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Michelle Deal-Zimmerman: Our hopes for Baltimore in the new year | COMMENTARY

It’s that time of year when everything feels bright, shiny and new.

Except it doesn’t. Not here in Baltimore.

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Our foe, COVID-19, is in the throes of a hellish comeback; a funeral was just held for one of Baltimore’s finest; another city official was indicted on a charge of lying and betraying our civic trust; and there have been nearly as many murders as days so far in January.

It’s hard to hang onto hope that 2022 will be better.

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The late Desmond Tutu said “hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” With that in mind, I asked local advocates who took part in a yearlong fellowship for justice with the Baltimore-based Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies, about their wishes for Baltimore in the year ahead and how they plan to remain hopeful. Here’s what they said. (The responses have been edited for clarity and length.)

Amy Greensfelder, executive director of the Pro Bono Counseling Project

What gives me hope in the face of the challenges facing our great city is the hopefulness that I see all around me. Every day that I drop my child off, she skips into the city public school where she attends kindergarten. Throughout Baltimore there are little patches of green space that neighbors have adopted and tend: community gardens, kids’ play areas, urban forests. Caring for the land is inherently an act of hope — we tend it for the benefit of our communities and those who will come after us. This city is full of movements like Ceasefire, PTO groups, civic organizations, and groups of neighbors who are hopeful for a better tomorrow. We organize together, work with our elected officials and raise a fuss to improve our communities. We wouldn’t be involved with these efforts if we didn’t hope for a better tomorrow for our neighbors and our children. Hope is all around us, and in every action we take to living the aspiration of Baltimore as Greatest City in America.

The Pro Bono Counseling Project helps Marylanders with limited resources who seek mental health care find volunteer licensed mental health professionals.

Psalms Rojas, chief administrative officer at Marian House

Hope is often defined as having an expectation that something good can happen in the future. I’d be lying if I said that having hope is easy, because it’s not, at least not always. Yet, I’m learning that to hope is not to pretend that the frustrations, challenges and disappointments don’t exist, but it is to acknowledge them and have hope despite, and in the midst, of them — that we can say: Yes, we grieve the lives lost to violence AND hold hope for a violence-free city through public health programs like Safe Streets Baltimore and Baltimore CeaseFire. We are frustrated by the numbers of unhoused citizens of Baltimore AND hold hope because of programs like Helping Up Mission, Project PLASE, Marian House, and many others who provide shelter for those without. We are disappointed that we are seemingly back to where we started with COVID cases surging in our city and beyond AND hold hope that one day this will be behind us and there will be relief especially for health care workers and others in the front lines. Our city and its people are resilient. But maybe it’s too overwhelming to try to imagine a brighter future when everything around us seems hopeless — so just focus on today. Find a source of hope — be it a friend, a family member, in faith or in a faith community, or your favorite meal — find your “well” and draw from it. Wherever you find yourself today, there is hope for you.

Marian House is a transitional and permanent supportive housing program for homeless women and their children in Baltimore.

Leon F. Pinkett III, former Baltimore City Council Member (District 7) and executive director of the Baltimore Arts Realty Corp.

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I can recall several years ago while campaigning along an alley street in Penn North when an 11-year-old boy told me in no uncertain terms, “Mr. Pinkett, you’ve got to help clean our communities and give the youth places to play. But most importantly, you’ve got to help bring back hope. Because people have lost their hope.” In the midst of a challenging situation, an 11-year-old could see that if Baltimore was ever going to become what it needed to be for him and his family, someone better find some hope and do so in a hurry. Just recently, as I sat with my own son discussing his dreams and aspirations in a city that has robbed them from so many males his age, I could hear through my West Baltimore window the call and response of what appeared to be at least 50 other hopeful men. These men weren’t there physically with me when I met the 11-year-old, but the sound of their call was proof that they were there spiritually. Their voices pierced the night with the sound of hope as they cried out in unison to at least 50 other sons, “We’re all we got! ... We’re all we need!” In that moment, I was reminded through the unity of those men that the peculiar power of hope is that it achieves its greatest expression when times are at their darkest. Hope in the light is not hope. Hope when everything is going right is not hope. Hope when all our needs are met is not hope. Hope is not required for what we can see and what we can touch, and for what is revealed. Hope is the currency of the night, and its exchange rate is the highest when times are their darkest. Our hope has its greatest value in Baltimore right now.

Baltimore Arts Realty Corp. (BARCO) helps create working spaces for local artists and performers.

