When I literally wrote a book about my childhood neighborhood, “Cherry Hill: Raising Successful Black Children in Jim Crow Baltimore,” I didn’t realize I was writing a treatise on the character development of a political candidate.
Bob Wallace, the independent candidate for Baltimore mayor, is one of the successful Black children who grew up in Cherry Hill. The word successful, as used in this title, has nothing to do with career status or material wealth. It has to do with confidence in one’s self and the ability to visualize a better life.
Those of us who came up in early Cherry Hill had that instilled in us. Whether we got jobs at the phone company, the hospitals, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Post Office, the Department of Social Services or the school system, we were anointed to use our success to make a better life for ourselves and our fellow Baltimoreans. This is the environment that forged Mr. Wallace, the personification of our success.
We were fortunate enough to come along right after World War II when all American children, Black or white, were indoctrinated with the competition of the Cold War, love of country and belief in the American dream. We faithfully pledged allegiance to the flag and knew that we lived in the best country in the world. We were taught more patriotic songs than millennials can possibly imagine. The words of “This is My Country” and “Oh Columbia the Gem of the Ocean” echo through my head periodically along with all the John Philip Sousa marches that we heard on May Day.
The first field trip we took in school was to Fort McHenry where we learned of the importance of Baltimore to the defense of this young country and how Francis Scott Key wrote our Star Spangled Banner. We learned that Baltimore is the Monumental City and that history was told through these monuments — whether good or bad.
Cherry Hill overlooks the Port of Baltimore, so we could see ships coming and going and understood how the port contributed to our then bustling economy. We’d sit in front of our black and white TV sets every Sunday evening and watch Helen Bentley’s “The Port that Built a City,” a weekly program about maritime issues. The commodities that came in through the port ended up in our great department stores downtown at the corner of Howard and Saratoga Streets. We remember doing the “Barnes dance” — the name given to the crisscrossing of those street corners named for Henry Barnes, Baltimore’s traffic engineer. Yes, Baltimore was a very segregated city, but it enriched us so!
Neither of Mr. Wallace’s opponents has this perspective of Baltimore and its glorious history. This does not make them bad people. It just puts them at a disadvantage because they haven’t experienced the richness of Baltimore’s ethnicity and neighborhoods when they were fully functional. They don’t remember Baltimore before guns, drugs and violence. Mr. Wallace does, and that’s where he wants to take us — back to the future. Being an engineer makes him a natural problem solver. He sees things in the state they are now, and envisions how he can use the experience, knowledge and relationships he has developed over the course of his life to make them better.
I know this sounds very grandiose to those of you who are either too young or too new to Baltimore to understand, but Mr. Wallace can invigorate our economic engine which will drive the improvement in Baltimore’s quality of life. It’s the decay of the city that perpetuates the culture of violence. When you live in a decent neighborhood — like we did in Cherry Hill — everybody pulls together for the good of the community. Remember the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper clean block contests in the summer? All the neighborhoods across Baltimore took pride in sprucing up for that competition. There was a great rivalry between east and west. Now it seems as if many of Baltimore’s neighborhoods are in a race to the bottom.
We grew up in a community with family values, where teachers were rock stars, health care was available at your fingertips, and every family had a church. Today’s government programs cannot compete with the resources available to us. The Bible says, “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” Mr. Wallace is ready to answer the call.
Linda G. Morris (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a volunteer with the Bob Wallace for Mayor campaign who wrote a book about the Cherry Hill neighborhood in Baltimore.