This a pretty big deviation from most of my posts, so I hope you’ll bear with me…
Anyone who is not living under a rock or in a cave, or is one of those Kill Your Television/Anti-Computer people is well-aware of what has happened over the past few days in my beloved Charm City.
I can’t begin to fully describe the confusion and frustration I feel in my heart, but I’m trying to watch and listen and understand as things continue to unfold and our city searches for peace and resolution.
First, for those of you who don’t live here, let me tell you a little bit about the City I know… Baltimore is a city with a colorful history and an even more colorful present. Its placement along the Chesapeake Bay made it an integral port city during the War of 1812 and Civil War. It is the place where our National Anthem was penned atop Federal Hill. It was reborn after a tragic fire swept through its downtown and port in 1904 and grew into a booming industrial city–the older generations will speak of the time during the golden age when factories and industries were the giants that supported the city’s growth and progress in the early- to mid-1900s. It has great museums, amazing restaurants, an abundance of shops and boutiques, and wonderful live theatres. It has parks, trails and miles of waterfront that wraps itself around the heart of the city, the Inner Harbor. It is the location of some of the most well-respected medical institutions, and colleges and universities in the country. There are countless neighborhoods and enclaves across the 90+ square miles of city terrain, each with its own unique identity and feel. It is proud to be a big city with a small town personality. Its residents love crabs, Old Bay, Natty Boh, the Orioles and the Ravens, hons, and a little dialect known fondly as “Bawlmerese.” Baltimore is where I work. It is where I met my husband and married him. It is where I will raise my son. It is where I live. It is my home.
This is the Baltimore I wish everyone could experience and share.
Alas, Baltimore is also a city that struggles with its past and in many ways remains haunted by it. I haven’t lived in many places in my life, so I don’t have much with which to compare it, but perhaps that doesn’t matter. Perhaps, in fact, that affords me the opportunity to focus more on my city without trying to say that it’s better or worse than some other place. It is what it is. In my opinion, and with the understanding that I may be hit with criticism, or comments about my naiveté, or being too liberal or stupid, or whatever–be that as it may, I believe there is a severe and potentially permanent wound plaguing our City. Some may choose to just call it a racial divide, but I believe that, while on the surface it might appear to be solely race-based since that might be the first thing you see, it’s deeper than that. The wound is the result of struggling economies, limited education, poor health and health outcomes, and myriad micro-cultures that exist not just at the neighborhood level, but down to individual blocks. These are disparities that are generations old. The wound of these disparities have been plaguing these communities for over a half-century, and were exacerbated during the 1968 riots. The communities impacted here in Baltimore never truly healed after that. Now, the wounds are infected and have spread–isolating these communities and growing the divide among the City as a whole. Decade after decade, frustration has built, community adhesion and the people infrastructure has diminished, poor has become impoverished, and hope has faded. This is an ongoing cycle that somehow feeds on itself, yet cannot find a way to break free from it. These wounded communities are held together by thin strings of strong individuals, families, and faith-based organizations who refuse to give up on their homes and their neighbors–I have met them and spoken to them through my professional work, so I know this to be true. They are valiant, but they are tired, grasping at straws, and fighting an uphill battle. The cycle has given way to a rampant drug trade that both employs and imprisons its residents. Crime ensues. Resources retreat. The future seems bleak. New generations of children are born into this and this is ALL they know and experience. More help and hope is required, but how do you continue to convince those with the resources to keep pumping them in when they are already limited and the positive impacts are hard to see and measure? The communities, once strong, proud, and united, are falling. Those living beyond these communities (both around Baltimore and beyond) assume it’s all just one big episode of the “The Wire.” The disparities fade from focus and race becomes the identifying feature of the wound. Looking in, there is fear, misunderstanding, apathy, ignorance–each of these I will sadly admit to feeling from one time or another. I sit in the comfort of my home just blocks from areas of turmoil (not just during this current crisis, but during the crises these communities experience daily) and think it would be nice to make a difference, but feel like that’s impossible, so I turn a blind eye and hope for change and pray that my own neighborhood, home, and family stays safe and sound.
To me…this is the system–the one everyone keeps saying is broken. Actually, it’s been like this for a long time, so maybe the system isn’t broken, maybe a new system needs to be designed and put in place to affect real change and progress. I mean, one would think it would get worse and then get better, but worse seems to have become the norm. Police brutality aside (because that could be another blog post all on its own), there is no common goal, sense of accountability, or moral code that aligns ALL OF US– on our blocks, in our neighborhoods, in our communities, in our agencies, and throughout our City. Competing priorities, decades of unaddressed and unresolved needs, ineffective strategies and policies, fear and frustration, distrust, and dwindling resources keep enflaming this old, nasty wound.
So for now, every now and again, we throw a new band-aid on it and keep it covered up and hope “this time” the band-aid does the trick.
What has occurred in the past 24 hours proves otherwise. It is the proverbial ripping off of the band-aid and exposing a very deep, infected wound. What our City, our community, our residents, and our leaders need to decide now is, “What do we do next?” Do we apply more band-aids, or actually, FINALLY, figure out the root cause of the infection and heal it so it doesn’t continue to fester and spread? It might hurt and take a long time, but I think our City is so worth the effort.
I’ll end with a quote from a true badass and lover of all things Baltimore City, Senator Barbara Mikulski, who earlier today said, “Baltimore is good people!” I believe and know that’s true! So to honor that, let’s ALL try to be better at being good people, for the good of all of us and our Home!