xml:space="preserve">

As we mark the anniversary of our worst of times, I have heard many people say with varying degrees of disgust, disappointment or despair that nothing has really changed since Freddie Gray died and peaceful protest turned to violence last April.

For sure, no one has invented a magic wand to make real the One Baltimore for which so many of us aspire. But while awaiting answers from on high that have eluded this city for decades, maybe we should focus on what is happening all around the city, and especially among people who live or work in Sandtown and environs or who have been drawn there through social justice activism.

Advertisement

I am talking about all those who have, sometimes without knowing it, embraced in a variety of artistic expressions this African proverb: "Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter."

We saw it coming a year ago, even as fires smoldered, the Orioles played baseball in an empty stadium and the National Guard patrolled the streets. Young people took to the streets with poetry slams and dance. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra performed a concert outside the Meyerhoff. The cast of "Marley" from Center Stage Theater went to Penn and North to offer a free concert because, as Kwame Kwei-Armah, the theater's artistic director, said back then, "it cannot be denied that Bob Marley's message of redemption, love and revolution resonates very deeply right now, and the cast wants to share his songs with the community."

So even as advocates try to convince lawmakers to adopt criminal justice reforms, scholars conduct their research, candidates scramble for votes and philanthropists mull over where to bestow their largesse, the creative side of Baltimore is altering the narrative of a crippled city, providing opportunities for more people to become aware and decide how they wish to respond.

"Sometimes we don't look for answers as much as we look for echo," Christopher Ervin, a criminal justice reform advocate and candidate for City Council observed a few nights ago. He was among people with no particular titles, several mayoral candidates and the police commissioner at the premiere of a film at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, which has declared 2016, "The Year of the Black Male." They were looking for answers.

The film, "Free Young Blood," is the work of two passionate Baltimoreans, Bobby Marvin Holmes and Justin Gladden. It is their attempt to tell "the lion's story" about the impact of the mass incarceration and the ongoing work to rebuild families and neighborhoods decimated by a lock-em-up mentality in an increasingly discredited war on drugs.

"This is the lion's story," Mr. Holmes told me, "the other side that you don't see on TV or read about in the paper."

Through the insight of scholars and the wisdom of several generations of people who have grown up in Baltimore, they tell the story of racism, the scourge of drugs, zero-intolerance policing, redemption and rebuilding.

"We know far too often folks get it wrong when they put these images of us out there. We want to get the story right that black males are pushing forward and going strong in the community," Mr. Holmes said during a discussion following the film screening.

Just as mass incarceration and policing policies are subjects of robust conversation and debate since Freddie Gray's death, so, too, are the lingering effects of Baltimore's rigid policy of enforcing segregation in its neighborhoods from the earliest days of the 20th century through at least the 1970s. Redlining — the practice of penning blacks in particular into limited sections of the city through the denial of services like mortgage loans — is the impetus for a series of public discussions underway as part of Johns Hopkins University's 21st Century Cities Initiative. The original works of muralists and public school students set the tone for each week's discussion.

At Coppin and Morgan State universities, a symposium and films, including "Free Young Blood," are marking the anniversary of what in some circles is called the Baltimore Uprising. The Reginald F. Lewis Museum has an exhibit curated by young people and has invited more of them to come out Saturday for a day of storytelling; "All Baltimore Voices: Stories About & Beyond the Unrest."

"The arts help frame conversation," says Natasha Pratt-Harris, an associate professor and criminal justice coordinator at Morgan.

So, listen up, Baltimore — and join in.

E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: er.shipp@aol.com.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement