Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: A letter to Carroll County students about Baltimore

Dear students of Carroll County public schools, and particularly members of the Francis Scott Key High School Marching Band:

I write to you from Baltimore to say it’s a shame you won’t be coming to the city any time soon on field trips, and I feel particularly bad for the band. The Key band was scheduled to perform in the Mayor’s Christmas Parade in Hampden on Sunday, and I can’t imagine the boys and girls in those smart plumed hats and handsome uniforms are pleased with the decision to stay home.


It’s your loss, and ours.

The Christmas parade is a big deal, one of the bright events in the whole Baltimore year, a chance for marching bands to show their colors. At parades, you meet and see other marching bands from all over. You get outside the world you’ve grown up in and see someplace new and different.


But your parents think it’s not safe for you to travel here because of the recent crime in the city. Don’t knock them for feeling that way. They see TV news reports just about every day about the bad things that happen here, and they probably heard the mayor declare that “crime is out of control” and took that as an admission that nothing can be done about it.

That’s not what the mayor intended — she meant it as an urgent call to get all branches of the city government fully focused on reducing crime — but I can see how your parents might have taken it as a warning to stay away. Some of your parents, with no interest in anything Baltimore besides the Orioles or Ravens, might have preferred that you stay away even before the mayor made her statement.

Baltimore has a lot to offer, a lot of potential, and there are all kinds of cool things happening here. But for a long time, the city has been trying to break through a ceiling of heavy-duty problems: poverty, drug addiction, population loss, struggling schools.

Trust me, kids, no one in Baltimore is at peace about the state of things here. In fact, some of us are thoroughly depressed about it. This has been a terrible year, and 2016 and 2015 were memorably bad, too. The city has been through a rough time since the spring of 2015, after the arsons and looting in West Baltimore. A bunch of school trips from the counties to the city were canceled at that time. A month after the troubles, an under-12 soccer team from Carroll County refused to play a game against Charles Village kids in Druid Hill Park. And I thought that was a shame, too.

Tell you why.

Back in September 2001, before most of you were born, the country experienced terrorist attacks. One of the things Americans insisted on — in angry defiance and determined resilience — was not shriveling up with fear. Ask your parents how many times they heard some version of this expression: “If we give in to fear, the terrorists win.”

That meant we should live our lives and enjoy our freedoms, not retreat to some comfortable hiding place.

I mean, you can do that, if you want. You can live your whole life in a house, a car and an office. You can make a home in what’s left of areas far from the pleasures and troubles of a racially and ethnically diverse city. Some of you might chose to do that when the time comes to pick a place to live. Your parents did.


But a lot of young adults are choosing city life because it’s cool, because it’s convenient, because it’s where interesting things happen and great opportunities open up. They don’t want to be isolated in places without sidewalks; they don’t want to be stuck inside an automobile for 500 hours a year, commuting long distances to work.

Of course, living the city life comes with risks. You have to think or worry about stuff here you don’t have to think or worry about in Carroll County. There are more people in Baltimore, and more things can go wrong, and they frequently do.

So, as in many things in life, there are trade-offs, and we all have to make choices.

Think about it: Given that horrific mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas in October, we could all skip Vegas, or never go to an open-air concert anywhere. Given what happened in that church in Texas last month, we could all choose to stay home and watch Sunday services on television. After that massacre in the elementary school in Connecticut in 2012, your parents could have chosen to home-school all of you.

But we don’t surrender to fear. In Baltimore, we don’t surrender to criminals. We keep trying to become a better city.

And that means a better city for everyone — not just the people who live here now, but everyone in the region, including you and your parents.