Over the last few weeks, the Ravens represented Baltimore’s hopes for who we want to be as a city. The team is scrappy and determined. They took their losses and injuries and turned them into challenges that propelled them forward. Entering the playoffs, John Harbaugh spoke with pride about the team’s solidarity and ability to become stronger in the face of adversity, turning to one another for reinforcement. Even in the face of defeat, players remained focused and unified.
As a city, we could learn a lot from this team. We are Baltimore: gritty, perseverant, resilient, tough and never to be counted out.
Sunday’s loss was a huge hit to our communal ego. We feel deflated and mourn what could have been. But if we reflect on this past season, the Ravens have given us much more than great football. The Ravens have truly begun to spread their wings as neighbors.
Among other contributions, they give money for improvements to Baltimore City schools, promote adolescent wellness and fund a Bookmobile. And while we are thankful for these gifts that bolster our community, we have begun to expect these types of gestures from NFL players and franchises. We expect them to give back to the community that supports them week after week, year after year, in good times and bad.
What we don’t expect is for a football franchise to recognize the underlying social risk factors that paralyze our city and so many others. We don’t expect them to realize that our residents are feeling isolated, that, in fact, social isolation is a challenge that is overtaking our country. We don’t expect the Ravens to care that, according to the 2018 U.S. Loneliness Index, 54 percent of Americans report feeling lonely some or all of the time and 43 percent feel their relationships are not meaningful.
But they do. They see the problem, and they’re looking for unique ways to bring people together to change the social fabric of Baltimore.
In December, the Ravens joined with local non-profit Thread, as well as businesses and universities like mine and those of my co-authors from across the city, to host 20-plus watch parties. More than 500 people from different ZIP codes, who spanned the spectrum of age, race and class, came together to root on our team and find common ground while talking about issues that face Baltimore each and every day.
At each watch party, people cheered for the Ravens but also talked about the uncomfortable realities that can make Baltimore a challenging place to live — 309 murders in 2018, a 6.5 percent unemployment rate, more than 16,000 abandoned homes and health disparities that leave some of our neighbors with a life expectancy that is 20 years shorter than others living a few miles away.
During these watch parties, fans realized something we need to remember to propel Baltimore forward: We are not all so different. We might not look alike or have the same daily experiences, but we are all passionate about the place we call home, even if we view it through different lenses and from different angles. We all recognize that equality of opportunity, long denied, is essential so that all Baltimoreans can benefit from the region’s many assets.
Clearly we can unite around more than football, but we need deeper connections to make that a reality. And these connections must transcend our differences, perceived and real. Living in silos will not elevate our city. We must broaden our networks and our willingness to learn from one another in order to grow stronger.
We challenge you to broaden your definition of neighbor and get to know people outside of your proverbial bubble. If you need help doing so, look to organizations like Thread that excel in relationship building. We are in must-win mode for ourselves and our city.
There’s a lot of work for us all to do in the off-season. All of us. All in.