Revisiting the heyday of department stores and five-and-dimes

Choosing food, fellowship over Trump's division

E. R. Shipp: In one Baltimore enclave, people are voting with their feet and their food.

As the presidential campaign winds down, an increasingly desperate Donald Trump is casting doubt on the legitimacy of the entire democratic process. Should he lose to Hillary Clinton in a few weeks, he says, the blame will lie with a corrupt political system and an equally corrupt media industry that are conspiring to derail his movement.

As with many matters, Mr. Trump is wrong. If he loses, it will be because of people like those I met in Reservoir Hill on Sunday who reject the racist, misogynistic and xenophobic strand of patriotism that dominates his campaign. And they do so, not with marching and protesting, but with greens and kugel.

There's "so much more to Baltimore than just unrest and political turmoil and crime and drugs. We have all these people pretty much coming together, and look how different we look out here," said Tiffany Welch as she gazed at neighbors and friends gathered for the Whitelock Harvest Festival in Reservoir Hill. "We have black, white, Jewish, Muslim — all these groups that live right here in this neighborhood and are coming together because of healthy food."

Well, food, yes — greens associated with Southern black cuisine and kugel associated with traditional Jewish cuisine — but also the hard work of creating a climate and a space where there is no such thing as "other."

"There's a lot of co-mingling of cultures and food, and that's by design," observed Rabbi Daniel Burg of the nearby Beth Am Synagogue. "The best response to all the hate and all the 'othering' is to just build relationships, to try to understand each other's narratives and perspectives. That's really what we're committed to in this neighborhood."

This city enclave is no Shangri-La by any means, but it represents on an everyday basis the brother's-keeper spirit seen after fires and traffic accidents and hurricanes or during feel-good events like Fleet Week held here last week to welcome sailors and their ships. People suddenly reconnect with an inner goodness that is often suppressed in our efforts to just get through the day with a minimum of assaults from bad news and bad acts.

Wearing a "Justice and Love" T-shirt, Tara Perez, a recently transplanted New Yorker who is proudly Puerto Rican, pronounced a plate piled with greens and kugel to be "excellent" — and the community to be so, too.

"I've had more people help me here than in New York ever, just for no reason — there is no agenda, just to be kind," she said, adding: "I think it's probably because a lot of people go through stuff, and adversity builds character."

More than six years ago, hundreds of volunteers began the process of turning abandonment into abundance when they created an urban farm on what had been garbage strewn vacant lots that were themselves testament to failed urban development plans. Through their version of people power, they reclaimed the land, beat back the food desert and forged lasting relationships.

Around the country, people make headlines for striking out to achieve what those on the left might call "the beloved community" and those on the right might call "the shining city on a hill. A high school football team in Seattle is in the news because it joined the swelling ranks of athletes taking a stand against inequality and police brutality. In San Diego, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police made news when he apologized for a "dark side of our shared history" — police complicity in racial oppression through the years.

"While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future," said Terrence Cunningham, the law-enforcement leader. "We must move forward together to build a shared understanding. We must forge a path that allows us to move beyond our history and identify common solutions to better protect our communities."

Away from headlines, though, is where sustainability is found. At the harvest festival, Rabbi Burg sampled Dominic Nell's "kale yeah!" dish and they easily slipped into conversation about our country being a quilt comprised of different patches stitched together.

Rabbi Burg: "And it's so easy for someone who wants to unravel that quilt to just pull on a thread, right?"

Nell: "Yeah, just push those buttons or pull on certain threads."

In this Baltimore enclave, people are voting with their feet and their food. The dark forces don't have a chance.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email:

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