Erricka Bridgeford, one of the organizers of Baltimore Ceasefire, is the Sun's Marylander of The Year. (Llloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun video)
Suppose you are a young person trying to turn your life around. But the only thing you hear from the people in your life is that you're just no good; you're just one big complicated problem that no one and nothing can fix. Whom does such a narrative serve? Is it likely to encourage or discourage constructive change?
In some ways, that's what we're facing here in Baltimore. No one thinks we should try to cover over the real problems we are facing. There's no blinking at the fact that murders are at an all-time high, that drugs are rampant, that guns are everywhere, that many schools are failing and many neighborhoods have deteriorated. Many young people are growing up in households that are not healthy or stable, without guidance and role models. Our problems are deep and systemic and have deep roots in racism. Everyone I know would like to change this situation.
In fact, an awful lot of people are working very hard to do just that. Recently The Sun ran a feature on Mayor Catherine Pugh. Few people anywhere are working harder than she is to address the problems of our city. The same is true of many members of her team, such as her health and police commissioners. I believe that the City Council wants what is best for this community and that the judiciary is administering the law with an eye toward ameliorating our social problems.
Mayor Pugh announcesa partnership with Roca, a nationally-recognized, Massachussetts-based group focused on reducing violence by helping very high-risk young adults. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)
However, dedicated efforts to change our city for the better are not confined to government. Throughout the city, goodness is on the rise as many non-profits, religious and community organizations seek to address effectively the immense social problems that confront us. They are providing services that change people's lives, such as health care, low-cost housing, job training, violence interruption, legal services, health care, including behavioral health, education for the young, youth groups and after-school programs, counseling, religious services and much more. These services are being provided by diverse organizations and caregivers and by many dedicated volunteers throughout the city of Baltimore. Mention has to be made of the various community organizing groups in the city and those who advocate for an end to racism and violence directed at minorities. Shouldn't we be trying to harness and harvest the fruits of these labors? Shouldn't we be trying to network these services and deliver them in a coordinated way? And shouldn't the media, including The Sun, devote more attention to these efforts so that people who need them are aware that they exist and so that people have some context in which to put the negative news coverage?
And let's not forget the heroism that takes place every day in our most challenged neighborhoods. If you know anything at all about these poverty-stricken and violence-ridden neighborhoods, you know that many good people live there, people who are heroic in protecting their families and helping out neighbors in need. In my five and a half years in Baltimore, I have also had the privilege of meeting many people who managed to turn their lives around thanks to the services offered them by Catholic Charities or other organizations in the city. We need to tell their stories.
Who is being served when we fail to lift up these stories of hope? A relentlessly negative narrative breeds hopelessness. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's tantamount to telling a community that it's no good, that its problems are insoluble, and that it's destined only to get even worse.
By contrast, a narrative that is clear-eyed in recognizing our problems, but one that also recognizes all that is being done throughout the city, offers hope. It creates momentum and lends encouragement to all those who are working to make our city a better place. It also helps create a badly needed sense of unity — across racial, ethnic, organizational and economic lines — in addressing the problems that beset us and in creating a better day for our city and its citizens.