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A community development corporation is planning a 84 unit apartment building in the Park Heights neighborhoodwich is the type of project that the new Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund could support. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun video)

During the time of the unrest nearly four years ago following the death of Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured while in police custody, the worst of who we are versus the best of who we can be was exposed for the entire world to see. Baltimore had repeatedly been shaken until the pressure was so severe that the top exploded off — culminating in a smoldering city under National Guard occupation.

The aftermath has left many of us frustrated and longing for a better Baltimore for our children and community. We are now, as we were then, confronted with the choice of fighting for a better future for our city or complete capitulation. We must take a hard look in the mirror and ask, “what can I do personally to make this city better?”

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You have heard the naysayers. They’ll tell you that malaise has set in over Baltimore, thick, like the smoke that poured from one CVS during rioting. They describe the city's problems as spiraling and insurmountable. They’ll proudly inform you of their plans to move to the suburbs as if embattled refugees. Indeed, the further one heads north, the harder it is to hear the shouts of the disenfranchised or the rattle of their unrest. In urban planning vernacular this is called flight, and the word is as loaded with negativity and isolationism as you think. It is disinvestment versus investment. This disinvestment will create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The Center Club, which is slightly older than its average member, is seeking younger members by changing its offerings, decor and even dress code to appeal to millennials.

Many of us refuse to accept this wholesale abandonment and take it as a challenge to double down on our respective investments of time, treasure and talent. This is our obligation as citizens, and we must not back away now or anytime in the future.

For our city to thrive, optimism must be present. Thankfully, optimism is contagious. Conversely, hopelessness can spread like a cancer. People move out instead of in — leaving shells of homes decaying like ruins of what once was versus what could have been. Each boarded-up row home a gravestone for lost dreams. As Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings recently said, “We are better than this!”

What this city needs are optimists who understand what could be, optimists who look at this city the way a musician contemplates a blank sheet of staff paper: a whole page of possibilities.

At one point in time, every building in this city had an underlying commonality of optimism, with a developer’s vision of “what could be” serving as the catalyst for creation. Each new building became a living embodiment of hope.

In Baltimore, decades after public spaces were de-segregated under state law, many African American restaurant owners have incorporated social justice initiatives and community service programs into their business models as a way of both honoring the past and celebrating their culture.

At this time in the precarious continuum of our city, I’m reminded of a Buddhist adage, “No mud, no lotus.” Paradoxically, this magnificent flower can only grow out of mud and represents happiness blooming from suffering. In order to transcend our suffering and understand its causation, we must deeply embrace it with compassion.

Thankfully, compassionate discussions about problems that are eroding the corpus of our city are now taking place. But, while encouraging, words alone aren’t going to divert such a deep river. Instead, it is time for each of us to use our respective gifts and professions to make a difference.

The Bozzuto Group will do our part. Our more than 2,500 employees have a driving ethos of goodness, optimism and creation. We refuse to allow negativity to dissuade us from believing in a better Baltimore. Instead, we continue to build projects that are distinguished by design and beauty, that will stand stoically against time as if shouting “I was here! I mattered!”

In its flawed HQ2 decision, Amazon considered every factor but this - whether it was really wanted by local residents.

We hope to be exemplars of the virtue a group of people who are diverse in race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and background can create when they work together. We seek to understand one another, and we recognize the inherent beauty and richness of diversity. As such, we will add to our community, not take away from it.

So today, I ask you to be a paradigm of what is right, and what is good.

I ask you to set a standard that others will measure themselves by — after all, to lead means to go first.

Marylanders have taken steps to ensure the state corrects funding inequities across school districts. My question: Why not take the same approach to public safety?

I ask you to define the success of your organization in terms that transcend profit. Instead, turn your success into significance for your employees, your community and for Baltimore. Let your good work create an impact that will be measured in lifetimes rather than quarters.

I ask you to recognize that in a world that is suffering from a paucity of leadership, the time is now for leaders to step up and take action. This is our responsibility.

This city has latent beauty that desperately needs to be moved toward the light before it fades.

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It feels to me like the lotus is ready to bloom.

Toby Bozzuto is president and CEO of the Bozzuto Group; he can be reached at tobybozzuto@bozzuto.com.

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