of the 300 Nehemiah homes completed in 1992. The size of the development, its central location, and the predominance of new construction contribute to positive change to the neighborhood landscape. The rehabilitation of a large number of existing rowhouses and the design of the new houses preserve and complement the historical character of Sandtown-Winchester. Special financing will keep the homes affordable to low- and moderate income families. Sixty percent of the homes are targeted to families earning less than 60 percent of the Baltimore area median income.

Enterprise’s mission is to create opportunity for low- and moderate-income people through affordable housing in diverse, thriving communities. We are driven by our mission, fueled by business discipline and sustained by donors and investors. Since 1982, Enterprise has worked with partners in communities nationwide. One of America’s original social enterprises, we bring together the people and resources to create affordable housing in strong neighborhoods.


mallMondawmin Center was built as an urban retail hub. It was an open-air complex of 58 store spaces, featuring a spiral staircase, a three-level Sears, a G.C. Murphy 5 and 10, and Food Fair and Penn Fruit supermarkets. Jim Rouse’s brother Willard Goldsmith Rouse arranged the initial leasing, which included “The White Coffee Pot”, a store that opened as a segregated establishment. The center was fully enclosed during renovations that started in 1963 and its name was changed to Mondawmin Mall.

After the 1968 Baltimore riots produced white flight, the mall revenues declined and Sears left. Vacant space was occupied by the department of social services, where 35 people were held hostage in May 1977 by an unemployed man facing court action. The Rouse Company had sold the Mondawmin Mall property in the mid-1960s, only to buy it back in 1982. They performed a large-scale renovation in 1983, sectioning the vacant Sears into smaller store spaces and adding a parking garage to the west end of the structure.

With the acquisition of the Rouse Company by Chicago-based General Growth Properties, in 2004, Mondawmin Mall became a GGP holding. General Growth Properties went through bankruptcy proceedings between April 2009 and May 2010. Once criticized for not meeting the needs of the local population, it is now better serving the community following a $68 million renovation between early 2007 and late 2008. During this project, the parking garage was demolished and replaced with a Target store. Two anchors, A.J. Wright (which later became Marshalls) and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, were added to the east end of the shopping center.


Penn North is a project of the 34-year-old Tai Sophia Institute in Laurel, a school that offers masters degrees in acupuncture and herbal medicine. Opened in 1995, Penn North offers an array of treatments ranging from Narcotics Anonymous meetings to acupuncture, massage, and reiki, a Japanese relaxation and healing technique.

Can a millennia-old Chinese healing art
help solve Baltimore’s substance abuse crisis
by Greg Hascome, The Urbanite, October 2008

Penn North

Penn North Community Resource Center is Baltimore’s oldest drug and alcohol recovery center. It’s located in Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray grew up. In the weeks after Gray’s death, many media organizations shed light on the fact that Sandtown-Winchester struggles with shockingly high unemployment and poor education opportunities. For 20 years Penn North Recovery has offered the people who live here tons of different services including addiction treatment, job training, and community events.

“There is a dance here every Friday night open to the community that is drug and alcohol free,” says Ericka Alston, director of marketing and business development at Penn North. “From 8 p.m. to midnight there’s a DJ and people are dancing, selling food, and playing cards. It’s the safest place in Baltimore on a Friday night.”

When most businesses in Sandtown-Winchester shut down during last month’s protests, Penn North Recovery kept their doors open. They offered water, bathrooms, and a place to sit down and rest for those participating in the demonstrations. But mostly, they say, it was business as usual. People were still showing up for their treatment, and the employees were determined to continue their service during the time of crisis.


We’re burning and stabbing and snatching and grabbing
The black kids are bashing the glasses and looting
We leave it in ruins
They’re shooting us down
So what are we doing?
We’re ruthless and reckless
We’re shot with no weapon
Drive-by on the streets they’re supposed to be protecting
How could we possibly win?
Quick to get shot by these cops and these pigs
So I stop and I begin to wonder
Am I just another number?
If I get my life taken by an officer
Who’s going to comfort my mother, and sister, and squad and significant other
What if the last thing I said wasn’t I love her?
And what if they come to my county and tear it up
Speak of the devil, speaking of America
What if my kids are too scared of America?

A mural memorializing Baltimore resident Freddie Gray adorns a wall near the place where he was tackled and arrested by police. The Baltimore Sun says it has acquired a copy of the unreleased government autopsy report in the case.
A mural memorializing Baltimore resident Freddie Gray adorns a wall near the place where he was tackled and arrested by police.

Published by

Harry Schwarz

Nicknamed “The Professor” by his colleagues, Harry is a native Marylander who moved to Columbia in 2001. Harry’s wife, Cathy, is a Columbia acupuncturist and the family includes two college-age children, a dog and a cat. Harry is a partner with BearsolutionsLLC, assisting charter school authorizers to provide effective financial oversight. He is underemployed at this time and welcomes conversation about how he might help you.

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