The pandemic has made economic opportunities seem elusive for many people, and the residents of Turner Station are facing no different.
Last week, members of the Henrietta Lacks Legacy Group were hard at work in front of Speed’s Salon and Barber, located on Avon Beach Road. What they were doing – crushing aluminum cans. The activity was not in support of Courtney Speed’s beauty salon business, but in support of HLLG.
Speed told the Eagle that group members rely on “side hustles” to raise money for their mission, preserving the mission of Henrietta Lacks. The medical and cultural icon was recently posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. The group is currently working to have a life size wax figure of Ms. Lacks made, in her honor.
A side hustle, as defined by Oxford English Dictionary, is a part-time job occupation that supplements one’s main source of income. Speed said that side hustles have been standard practice in the Turner Station community for several generations.
Residents used side hustles not only for extra money, but also to be self-sufficient. Handymen in the community would repair homes when winter passed and spring began. They would repair the damage caused by extreme weather, and taught future generations to do the same. This is one example of efforts by residents to look after themselves and their neighbors. It is a custom Speed said she wants to see return to Turner Station.
“That’s what we want to replicate,” Speed said. “When [repairmen] worked with the elders, whatever amount of money they got, they shared it with the younger ones. That made the money turn over in Turner Station eight times before it left out.”
Speed said the community was built by migrants from American southern states. Many of those early settlers were uneducated, and had to rely on what skills they had to build and maintain Turner Station. The ones who were educated, she said, also relied on side hustles to contribute to the community.
“They still relied on those side hustles to ensure they stayed independent and not to be a liability, but to be an asset to the federal, state and county,” Speed said.
The art of the side hustle is just one piece of Turner Station’s history the residents of the community are trying to retain. Speed said the community once requested that the original foundation for St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church be preserved. That request was denied, Speed said. The Dollar Tree at the corner of Main Street and Dundalk Avenue also sits on a piece of historic land that the community wanted preserved.
St. Matthew’s UMC’s 24th Annual Black History Month celebration service
The pandemic forced Turner Station residents to attend the 2021 Black History Month celebration service at St. Matthew’s UMC this past weekend. The celebration service is held annually. This year, the 24th annual service was held on Feb. 28. It was held virtually, in order to maintain safe health practices.
During the service, three prominent people from Turner Station were highlighted for Black History Month. The three were Milton Holmes, who was one of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II; Calvin Hill, legendary running back for the Dallas Cowboys; and Dunbar Brooks, the first Black president of the Baltimore County School Board.
Holmes was honored during the service by his sister, Delmus Simmons. Simmons played a video of Holmes speaking about growing up in Turner Station and joining the military. Holmes said in the video that he attended Dunbar High School and sold copies of the Baltimore Afro-American (also referred to as The Afro) when World War II started. He read a lot about World War II and the reasons why it started, he said.
He said in the video that he had to travel 13 miles to get to Dunbar High School, passing other schools along the way. After graduating from Dunbar, he attended Howard University in Washington, D.C., which was strictly an all-Black school at the time, he said. He later held a job at a defense plant for a manufacturing company. Black workers were ordered to work in separate facilities.
It was while working at that plant when he learned of an exam for a specialized training program from the US Army. That is how he got involved in the military service and the war, he said, adding that the war was “extremely” interesting to him as a civilian. He was able to learn how civilians were responding to the war, he said.
His training began at Hampton University, he said in the video. This part of the training placed a heavy emphasis on academic skills. From there, he was sent to the Army Air Corps in Tuskegee, Alabama, the army’s training base for Black pilots during that time. The training at Tuskegee placed a strong emphasis on teamwork, which made the training more preferable, he said in the video.
“That was ingrained in us more than anything else, that you have to be part of a team,” Holmes said in the video. “It was not about individual recognition … if your comrade was suffering, you had to suffer along with him.”
Holmes was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military honor one can receive. His time in a segregated military led to his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, as he fought for equal rights for Black workers at the US Postal Service. He passed on Nov. 2, 2018.
Hill spent 12 seasons in the NFL as a running back. Six of those seasons were with the Dallas Cowboys, including 1972, the year the Cowboys defeated Miami 24-3 to win the first Super Bowl title for the franchise. Hill was named to the Pro Bowl four times in his career – 1969, and 1972-74. In 1973, Hill became the first Cowboys running back to rush for 1,000 yards (1,036). He repeated the milestone again the following season (1,142).
Hill grew up in Turner Station and graduated from Sollers Point High School. From there, he accepted a scholarship to attend a prep school before landing at Yale University.
“I’ve lived all over the place, but I was lucky to be born and raised in Turner Station, 734 Peach Orchard Ln. in Day Village.” Hill said in a video. “I tell people all the time that the values that I learned and the experiences that I have stayed with me my entire life. I have friends I grew up with and they have remained friends for 40 and 50 years.
The Turner Station I grew up in was a place of stability where people respected each other; where people respected education; everyone knew one another and looked out for each other. If you didn’t know somebody, you at least knew someone who knew them.”
Hill said in the video that his entire left has been spent in professional sports. He had the chance to play for some legendary coaches, he said, such as Tom Landry and George Allen. But he tells people his first great coach was a man in Turner Station was a man named Osceola Smith.
“He taught me how to compete. He taught me how to respect. He was Turner Station’s coach,” Hill said in the video.
The segment honoring Brooks was led by his grandson, Mark Williams. Brooks was born in Baltimore City to a single mother in 1950, according to Williams. He lived in Gilmore Project with his mother, Mable Brooks, a community activist. She took him to community meetings when he was young, Williams said.
Brooks graduated from Douglass High School and enlisted in the US Army. He served two tours in Vietnam, from 1971-73, Williams said. He later graduated, in 1976, from Morgan State University. His future wife, Edie Brooks, was graduating from the nursing program at Essex Community College around that same time. The two moved to Turner Station, got married, and had three children.
Brooks worked as a community outreach planner, and taught part-time at both Morgan State University and Dundalk Community College (now called CCBC Dundalk). In addition, he formed the Turner Station Development Corporation and was a board member for more than 25 years.
Brooks, Williams said, was a lifelong member of the Dundalk-Sparrows Point chapter of the NAACP. He eventually became president of the chapter from 1978-2001. Williams said that Brooks was a fighter, and many times he fought for his community. He fought to close schools on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; he fought to keep a prison from being built near Turner Station.
Brooks converted Turner Station elementary school into Turner Station Apartments, with a section reserved for seniors. Williams said that Brooks served on several boards throughout his life, but the Baltimore County Board of Education was the most important.
“He was a part of that for 10 years and became the first Black school board president in its history,” Williams said. “This gave him the opportunity to improve education, especially for children of color, and he had to fight for it as well.
“He wasn’t just on the sidelines. He was on the front lines fighting racism. I’m very proud of him for that.”
Brooks spent seven years on the Maryland Board of Education, Williams said. He served as president of the State School Board from 2007-2008.