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Radio Remington

A community-art project helps kids tell the story of their neighborhood

Photos by Jefferson Jackson Steele
Kira Isbert (left) interviews Alyssa Blankenship about her fears, as radio project intern Katherine Gorman facilitates.

By Chris Landers | Posted 11/11/2009

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Amena Begum, 14, took part in the radio program last year. Her little brother and his friend attended the art workshop Miss B holds every week on her front porch, and Barbush pulled Amena aside to ask if she'd be interested in the radio program.

"I actually liked doing it," Amena says. "I liked the fact that I was getting to be known, and getting other people to be known. I wanted to know what kind of places were around here, being in [the radio project] helped me to know that. I like the fact that people around here know who I am and know what kind of work I do."

For now, the radio project is off the radio. Last year, Barbush experimented with a low-wattage transmitter set up on the roof of her house, but it proved impractical and broadcast ceased after a day. Art on Purpose strives for quality in its art--the visual art shows are juried by professional artists--and the radio project is still working on that.

"We're primitive," Bruun says. "Beth is self-taught. We're completely aware of how amateurish the sound quality is, and we're talking to people to try to improve that. In terms of really radio-quality production, that's what we want, but we're still figuring it out."

Last year, Amena interviewed Elaine Stevens, the owner of The Dizz (formerly Dizzy Issie's). Amena knew it was there, but the neighborhood bar was a bit of a mystery for the 14-year-old. "I didn't really know about it until I interviewed her. I found out what kind of place it is," Amena says. "I found out what kind of people hang out there--it's mostly, like, family and friends--it's a place to hang out for everybody."

Xavier Clatterbuck, 15, was drawn in by the same curiosity. "I was interested in finding out what people were doing," he says, "find out the history about Remington."

Xavier moved to Remington from North Avenue about three years ago.

"It's a lot better than the neighborhood I grew up in," he says. "A lot of people here, they like to communicate--everyone looks out for each other."

What did Xavier take away from the radio program? "I learned to ask questions when I'm curious about something," he says.

Barbush apologizes before the Tuesday-night workshop. It's only the second one this year, and she hasn't quite figured out what's going to happen. A week before the Halloween interviews, she's getting the participants used to using the tape recorder. It's evening--just after six--and eight kids fidget around a table in a multi-purpose room in the back of the Church of the Guardian Angel.

Darrein Ray, 10, is practically vibrating in his chair, and a skirmish threatens to break out over who the oldest kid at school is--seems to be a toss-up between Joe Johnson and someone named Tony, who is not in the workshop, but whom Darrein believes has some claim to the title.

They are interrupted by a knock on the door, one of many knocks on the door tonight, as kids arrive and leave on a more or less haphazard schedule. Each knock occasions the same upheaval and everyone strains to see who it could be.

This time it's Andre Mouzone, a 12-year-old veteran of last year's radio workshops. Everyone seems to know him, and he walks in, his shoulders slumped like he's got something on his mind. Andre grabs a glass of milk from the fridge in the adjacent kitchen, but doesn't sit at the table with everyone else. He leans back against the wall with his glass, watching.

Barbush was hoping Andre would come by. He gives the program some continuity. Living part-time with his father and part-time with his grandmother, Andre may welcome the continuity as well. He relaxes visibly as he leans against the wall. He knows the answer to Miss B's questions, he's been here before. He takes it seriously.

Last year, one of the assignments was a self-interview. Andre's appears as one of the 34 tracks on a CD Barbush made of the highlights of the class. Andre is an honor-roll student who plays basketball. He's on the student council at Margaret Brent Elementary.

"I live in Remington," he says on the CD. "It's an OK neighborhood, but I'd like to move out of it. What I would like to see change in the neighborhood is the violence. . . . It is unsafe for the kids growing up in this neighborhood, so they won't be able to pick up bad habits and selling drugs and killing people just like it is now."

On the next track, Andre takes his tape recorder to interview one of the owners of Sterling's Seafood, a Remington restaurant since 1947.

"I think Sterling's is one of the good things about the neighborhood," owner Steven Goff tells Andre. "It's like a fixture here. We've had three generations of people coming in here. People who are coming in now, their grandparents used to come in here."

It's a little abstract, like the rest of the project, but the interview brought together 12-year-old Andre and a neighborhood restaurant owner from Dundalk, and made them both think about the neighborhood they live in.

Elsewhere on the CD, a young child is scared of zombies, "because they're all bony and stuff," and, in an interview conducted by Barbush herself, a woman tells the story of the last carnival in Remington, decades ago, and how it was broken up by a fight between kids from Remington and Hampden. It's a small story, of no particular import, but it's well told. Collecting stories like that is another of the goals of the project.

"For us it's not really a pride thing, but we want to know about Remington," says Eric Imhof. Imhof is the head of the Greater Remington Improvement Association, aka GRIA (Barbush is the group's youth-program committee chair).

"There's not much to look up about it [in books], but there's this huge, vast, interesting history there, embedded in the people who live there," Imhof says. "Especially in Remington. There are people whose grandparents lived in Remington, and they've been here ever since. It's pretty cool, you know?"

Sandwiched between Hampden and Charles Village, Remington lacks the sort of shopping and nightlife that draw flocks to those neighborhoods. Visitors to Remington are likely here to grab a bite at the PaperMoon Diner or a beer at the Dizz, which serves as an unofficial hub for the neighborhood. It is predominantly residential, and the residents seem to know each other.

"The response I get mostly when I say I live in Remington is 'Where's that?'" Imhof says. "I do think we suffer from a sort of identity crisis of sorts, but all of us who live here think it's the best kept secret in the city."

Imhof moved to Remington recently--about five years ago, when he came to MICA to study community art. He works as a neighborhood organizer in several Baltimore neighborhoods, and works unpaid doing the same thing for GRIA, which started about two years ago.

"We realized really early on that the radio project would be a good thing for GRIA, and it's a good thing for the neighborhood," Imhof says. "One of the things we've struggled with, and one of the main goals, is how to get residents who've lived here for a long time involved. A lot of us in the group, the average time we've been in the neighborhood is five to 10 years, but there are third-generation Remington residents, so how do you get them involved? And if you can't get them involved, how do you at least record what they know about the neighborhood . . . I know I've looked into the recordings quite a bit to get insight on what people think about the neighborhood, and not even the problems and what are the solutions, but who lives here and what are their stories?"

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