A bright light was extinguished when Morgan State University student Manuel Luis was murdered outside of his residential complex near the campus. I did not know this young man but, by all indication, he would have made a fine alumnus of my Alma Mater. His death brought back painful memories of the murder in 1980 of one of my friends and fellow Morgan student Glenn Harrod. Glenn was murdered as he worked in a McDonald’s on York Road not far from our campus. He was a kind soul who was simply working to meet his college expenses. A bullet from a coward took his life, too.
Baltimore, I don’t get it. I love Charm City. It is my second hometown. During childhood my summers in the 1960s always included a stop in Baltimore to see my aunts and uncles. My memories include visits to Gwynn Oak Amusement Park and Mondawmin Mall, my uncle taking me to see the Bullets (was that an omen?) at the Civic Center and the Orioles at Memorial Stadium, and running the hills in Druid Hill Park. I remember the “Trash Ball” television commercials aimed at encouraging people to keep the city clean. I loved the smell of spices in the air around the old McCormick’s factory near the harbor. When it came time to consider college, there was no doubt where I would go. My aunt was a Morgan State alumna and my sister was a senior when I enrolled as a freshman.
There was something magical about Baltimore that captured my imagination. I loved the people and how welcoming they were to this kid from New Jersey. I loved the pride residents took in the city and marveled over the ladies cleaning the marble stoops. There was something “real” and “earthy” about the city that I did not find in New York City, just a quick car ride outside of my hometown in Jersey. I felt like I belonged in Baltimore and it accepted me, with my weird Jersey accent and all. I was fortunate to meet Baltimoreans who influenced me for life. People like Baptist minister and civil rights leader Rev. Vernon Dobson; Congressman Parren Mitchell; legendary preacher Rev. Harold Carter; civil rights leader Sen. Verda Welcome; Juanita Jackson Mitchell, the first black woman to practice law in Maryland; and attorney Billy Murphy, for whom I interned as a senior at Morgan and worked on his mayoral campaign. My first byline was as a student in the Baltimore Afro American. The city offered me a college education and a lifetime experience, and I feel indebted to a place that showed love for me.
What is now happening to “my” city is tragic and a crisis of humanity. I know the violence we see today and that portrayed in television shows like “The Wire” do not represent the “real” Baltimore. I also know that the city’s current predicament is the consequence of some intentional neglect and some really poor decisions. Almost four decades ago it was more of a priority to build Harborplace and the aquarium than to support public education. You have become a city with an impressive skyline that overshadows what always made it special — its people. Now, the waterside shopping attraction is in receivership, as are the dreams of the city’s children. Whenever more attention is paid to “keeping up appearances” than addressing the human condition, the results are tragic.
What will it take to save Baltimore? Let me offer my humble opinion. First, make educating the city’s children a priority and a civic call to duty. Support children in all facets of their daily lives and create opportunities for them to lead safe and healthy lives. Next, make sure families have decent and safe housing in neighborhoods that also have services and facilities to provide health and wellness supports and workforce counseling. Third, make college affordable for Baltimore students, initially at the community college level and then at four-year institutions like my alma mater. Finally, declare children and youth to be a priority. This means recalibrating every city agency, including the Baltimore Police Department, to see its role as cultivating stable and healthy lifestyles and choices for youth. Children must be the city’s priority.
I am confident that Baltimore can come back. The Baltimore I know is tough and resilient. It is home to people who love what “B’more” represents. Now, it’s time for my second hometown to be more. Don’t do it for this Jersey guy. Do it for Glenn Harrod and Manuel Luis. They were both going to make your city proud. Let’s not lose any more of our children.
Walter Fields (email@example.com) has been a longtime journalist, political consultant and social justice activist in New Jersey.