(WARNING: This blog is for the serious blog readers…it’s long! sorry :( But hopefully worth it…)
This whole summer I’ve been in the middle of it all. And I’ve been lovin’ it.
That’s one of the reasons I took this internship–I wanted to be in the community. Yes, I live in Baltimore, but I have never really been IN Baltimore, doing meaningful work in places that look like something you’d see on The Wire.
(SIDENOTE/RANT And because I know you’re thinking this, and because I may get this question…I’ll say that the show is accurate in its depictions of its pieces of Baltimore–but guess what y’all–it’s not all of Baltimore! The show does a good job of DOING WHAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO DO–show the problems of Baltimore in their truest, rawest forms. I would be a LIAR if I didn’t say that urban blight was real and a serious issue. But dang flabbit if you all think that ALL of Baltimore is like that! IT’S NOT! And I hope you’ve seen many of the positive things Baltimore does have to offer through the other students’ blogs to back up my assertion. And those blogs don’t even cover all of it, to put our city in perspective. /ENDRANT :) )
So yea, that’s not the point of this blog. The point is to show how I can see this place as beautiful even though I see these “wire like” things every day. Yes, even with it’s problems, Baltimore is a beautiful place, and it is VERY possible to enjoy it and all that it has to offer in the middle of it all. Just give Baltimore a chance to be Baltimore. Don’t close yourselves off. Talk to people in the community. They don’t bite :) Do service and get to know the problems and why they exist, rather than just know that they DO exist. Learn about the wonderful non profits working to change people’s lives step by step. As Hopkins students, we can easily do two different things: stay stuck in our bubble and do nothing really meaningful in Baltimore (ME FOR 2.5 YEARS–FAIL) or reallllly get involved (WHAT YOU SHOULD DO!) Why complain and not try to be a part (no matter how ‘small’ but a part nonetheless) of the solution?
So I work in Sandtown-Winchester, a neighborhood in West Baltimore. More specifically, I work on Pennsylvania Avenue, which used to be a THRIVING place. Musicians like Cab Calloway, Diana Ross, and Billie Holliday stopped on Pennsylvania Avenue to perform in the Royal Theater…it was one of THE places to perform if you wanted to be somebody. Pennsylvania Avenue had theaters, clubs, dance halls, Black owned shops, and comfortable black businesses and homes.
So yea life happened…shops closed, MLK was assassinated, race riots happened, jobs disappeared, people moved away, and Sandtown declined.
If you were to take a walk along there today, you wouldn’t see the historic Pennsylvania Avenue…take a look:
What’s here now? Chinese food stores (I went to one for lunch the other day though, it was good and cheap!) , liquor stores, nail salons (went to one of those too last week…nice and cheap and good!! you find some gems in the hood :) ), little mom n pop stores, clothes/shoes shops, old store fronts, rowhomes, beauty supply stores…no major stores or retailers.
People wandering the streets at all hours of the day and night. I had the wonderful experience of getting lost last night (with a GPS too…I’m great) and getting twisted up on some streets I really didn’t want to be on, and I’m sure the people I saw wandering them didn’t want to be there either but unlike me, they really didn’t have a choice.
But here is the beauty in the middle of it all I was talking about. THE PEOPLE. THE COMMUNITY. THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE UP THE COMMUNITY.
Whatchu talkin’ bout, Dominique?
Aight. So my work again. I pulled up on the first day and saw this sign:
And I was like “Whaaa? WHERE am I?” And ya… we’ve seen this activity around my job. And some other weird things. One day I came outside and some teenager was banging on my car and I had to deal with that situation (he was just sitting there tho, bored and using his hand, not a tool or anything so that was good); some guy beating up his girlfriend across the street; a small mob up the street from my job that stabbed a boy (that was at night though).
Maybe in a former life I’d be fazed by it, but I’m not now. And that’s because I am surrounded by people who love this community despite its shortcomings and are willing to live in it and love on it until it changes. THAT’S BEAUTY. (Don’t get me wrong, I HATE that this stuff happens and I’m NOTTTTTT excusing the behavior because it’s terrible, but what I’m saying is that I am touched that there are people who have hearts big enough to be filled with compassion to want to stay and help these issues rather than turn around, GIVE UP, and run away. Ya feel me?)
People can look from the outside in and turn their noses up at Baltimore all they want but what are they doing to help? I care about the opinions of the people who are putting themselves in the middle of it all each and everyday to make a difference in their beloved communities. You put the help where it is needed…so if that means people have to move into these communities to help them, then so be it. That’s why I love my internship–everyone working here lives in Sandtown. People don’t try to come from the outside in to “fix” Sandtown, then go home to other places…they move here and LIVE here and have lived here and are working to transform it HONESTLY from the inside out.
Baltimore is a friendly place too. Yea, people can be abrasive, but they will say hello and good morning even if you don’t know them. That’s beauty, right? You have to be willing to put yourself out there and say “hello” to see the friendliness. How many people actually do that? Now, I’m not saying be dangerous and put yourself out there to creepers…so don’t tell your parents that I said that!!! But I mean just when you’re in a store or in a place doing work, saying a simple howdy or good morning or hello…you know what I mean. And you’ll see that this is quite the friendly place.
The biggest thing I’ve seen in Sandtown is the urban ministry though. I won’t go into the details, but urban ministry has been what’s really been giving Sandtown that sense of community. If you’ve ever traveled around Baltimore city, in the really blighted areas, you will notice that there are churches on every corner. Literally. Here, there’s a philosophy of Relocation (moving and living among the people), Reconciliation (the heart of the church), and Redistribution (giving resources equally). If you’re interested in learning more about Sandtown, here is a really good article, a nice quick read, about it: http://www.sndtwn.org/urbanite1104.pdf
That being said, I’ve already been planning to come back to Martha’s Place (name of my internship) to support its events; to attend the ladies’ graduation ceremonies; to just check up on them; to help out when needed…I’ve formed a relationship and I can’t just stop it now. I mentioned before that my first 2.5 years here, I didn’t do any kind of steady service. (I just started this spring semester) But being here this summer has shown me that it’s a two-way street. I help and I get helped. Service is one of the really good ways to get to know this place and it’s not a cookie cutter thing–there are several types of problems that requires several types of solutions.
So yea, that’s why Baltimore is beautiful to me. I’d never heard of anything like this before working at my internship this summer–this sense of character, pride, and love–in the middle of it all. And it’s there for everyone able and willing to see it! :)