Carmelo Anthony on how the walk to a new school showed him the difference between Black and white Baltimore
In Bolton Hill, there was room to breathe – and the best Halloween candy
In this excerpt from Carmelo Anthony’s new memoir, Where Tomorrows Aren’t Promised, he recalls escaping conflicts with his stepfather and discovering a new world outside his neighborhood.
The tension I felt eased as soon as I exited the house and headed to class. I attended Mount Royal for middle school, a completely different vibe from Furman L. Templeton, school 125. The classrooms were larger, cleaner and the school had computers everywhere. Even walking there was a journey that allowed me to ignore the chaos at home. When we first moved to Baltimore, my whole world consisted of four blocks. In those blocks, you would find liquor stores, corner stores, churches, a small market, our schools and the laundromat. Shopping for clothes pulled us out of those four blocks, but everything else we needed was in the neighborhood, and we didn’t have to travel far for much. I had no sense of the world outside until I had to walk to Mount Royal. Venturing to this school was like a long walk to freedom or a trip through a freedom machine. I’d leave my house and start out walking through Murphy Homes and then through McCulloh Homes. I passed all of the tattered and half-completed row houses, and then I’d pass the neighborhood we called the Bottom, right through Murder Mall and past Whitelock, where my mom’s church was. Then I’d land at Eutaw Street, which was a different world.
Crossing Eutaw Street was like visiting a different planet, leaving a Black world and walking into something completely strange and foreign. You saw something that you never ever saw in the Murphy Homes community: white people. White people jogging, washing their cars, pushing their kids in strollers, sipping cups of coffee, out on their stoops, reading the newspaper, laughing, joking and having a great time. White people were some happy motherf—–s. Once I saw an old white lady with white hair wearing a white gown and playing a harp. Like, did I die? Where was I? Well, I was in Bolton Hill, which was then and remains today one of the richest communities in Baltimore city. The neighborhood is made up of beautiful three- and sometimes four-story brick brownstones that overflow with character. There are beautiful parks and amenities for the art students who attended the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art and the many doctors, judges, lawyers, business owners, politicians and rich professionals who lived in that neighborhood, who would never think of walking through the section of the city I called home. My friends and I loved hitting Bolton Hill every Halloween, because those white people took the holiday very seriously. They had no problem giving away full-sized Snickers bars or Twix or large packs of Starburst – all pink! Who knew you could get packs of Starbursts in all pink? Money was not an object to these people, and honestly, after trick-or-treating there, you didn’t even want the little pieces of candy and old church-lady butterscotch and mints they gave you around Murphy Homes. I played Bolton Hill every Halloween and cleaned up, except the one time Duke, Kenny and I got robbed.
Now, of course, this wasn’t in Bolton Hill, but you had to pass Whitelock to get back to Murphy Homes. It was around the time that the Larenz Tate movie Dead Presidents had come out. We didn’t really have any money for fancy costumes, but Duke had the bright idea of just dressing up like the people in the film who tried to ride the armored car. Bright white face paint, black shirts, black pants and black skullies – we had all of that, got dressed and went to work. So we had just finished collecting all of those bags of Bolton Hill full-sized chocolate bars and all, laughing at our success, when we came across a group of dudes in an alley, staring at us with hungry eyes and focused on our full bags. “Don’t worry, I know these guys, I hoop with them,” I told the group. “I’m just going to say what’s up when we get close, and we can keep it moving.”
I tensed up, poked out my chest as we got closer to the crowd, and led our trio through the alley. When we got to the end of the alley, it was like 30 dudes behind us and another 15 in front of us.
“Lil’ n—as, kick that f—ing candy out!” one of the older dudes said as they all closed in on us.
Needless to say, we forked over our bags and got out of there. Luckily, none of us was hurt, and of course, we were right back in Bolton Hill the following year, because they had the best candy. Honestly, a beating would have been worth it if we were allowed to keep our bags. The people in that neighborhood looked refreshed. They never looked beaten down or drained or weighed down by troubles the way you saw with Black people like my stepdad, Deek. The men Deek’s age in that neighborhood looked like they could jog 10 miles, play catch with their kids, then win the big account, all while maintaining a healthy smile. These Bolton Hill people looked like they did a fraction of the work the people in my neighborhood did while earning 10 times the pay. The people from my block, with their two, three or four jobs, never had time to do yoga in the park or play Frisbee with their dogs. They had to work, probably for someone else’s enrichment. The white experience and the Black experience were so visibly different, and every time I walked across Eutaw Street, I witnessed the exchange of realities. As I grew older, I’ve come to learn that this was how Baltimore works. Millionaires could live on one side of a street, and the projects could be on the other side. Those two worlds would never cross, never make friends, never acknowledge each other. Everybody was OK with it, especially the rich. This was my introduction to how racism plays out. It was also the first time I got an idea of where some of my stepdad’s frustrations came from. No matter how much he worked, he could never live like these people – and now he could barely work at all.
I loved walking through that neighborhood. It gave me a sense of power, a different type of security that I could never have back home. I knew I wasn’t rich and didn’t have a connection to those people. But just being there allowed me to breathe. I used to take the long way home. I didn’t care how late at night it was. I wanted to spend as much time in that Bolton Hill community as possible.
Copyright © 2021 by Carmelo Anthony with D. Watkins. From the recently published WHERE TOMORROWS AREN’T PROMISED by Carmelo Anthony with D. Watkins, published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.