Dante Barksdale, who some of you may know as “Tater,” is a Community Outreach Coordinator for Safe Streets (he also briefly appears in the documentary “Charm City”) and as those fans of “The Wire” know, the nephew of Nathan Avon Barksdale, the inspiration for Avon Barksdale on David Simon’s iconic television series. And now he is the author of “Growing Up Barksdale: A True Baltimore Story.” There will be a book release event for “Growing Up Barksdale” on Friday, Dec. 13 at POWER House Community Center (316 S. Caroline St.) from 6-8pm and moderated by D. Watkins. You can read an excerpt below…
In those days, I talked to Leon and Dee on the phone regularly. They were still hustling in the projects, running their own crews now. Both of them had dropped out of Lombard Middle. Dietrich had his little brother and sister to think about, and Leon had some younger siblings to care for, too.
One day, they gave me the news that would change everything. There were rumors going around that the city was planning to demolish Lafayette projects.
“I know, man!”
“How they gon’ get rid of six eleven-story buildings and the low-rises? That’s like 900 families!”
“I know, man!”
I could hear Dietrich cursing in the background.
“You know, my moms told me this would happen. Like years ago. She said the city and Hopkins had a plan, that they were gon’ knock down Old Town Mall, and then knock down all our buildings. So that they could spread themselves out.”
“Well, look like she was right.”
“Nah. Them buildings too big to knock all the way down.”
Leon let out a breath. “Guess we’ll see.”
A few weeks later, a chain link fence had gone up around the buildings. It was announced that all residents were to move out by the beginning of the summer. Most would get Section 8 vouchers for public housing, meaning they could move to another housing project. My mother wouldn’t qualify for Section 8 housing, since her sons were incarcerated, so she would have to find someplace she could afford to rent.
From across the fence in the low-rises, Leon and Dietrich and the others kept watch all summer as the workmen dismantled our buildings.
“They takin’ out the refrigerators, man! We see ’em!”
“They takin’ the fences off the buildings!”
“They gettin’ all the windows out next!”
In the middle of August, I called Leon when I was alone.
“What’s happening now?” I asked.
“I think they really doin’ it, Tater. They really about to knock our projects down.”
Then he got real quiet, and I could tell that he was crying.
Around noon on August 19, 1995, I got a knock on my cell door. It was Ms. Danzler, one of the correctional officers and a relative of mine on Bodie’s side.
“Tater, you wanna watch your projects go down on the big TV?” She meant the television in the dayroom. We weren’t supposed to leave our cells during count time, but she gestured for me to come. The only other people in the dayroom were the working men. I sat down at the table in front of the television and switched the channel to WBAL.
Crowds had gathered along Orleans Street. It looked like a giant block party, stretching from Dunbar High to Old Town Mall. Traffic was stopped along the Jones Falls Expressway. People were leaning out of their office windows to get a better view.
Then clouds of white smoke covered everything. The camera crew must have been somewhere on Baltimore Street, because 125 building was the one I could see, leaning, leaning, falling, gone. That would be the image in the newspapers the next day—125 building, half there, half nowhere. I had spent most of my adolescence in that building’s stairwell. It was the scene of all my crimes, the reason I had years left in my sentence. And now it was dust.
When the smoke finally cleared, the ground was flat. The whole thing had taken about twenty seconds. I felt lost all of a sudden, disoriented. My sense of belonging in the world felt shaky for the first time. Where was I gonna hang at now? Where would Leon and them go? Would they be safe in Douglass, or down Perkins, would they be safe over Somerset? And what about the six parties bumping in the projects at any one time? I remembered partying in 131 building, and then going over 200 building and finding a hundred people on the third floor, and a hundred more on the seventh. During the day, it was two thousand of us outside at all times. Go into any housing project and start counting people, it’s two thousand people outside. It might not look like it, but you got twenty people in that pocket, forty over there, twenty more standing around there. In every apartment, you had the tenant and her sister in there, and all their cousins from other neighborhoods visiting. It was always noisy in the projects, like living in a stadium. Where would all the noise go?