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It takes a village to undermine a child

After a week of President Donald Trump leveling criticisms of Baltimore and Rep. Elijah Cummings, the congressman said he would welcome the president to visit.

I’m a native son of Baltimore. My family has lived here for at least five generations, including a great-great-great grandfather who moved to W. Baltimore Street in the 1860s and ran a stockyard in Pigtown. I was born in the city and raised in the Midwest. Most of my extended family has always lived here, so as a child I visited Baltimore frequently. I moved back here after college and have now lived in Baltimore for over 30 years. That's my bias I’ll confess up front: my love and pride of my hometown.

While I live now on St. Paul Street, just north of North Avenue, my best friend lives in West Baltimore, near W. Fayette and S. Monroe. He lives in his grandparents' former home. I spend a lot of time there with my dog and take him for walks. The neighborhood has drugs, vacant homes and little commerce, and most people live below the poverty line.

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Recently I was hanging out there on the stoop with two neighborhood boys I’ll call Malcolm and James. They are about 10 and 7 years old. I was enjoying talk of action heroes, tales of their grandmother's mean cat and answering personal questions children often and so innocently ask. Malcolm shared his dream of getting a job to help his mother.

I offered for them to accompany me on a short walk down the street with my dog. They enthusiastically asked their mother, and she said yes. On our walk, Malcolm and James again talked about whatever came into their heads. They just wanted to talk and get to know more about Mr. Timothy, the old guy they've been seeing for many months. This was not the first time I hung out with people in the neighborhood.

While in their company, I was thinking how much I enjoy the neighborhood. Like all of our city’s wonderful neighborhoods, it has its own character. I imagine many unfamiliar with the neighborhood might be uncomfortable. I’ve been frequently solicited to buy drugs, and stared at, but I've never been disrespected nor felt unsafe. Neighbors always wave and exchange pleasantries. Children are respectful of their elders. People look out for each other. It's a community.

Afterward I thought about the reality for this good community. I thought of long-standing systemic racism here and in many other cities. I thought about underfunded city schools, like many across the U.S.; many without proper climate control and otherwise in need of major repairs and renovations. I thought about access to basic medical care that people just a mile away have while here they do not, also not unique to Baltimore.

I was worried about the lack of opportunity to fulfill their potential and contribute to their community and beyond for these kind, friendly, happy boys. Will Malcolm someday earn a living wage to help his mother? Will James have a family and survive to old age and in good health to enjoy his grandchildren?

If our federal government, Democrats and Republicans alike, stop talking about poverty, inadequate education and limited economic opportunity, and actually do something substantive, maybe there would be liberty and justice for all. Maybe there would be racial and socioeconomic equity. If they actually focus on the people, rather than getting re-elected, their power and influence, maybe we would truly have a representative democracy.

If all of the 1% accept that they have made their fortunes on the backs on the rest of society, and that unabashed greed is ruining this country, more people would be employed at a fair wage.

If Big Pharma didn't gouge those least able to afford lifesaving drugs, people wouldn't have to choose between rent and insulin.

If our health care was not based on capitalism, but on caring for people, life expectancy in impoverished neighborhoods would be higher.

If addiction treatment and skills development were available to all, more people would contribute to our quality of life.

If only the people who denigrate our city actually walked its streets, they would understand.

Know someone before you earn the right to say anything about that person. Know Malcolm and James before you talk about them, their families and communities. These boys’ futures would be far brighter if they were just given a chance.

No one person is the cause of all this. It takes a village. We all know that.

Timothy H. Silcott (loboojosazules5@gmail.com) is a public school teacher, community activist and former nonprofit executive.

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