Since my family and I made the decision to leave New York and come back home to Baltimore, I have been fascinated by the reaction of so many of my friends and family who still call Charm City home. For them, the response can be summed up in one word: "Why?" Many, not sure why I would leave New York to come back to Baltimore, have asked me if everything was all right. The wonder doesn't stop at my immediate circle; even the underwriters for my mortgage asked me to write a letter of explanation.
The Big Apple has its charms, I will not deny that — but it is not home. And more importantly, New York is a wonderful city, but it's no Baltimore.
I have closely followed the recent spate of articles and documentaries decrying Baltimore as a dying city. I have heard the arguments that fault Baltimore's high tax burden in comparison to its neighbors, the frustrating high-crime zones that far too many of our residents have been forced to tolerate for far too long. Members of our political leadership who seemingly toggle between unresponsiveness and incapability where it comes to addressing the severity of the situation or embracing the potential that lies within. The tragedy that many of our kids are being educationally shortchanged because of their ZIP Codes and the reality that too many who do manage to walk across a graduation stage are not prepared for careers or college-level work.
I empathize with those arguments and in some cases stand in complete agreement. But let me offer a contrarian view. The challenges that Baltimore (along with many other major American cities) faces don't blind me to the extraordinary municipality we live in and the extraordinary Baltimoreans we are surrounded by. I remain inspired by the hundreds of thousands of us who focus not only on what is wrong with us and on what we hope to be, but also celebrate who we already are.
The Baltimore I moved back to has a tremendous amount to be proud of.
In addition to having an already well-established arts and cultural background, we, according to Rolling Stone magazine, have America's best live music scene. We have one of the most exciting technology ecosystems in the country, second only to Seattle in the number of high-tech jobs available, and a start-up market that is fueled by some of the top institutions of higher education in the world. The local school system has grown from five to 58 choice K-12 schools since 2000, and "school readiness" indicators increased from 27 percent in 2000 to 73 percent in 2011. And while we have had a 4.6 percent population decline over the last decade, the middle-class population in Baltimore City appears to be growing significantly in some neighborhoods.
We still have moments to seize and ambitions to fulfill. We must embrace the belief that the educational system in our city is going to be as strong as our ability to attract and retain the most talented educators around, and we must continue to strengthen the neighborhoods that our students call home. We understand that reducing truancy and increasing success ratios will be the key to both our ability to boost school performance and simultaneously foster safer neighborhoods. We have to look to new and creative ways to increase our tax base while lowering our tax rate. We must support job placement and training programs while being the friendliest environment in the region for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
By doing all this, we will support the ambitions of present-day Baltimoreans while enticing those who do not live here (yet) to make Charm City part of their future. We have a real story to tell, and it is imperative we start telling it.
Marianne Williamson once said, "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us." I am not naive or Pollyannaish about our challenges. Many of the obstacles we face are deep seated, multi-tiered, and generational. There is no doubt that we have work to do, but let's rejoice in the work and the understanding that we live in a city worth fighting for.
Wes Moore, a youth advocate and social entrepreneur, is a trustee of the Baltimore Community Foundation. His first book, "The Other Wes Moore," is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.