TJay from Sandtown on the Neglect of His Community, Desire to See It Built Back Up (RIP)

By Roberto E. Alejandro

Back in the summer of 2015, a couple months after the major Freddie Gray demonstrations ended, I had the privilege of recording a conversation with my friend and community activist Keith Figgs (right, in the image above), and TJay (left), with whom Keith had grown up in Sandtown, not far from where Gray himself had been raised.

Last night, I attended a vigil for TJay, who was killed last Sunday, on the first day of our new year, just outside the Western District police station, while he sat in a parked vehicle.

I never really had an opportunity to make use of the recording, a portion of which I present below, but in light of TJay’s recent murder, I think there are a number of comments he made in the course of that conversation that ought to be heard by others.

In the segment presented below, TJay talks about the decay Sandtown underwent in the time he had lived there, the lack of options for young people, and a desire to see the community fixed back up after years of neglect. He also spoke about why many poor persons do not vote, saying that politicians want their vote but do little for their community, despite the community’s pleas for help (a statement that stands in marked contrast to the supposed silence we generally ascribe to poor spaces, something we are able to do not because the poor are mute but because we would rather be deaf).

Our interview took place on the steps of an abandoned row house—Sandtown’s most plentiful natural resource—and it is the topic of vacants that more or less kicks off our conversation. The portion of our interview posted below ends with TJay’s expressed desire to see his community restored to what he had once known it to be. I hope anyone reading this will take a moment to reflect on TJay’s thoughts, and commit themselves to finding a way to see community’s like Sandtown rebuilt well beyond the point its residents have to consider death in the streets a practical alternative to life.

The first voice you hear on the recording, after my initial question, is TJay’s:

To hear the full-length recording of my conversation with TJay and Keith, click here.

This story was originally published by, on Jan. 5, 2016.