Collin Wojciechowski ’13, political science and media and communication studies, served as the sole student member of the University System of Maryland’s governing Board of Regents, 2011-2012.
Curtis Bay, nestled at the southernmost point of Baltimore City is where my ancestors immigrated from Poland in 1904. It’s where my grandparents grew up, and it’s what I dream of when I think of community.
It was a place where hard working blue-collar people made their living and their homes. Classic Baltimore row homes sat against a backdrop of factories and cranes that dotted the waterfront, and the beer was always cold when the work day ended. There was one movie theater, one bowling alley, one pharmacy, and a youth baseball game was the hottest ticket in town on a Saturday night. People cared for each other and looked out for one another. They volunteered to snuff out tyranny at the dawn of the Second World War and returned home to build this country to what it is today. They were the backbone of America. The persevering prevailing force. The salt of the earth.
Today things are much different in Curtis Bay and its neighboring community, Brooklyn (together known as “Baybrook”). The factories have closed and the jobs have left. Oil drums and fly ash piles have replaced the homes along the waterfront. Crime is up and quality of life is down. The once proud residents have moved on or passed on and the main street that once boasted laughing children is now a major trucking throughway for petroleum distributers. The sense of community is just a distant memory. Told to grandchildren like me as a fairy tale.
There is a way to save this. There is a way to bring it back. And it’s happening. Right here. Right now. With help from UMBC.
Originally funded by a Kauffman faculty innovation grant, “Preserving Places and Making Spaces in Baltimore” is a 400-level American Studies class taught by Dr. Nicole King. In its third iteration, the course is much different than most you’ll find at any university, as it redefines the idea of “students at the wheel.” Each semester Dr. King takes her class through Brooklyn and Curtis Bay, inviting them to discover one niche of the community to do a history project on. However, the primary source of your research is not only dug up in books, periodicals, and primary sources, it’s from a story, told to you by someone who lived it. Each student finds a member of the community whom they sit down with to hear their story. You go and simply listen. You hear a life story that makes that sense of one community seem realer than any club or organization you’ve ever held membership in. You become a part of that community and you feel that warmth your grandparents told you of.
That research is not filed away in the ever-growing stack of papers you’ve written here at UMBC. It’s presented to the community as a reminder of what once was and what can again be. The students of AMST 422 host an event at a historic building in Curtis Bay, where students and Baybrook residents come together to laugh, share, and dream. The event itself is planned and run by students. Each week in class, a continuing cycle of proposal, debate, and vote determines what direction the event and thus the course will take. With Dr. King as a referee of sorts, it is up to us as students to plan, market, and facilitate the event, and each student gets a chance to make a case about what that should mean. It gives us not only the benefit of making the course our own but the responsibility to ensure that we are keeping up with our peers’ expectations. This semester students decided to court businesses in the community and have them be a part of our event.Students decided to recapture the images and spirits of these two communities’ main streets that once stood proud and fruitful. And students decided to ask you, our fellow UMBC community members, to be a part of this special day with us.
The event itself will take place on December 1st at the Polish Home Hall in Curtis Bay (4416 Fairhaven Ave. Baltimore), a mere 15 minute drive from campus. For just $10 you can join us on this day to hear the stories of this community, see the research your fellow Retrievers have conducted, check out art projects co-created by UMBC students in Professor Steve Bradley’s ART 390 course with local high school students, and meet the incredible people we have come to call our neighbors. And as if you needed more of an incentive to come, there will be a homemade buffet consisting of pulled pork barbecue, potato salad, cole slaw and all the fixings and you will receive a walking tour brochure of the community so that you can explore Baybrook whenever you please. Because this project is generously funded in part by BreakingGround, nearly all the proceeds of the event will go right back to community through a donation to the Baybrook Coalition (the local non-profit community development corporation) for the continued preservation of the historic Polish Home Hall.
If you cannot make it on the first, fear not, there are a wealth of opportunities for you to get involved in the “Mapping Baybrook” project and help us give back to this community. On Thursday (Nov. 15), Friday (Nov. 16), and Monday (Nov. 19) members of our class will be in the Commons Breezeway selling t-shirts and tickets to the event, both for only $10, buttons for only $1, and cookies, brownies, and other baked goods for substantially less than either of those prices. Stop by then or send me an email to find out more about how UMBC students are working to save our neighboring communities. Please give whatever you can so that you too can be a part of this process. Help us preserve what once was in this fantastic neighborhood and take part in building what can be.
Contact the author, Collin Wojciechowski, at firstname.lastname@example.org.