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Finding Voice: Ray's Story - by Stefani Sese


We are pleased to present posts by StoryCenter staff, storytellers, colleagues from partnering organizations, and thought leaders in Storywork and related fields.

Finding Voice: Ray's Story - by Stefani Sese

Emily Paulos

The place where I worked is no longer there.

I started working in this building when I was 14. It was a shell, we put a floor in, walls, shelves for a gift shop named “Chan & Chee” (for Chandler and Conchita). She was born in the same building. Two years later the steel ball struck the building. Now it’s a county owned garage.

Where the cars are parked, that used to be houses, the homes of my friends and extended family. That was the first place I recall them taking away peoples homes.

The row house down the street is no longer there. It was my grandparents' house, then it passed to my mom. We played basketball at the Stanton Freedman Bureau School just up the alley. My mom graduated from that school. That was my recreational place.

Gone is my Psychedelic Shack behind the house. It was “Ray’s Place.” Sheepskin rug, African prints, Indian bedspread, TV, record player. I’d go there after school and spend my weekends there… It was my escape, my Walden, my sanctuary.

We stayed here three more years after the store went, then we moved away. Shortly after, they tore down the whole block, except for the school. To replace it with the Maryland Dept of Business and Management. 45 Calvert St.

Gone in an instant are the mortar and bricks that inhabited the souls that shaped, defined and shaded my young life.

I moved to West Baltimore in 1975. The brick row homes and the mortar that connected the community atmosphere was similar to what was I lost. Folks trying to hold on to what they have. Later I purchased a store-fronted building. I started working on it, improving it, while I was seeing the decline of other buildings. Just right next door to me they tore a building down. The wrecking ball has come again and the old feelings have begun to resurface.

But unlike Chan & Chee’s gift shop, my Psychedelic Shack and our home, I’m putting earnest effort in to reclaiming community space. In the wrecking I still see renewal. 

Wrecking and Renewal

—Ray Baylor

© 2010 Ray Baylor, Images and text all rights reserved.

Thoughts by Stefani Sese

Ray is very active in the revitalization of his West Baltimore community. He came with his grant writing hat on and couldn’t break free of speaking in broad sweeping terms about the destruction urban renewal had wrought on once thriving black neighborhoods. He wrote several drafts but he just couldn’t get away from the third person or the terminology to find the personal part of his story.

As we were looking at his photographs he began to describe his old neighborhood in Annapolis, MD. He showed me the old house; the place where he and his friends had played in the alley behind the all–black Freedman Bureau school; the store that he remembered working in. As he spoke, I typed what he was saying and asked questions. He had a treasure trove of rich detail and stories in the two photos of his old neighborhood, a place that no longer exists. He talked about his sanctuary behind the house, and I asked him to describe it. Best of all, he still had a photo of himself from that time! After a while, as he spoke and I typed, we had a text for Ray to edit. A personal story.

It’s often very hard to write in a personal voice. Sometimes being passionate about what you are addressing in your story makes it even harder. It was a joy to take the journey with Ray and uncover the memories hidden in those old images.

The story circle is a key part of the CDS process, but the one-on-one work that happens between the facilitator and the storyteller is also where a lot of the final story-mining takes place. It’s a matter of listening hard to what the photos are saying, to what’s in between what the storyteller is telling you, in order to find the questions that will help someone discover their insight and their voice.

As I watch my old neighborhood shift subtly and then drastically in the wake of increased development and gentrification, I remember Ray’s story.

He reminds us of the centrality of place. Laying down roots and creating memories contributes to building a thriving community. Ray’s story is a reminder of how easily this can be destroyed if we are not mindful of how development occurs, who it benefits, and who it uproots.