Lorette Farris, CEO of iBOSS Inc.

As a recent transplant, I am grateful to have landed in Baltimore and found a community of like-minded people who think big and believe great things are possible. I love the energy and enthusiasm, though I am not all sunshine and rainbows. I see the challenges of disinvestment, education, housing and racial disparity, but I have learned that magic can happen if we create the right conditions. While the pandemic has challenged us and infiltrated all we do, it has also encouraged us to become more creative in coping with daily circumstances and to make new choices. Most encouraging are those choices created through the Great Resignation, namely, the boom in new business startups. For example, in 2021, the number of new business applications in Maryland was up 42% from the same period in 2019. So, where’s the magic in Baltimore? It’s in the more than 57 new retail businesses that have opened or announced in Southwest Baltimore. It’s in the Baltimore Small Business Support Fund, which provides technical assistance and capital for small businesses anchored in predominantly Black communities. And it’s in a public-private partnership that helped avert catastrophe for more than 2,000 businesses after stay-at-home orders and social distancing changed how people spend money. We have learned to be more resourceful, creative, and independent.

Farris’ iBOSS Inc. helps startups and early-stage companies raise investment capital.

Jessica Klaitman, community activist

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Baltimore is like a full heart. We are rich with artists, makers, entrepreneurs, black-owned and women-owned businesses. We face inequitable conditions and violence on an extreme scale. We hold all of this in our hearts. Baltimore inspires devotion and hope despite — or maybe because of — its challenges. And how could we not have hope when in the hardest hit corners of our city, there are people pouring love into their communities? In Judaism, every action of helping is an act of hope. In Sandtown-Winchester, one of the most impoverished neighborhoods, Let’s Thrive Baltimore is creating healing memorial gardens and empowering youth to strengthen their own community. Baltimore Ceasefire organizes weekends to prevent murder and honor people lost. This type of work happens throughout the city daily, with people giving of themselves to support and heal their neighbors. In Baltimore, heart is everywhere, so hope is everywhere.

Jessica Klaitman is a community activist and board member of Let’s Thrive Baltimore, a nonprofit serving families impacted by gun violence.

KeSean Johnson, filmmaker and U.S. military veteran

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do!” This has been my overarching thought to describe the character of Baltimore. Years past have seen some of the worst times in the history of the city and it is with a renewed spirit that I offer my expectations of 2022. First, I enjoy seeing “squeegee kids,” and I hope that Mayor Brandon Scott’s plan to thread them into the fabric of the city is successful. These are kids who could resort to crime and violence in a city where the two are not hard to find, but they chose an entrepreneurial path. The decision by these youngsters to work for an honest dollar should be applauded; having an interaction with them cements the authenticity of a visit to the city. My second hope for this year is to see that those persons experiencing homelessness and food insecurity be directed to programs that will be of assistance and lighten their burden. My last request would be for the city to recognize the identity of all people. I am not originally from Baltimore, but I definitely feel as if the city has accepted me with open arms. I look forward to watching the city continue to become more neighborly as we move toward a shared future.

Michelle Geiss, co-founder and executive director of Impact Hub Baltimore

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We live in complex times. The layered crises of the pandemic, systemic racism and threats to our democracy often leave us feeling disoriented and overwhelmed. How do we keep our spirits buoyed in the face of widespread systems failures, prolonged injustices, and immense collective grief? When I explore this question, the resounding answer is perspective. I stay afloat by tapping into the small joys in life and taking solace in nature. Feeling the sun shine on my skin or watching a bird soar through the sky helps to soothe my nerves and root into the universal truth that the only constant is change. The world changes around us every day. Breathing, finding space to process, connecting with people — these are the tools I rely on most to find solid ground. My friends and colleagues have their own methods. They look to the long arc of history and the struggles of our ancestors to remember the true resilience of humanity. They tap into the exuberance of young people wrapped up in the wonders of life. And they practice being present with the immense privilege of being alive on this earth. However we access our hopeful place, it’s all about perspective. This too shall pass. To keep going, look up, look down, look around, and look inside. You will find beauty and goodness there.

Impact Hub Baltimore is a coworking space, innovation lab and civic forum working to improve the city through inspired programming.

Michelle Deal-Zimmerman is senior content editor for features and an advisory member of The Sun’s Editorial Board. Her column runs every fourth Wednesday. She can be reached at nzimmerman@baltsun.com.


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