By Acasia O.
Baltimore has a place in my heart and a chapter in my book. Random fact: I started my loc journey at a natural hair salon in Baltimore, MD six years ago. During that time, I was one of roughly 15 participants in a summer research internship (RISE) for underrepresented minorities and had secured a great opportunity to conduct research through Johns Hopkins University’s pediatric AIDS clinic.
That summer was sweet like penny candy, soft serve ice cream and Domino Sugar. My love and I were in our second consecutive summer health research internship together and enjoying Charm City, making frequent trips to Dominion Ice Cream, taking walks around the campus hand-in-hand while fireflies flashed us a thumbs up and crickets chirped their shrill tunes. We stayed on the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus, shuttled the bumpy streets to the medical campus in East Baltimore daily, where for 10 weeks, we worked a 9-5 that offered mentorship, and required seminar attendance and delivering a final presentation on our 10 weeks of data collection and research conclusions. Those were the days of crashing ultimate frisbee games, waiting for the shuttle in a long line in sweltering heat and learning the news of Michael Jackson’s death. Those were the days of watching Robin Thicke at Artscape in his former glory, and running downstairs every evening to catch a dorm-cooked meal by my love.
Those were also the days when I was reminded that walking home in broad daylight didn’t exempt you from assault, burglary or battery. Those were the days when, one morning on my way to work, I learned that a gang shot up the memorial service of a rival gang member and a shooting was reported right near Johns Hopkins University Hospital. For those who know or have spent any significant time in Baltimore you know it has its thorns, to put it lightly. I would often marvel at the pockets of ‘safety,’ surrounded by a sea of poverty and waves of insecurity. While my now husband earned his Masters in Public Health at Hopkins, nary a day went by during the school year when I wasn’t worried about him. But beyond the constant news reports and alerts of shootings and beyond the boarded up row houses and broken glass windows and flashing blue lights at the lamp posts on the corner down Charles Street. Beyond the massively huge and saturated graveyards, the constant cry of the ambulance and the littered pot hole marked streets is a city with a noteworthy story to share and hear.
The residual energy and grit of Baltimore’s industrial heyday lingers over it like dust particles that
dance and sway in a beam of light. The one-eyed mascot of the Natty Boh brewery watches over Charm city, donning his signature handlebar mustache. It’s the home of the Ravens, Orioles, sister city to Bremerhaven, Germany (Chris’ birthplace!) and stomping grounds of Cab Calloway, Edgar Allen Poe, Babe Ruth, Jada Pinkett Smith and Nancy Pelosi to name a few. I felt and still feel a certain way about Baltimore. It was home for 10 weeks one summer and my biweekly weekend get away when visiting my love during grad school. It’s the place where I lost my favorite earring in the harbor near Fells Point, and the spot where I witnessed my husband run his first marathon. It’s the city that I would visit almost every year in high school when my folks took their youth group to visit the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. It’s the city where I trekked to to complete my Masters’ Thesis and the city where I fell in love with Old Bay and scotch bonnet hot sauce on my boiled oysters, Hot Mustard’s Korean Bip Bim Bap and an ice cold beer at The Brewer’s Art.
It’s also the city where, like Jesus did at the news of Lazarus’ death, I wept while driving past the Baltimore City Detention Center, a tomb in its own right, holding broken men and women beguiled by the lure of fast cash and easy money and those falsely accused and slandered by “a system whereby they lynch men.” It’s the city where mayors move in and out of office like 18-wheelers at the truck station, only a matter of time before they fall asleep at the wheel or break down to the pressure of the power pipe as either a victim themselves or a perpetrator complicit in the schemes and crimes against humanity that plague cities largely inhabited by people of color. It’s a city where the level of poverty in some neighborhoods makes you wonder if you’re driving through a 3rd-world nation despite being in a major U.S. city.
The murder of Freddie Gray while in police custody adds yet another stain on Baltimore’s already tarnished tapestry. And while the city, for the last few years, has been striving to make progress in revamping its image and reversing its reputation of heroin abuse, teen pregnancy and violence, my hope is that the latest attention on the city will result in people asking the question “Why?” Why is Baltimore in the state that it’s been in for decades? And why would people loot, riot, vandalize or whatever you choose to call it all in the name of justice? And why don’t more people see the pain of a people who are so broken, so ignored and so undervalued that they manage to destroy their own property and streets while crying out? It might not make sense, but neither does redlining, education disparities and breaking your own neck, spine and voice box.
When a person is suicidal, while some would ask “why?” and do what they can to prevent a suicidal attempt, I would hope that folks wouldn’t mock or try to attack that person for trying to take their own life. When someone is the victim of abuse, neglect or financial assault, we don’t lambaste them, taunt them or shame them. But folks have and they do and that’s the problem. Baltimore is, in my observation, in need of radical transformation. I often wondered what it would take for the city to bounce back and clean up its act. I have often wondered why it was left behind and ignored. And with everything that’s been going on over the last week, I wonder what it will take to restore the city. How long before the systems and environments have to be radically changed before we see the healthy transformation?
When a city’s gangs unite in solidarity to protest injustice, you begin to wonder if you’re in the twilight zone. But, if you’re like me, you also begin to wonder if there will ever be a day when these gangs can take their influence to positively transform their neighborhoods. And further, you wonder if there will ever be a day when politicians and law enforcement officers stop feeding off the power pump and start striking at the root of the problems instead of pruning the symptoms. But ultimately, when will people start to understand that the Baltimores and the Fergusons and the Oaklands of the country are manifesting symptoms of a larger problem that, if not properly addressed, will continue to fester and eventually explode?