Dre Cortes felt the urge to take action after four houses, including one with a pride flag, burned in the Abell community where he lives last week.

Fearing that it was a hate crime, Cortes, 35, was looking for some way to show unity and support for the LGBQT community.

So last weekend he led people in painting a “pride flag” on a crosswalk on E. 31st Street near where the four houses were burned on June 15.

“I personally knocked on every single one of my neighbor’s doors on this block, and everybody was absolutely ecstatic to have this project and to just kind of see everybody show up and show out,” Cortes said.

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A board with information about how to assist those impacted by the fire in the Abell community, along with photos, stands in front of the middle house. The Abell Improvement Association is collecting donation through PayPal. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)

Volunteers strolled up to the crosswalk on the corner of the burned houses last Saturday and jumped right in to help.

“[The community] wanted to do something to show not only our support, but we also wanted to do something to commiserate and come together and feel like there is unity and joy during this time,” Cortes said.

Dre Cortes labels the spaces between the crosswalk lines with the colors of the pride flag. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)
Preeti Kanodia and Dre Cortes work together to tape the edges of the crosswalk. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)

Materials used to paint the crosswalk were donated from various hardware and tool shops in the area, including Waverly Ace Hardware, Station North Tool Library, Canton Ace Hardware and Cockeysville Ace Hardware.

More chalk writings and drawings fill the sidewalk in front of the houses affected by the fire in the Abell community. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)
A volunteer coats a paint roller with yellow paint. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)

“We basically just want to say, ‘We’re here.’ While we may be afraid, it is so helpful to have community solidarity, and that’s what we’re displaying here today,” Cortes said.

Volunteers use smaller brushes to paint the colors of the progress pride flag on the crosswalk in front of the four houses that were burned in the Abell community. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)
Volunteers work together to paint the colors of the progress pride flag on the crosswalk in front of the four houses that were burned in the Abell community. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)

S.J. McDonald, 23, is a new Baltimore resident and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, so came out to paint: “I really felt like I needed to come out and help in some way, and this is the only way that I can be helpful right now,” she said.

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Anna Symons used to live right around the corner from the houses and also felt drawn to help with the painting. “I think the shock and anxiety and sadness and pain of knowing that something like this could happen in our neighborhood ... just being able to do something constructive, however small, helps,” she said.

Community members and volunteers pose with the finished crosswalk. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)

Preeti Kanodia, 43, said painting the sidewalk felt like healing. “It feels like bringing joy and color to some place that people, for what feels like to me, intentionally tried to burn down and destroy,” Kanodia said.

The organizers also offered counseling services and other facilitators at Red Emma’s, a local bookstore, restaurant and community gathering spot.

For more information on how to help, visit the Abell community Instagram @abellcommunity.

Dre Cortes planned the crosswalk painting in order to give community members a space to feel unity and joy after four houses in the Abell community burned. Neighbors suspect the burning of a pride flag caused the fires. (Taneen Momeni/The Baltimore Banner)

Taneen Momeni is a photojournalism intern at The Baltimore Banner. She is a recent graduate from the University of Maryland-College Park. She not only hopes to learn more about visual journalism, but also hopes to help contribute to the effort for diverse, just and equitable local news that resonates with the community.

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