John Munson’s quest for change in the Calvert Street neighborhood started with his own transformation from a life of addiction and prison to a writer and social activist.
His newly released book, If I Make My Bed In Hell: Chestertown, Home of the Ouija Board describes his painful ordeal without deflecting responsibility. Critical to that transformation, Munson says, was his embracing the teachings of Jesus Christ and a newly empowered life of serving others.
“I take you high. I take you low. I take you in the middle. I take you in between. I give you tears. I give you joy. You laugh. You cry. You’re going through this whole journey with me in this book,” he says, noting that his reference to the Ouija board in the title is a metaphor for the destructive elements of the environment in which he was raised: poverty, drugs, mass incarceration, and a sense of hopelessness in the Black community he knew.
Six years out of incarceration and a first book under his belt, Munson sees the Calvert Street community as having made positive changes but lacks the sense of cohesion a community center could provide. He points to the empty lot on the 300 block at the intersection of Calvert Street and College Avenue, across the street from where the famous Charlie Graves Uptown Club served as the social nexus for the Black community. The author’s grandparents for years ran the only market nearby.
“I want to see a community center on this empty lot where people can access basic amenities like a soda, bread, a laundromat, without having to go all the way downtown to stores we don’t even own and where we sometimes face mistreatment,” he says.
To this end, Munson has re-founded and awaits non-profit status for his Mustard Seedz organization which aims to serve underserved communities.
“Our first goal is to establish a community center that provides various resources and opportunities for both youth and adults. We want to offer job training, educational programs, mentorship, and a safe space for personal growth and to welcome people from all walks of life to contribute their talents and help us make a difference,” he says.
Additionally, Munson wants to focus on providing support and resources for those reentering society after incarceration rather than having offenders perpetuate the cycle of punishment and hopelessness.
The author hopes his soon-to-be-released second book will further define the need for positive change in the community and act as a mission statement for his new organization by offering solutions to the adversities of a social environment.
“My journey has led me to advocate for a community center, share my story through my book, and work towards bringing positive change to my community.”
If I Make My Bed In Hell: Chestertown, Home of the Ouija Board may be found at the Bookplate Bookstore and on Amazon.
This video is approximately seven minutes in length. For more information about John Munson’s Mustard Seedz project, email him at [email protected].