I hear many people blame individuals in the inner city for the condition things are in. I want to take moment to express what I have experienced, which is very much to the contrary of what I hear from others (who have not experienced inner city Baltimore neighborhoods first hand). I have been to dozens and dozens of different community and neighborhood meetings throughout the ‘rough’ parts of West Baltimore in my outreach efforts. From what I saw and heard, neighborhood leaders and active members all knew the officers who walked their street, partnered with them, and spread the safety tips the officers offered, and organized neighborhood safety walks to help keep an eye on things and prevent crime in their neighborhoods. In addition to police presence in the neighborhood meetings, the Western Police District held regular meetings for the community and many engaged people came out to hear from the police and express their concerns.
The people I met and heard from were passionate about protecting not only their own families an children, but helping their whole neighborhood. In the inner city, the people I met were lively, strong, dedicated, loving and passionate. They held each other close (and even new people who were trying to get involved like me) with open arms, open minds, and open hearts. They knew their elected officials personally and contacted them regularly. The interactions between these neighbors, and their elected officials, were that of family and close friends with warm intimacy. Hugs, not handshakes. The way the community worked together was not not formal, or professional, but personal. However, the police I saw in the community did remain professional. Not all police are brutal, but when there are concerns about the people we trust to protect us, these must be taken seriously. In a democracy like ours, no one is above the law.
My work also took me to the neighborhood associations and community meetings in the suburbs of Baltimore County, where I actually grew up and currently work. I was disappointed in the difference I witnessed. The streets and homes look very different in the suburbs, much cleaner and greener and statistics say safer. But the level of involvement, engagement, commitment, and the energy individuals brought was frankly sad. Individuals who bothered to show up and speak out in the area I was focused on, only spoke up in their personal interest- against taxes. I heard no concerns or commitment about schools, public parks, infrastructure, or others in the community. I did hear some businesses concerned about their profit. I choose to live in Southwest Baltimore City. It’s an area that is not like the ones in the city I lived in before, with a concentration of educated young professionals and well-off students, with elegant urban amenities like trees, shops, night life and restaurants. The neighborhood I’m in now is much more of a mixed bag. But it is far more civic-ly engaged, active and alive. Problems are spoken about, addressed, and bring people together. Despite all the organized clean ups and greening, the streets are often full of trash. Despite the concentration of service centers and health centers, many are unemployed and addicted. Homes and lives are in blatant disrepair. What is the difference between the neighborhoods I have lived in? Urban residents have won over my heart, inspired me with their openness to life and others, their strength and focus on solving problems and forming solutions. People are awake, outside, in it together and active in their communities on many many levels.
So why is there such a great divide? We must look back to the history of redlining, systemic oppression, institutional racism, and where public resources and attention has been directed to find the true causes of the blight and suffering people in inner city Baltimore face. As a society we have failed our neighbors. We fear and avoid rather than embrace and assist our fellow human beings Baltimore. I assumed growing up in the county that being able to feel safe outside on my street, to be able to get an education in a safe environment, to have access to grocery stores fully stocked with nutritious food. The city was a shock when I first arrived in my late teens. But having had the benefits of safety and health in my youth gave me the perspective that all people should have a basic right to education, health and security regardless of who their parents are, how much they earn, and where they were born. Every child should have the same access to the resources the government spends our tax dollars on from transportation, to clean water coming out of the pipe, to protected green spaces to recharge and exercise. In the past several years I have spent in Baltimore City the disparities and injustices became all to apparent and heartbreaking. I am glad and grateful to be aware and have first hand experiences with so many people on the ground who have been fighting daily on the ground to improve lives in these blighted, forgotten, abandoned and unsafe neighborhoods and that they have dedicated decades to this fight. I am glad that this much needed conversation is now taking place on a national platform.
People are unifying from across the region to provide meals, to offer support, to clean up after the riots. It is very uplifting and speaks volumes about the true nature of this city. I hope this heightened attention and involvement sustains in order to create lasting change and address the roots of equality. I also ask that those who are ignorant of the situation of others consider spending some time in person not just casting judgments but immersing themselves among those who are making a difference. If I had just walked the streets of Park Heights, Mondawmin Mall, and the many neighborhoods of West Baltimore without attending the neighborhood meetings and connecting with the neighborhood leaders I would have very little hope and a great deal of heartbreak for the conditions in these neighborhoods. But I know, if we were all given a fair chance and equal treatment, we can rise out of the blight.