I love Baltimore.
That love forces me to tell the truth, and truth is: We need help.
For starters, the citizens of Baltimore, especially those in power, need to ask themselves, “What role am I really playing in making the city a better place?” before breaking their necks to address Donald Trump, or anyone really, over negative comments made about Baltimore City, because we are clearly not winning.
Regardless of how great anyone’s intentions for the city are, we must spend some time looking at the current outcomes.
If you patrolled, ran the foundation or held office for 10, 20, 30 or whatever amount of years, and the murder rate is still record breaking and unemployment is still record breaking and the idea of excelling is still a joke –– then you should retire, quit or move on because you are not good at your job, and you have failed these people.
There’s no reason why me, my nephews, my older cousins and dad should be able to sit around and joke about how poor our schools were/are and how racist these cops who wouldn’t dream of living in Baltimore City were/are — that’s four generations of black people making light of ongoing systemic oppression.
We can write President Trump off as a stupid-racist all day, but we would be liars if we acted like our city also doesn’t have serious problems. I say that as a native, as a property owner, as a person who is still burying friends who were victims of gun violence, as a person whose community work in Baltimore has been documented, as a lifelong resident and a citizen who is sick and tired of seeing poor black people ignored.
I’m sick of crumbling schools that produce viral videos of freezing students up and down my social media timelines. I shouldn’t have to donate books that teachers want to a school system in a major American metropolitan city. I’m sick of my tax dollars paying the salaries of Freddie Gray’s killers. I’m sick of my previously incarcerated friends, who were products of our city’s failure, having to reenter society with little to no opportunities. I’m sick of almost every piece of infrastructure here, in general. At times, it seems impossible for a black person to make it here in Baltimore, a predominantly black city, especially if you are crazy enough to dream of being an artist.
My success story of being a journalist and New York Times bestselling author from east Baltimore is frequently dangled to the local students I visit, but the part about me having to travel to New York and D.C. weekly for work, because no publication or television station in Baltimore would hire me, is left out by the teachers fighting to inspire — and I’m not the only artist dealing with this.
Reginald Thomas II, from northeast Baltimore, wanted to work as a professional photographer in Baltimore more than anything, but he couldn’t find work here. Strangely no one had space for him. He eventually found a job shooting for the Boston Red Sox and is now the lead photographer for the San Antonio Spurs.
Lawrence Burney from east Baltimore wanted to write for a major publication in Baltimore more than anything, but he couldn’t find work here. Strangely no one had space for him. He eventually found a job writing for Vice in New York and is now a senior editor at The Fader.
The inaugural Gordon Parks Foundation fellow, Devin Allen, is from west Baltimore. He spends his free time donating cameras to kids, exposing them to the power of creation and teaching them the skill of photography. We are lucky that Under Armour hired him, because we probably would’ve lost him to New York, but what is the city going to do to keep him?
Kondwani Fidel is an award-winning poet from east Baltimore whose brilliant work has taken him across the world. He’s been celebrated everywhere except Baltimore, where he is unable to find employment. We will probably lose him to New York.
These are just random Baltimore guys who loved Baltimore before it was cool to love Baltimore that I pulled from my industry –– but what about the rest of the city? How many talented people are we losing?
I swear it’s like we can easily solve the problems, but won’t fix them.
And then this despicable, worthless Trump commentary has enough social power to spark a fake revolution where fake people almost sprain their fake fingers in a rush to type fake hashtags, with their little Inner Harbor selfies to proclaim their love for Baltimore –– a city with problems that a hashtag with a Harbor pic will not fix.
Jumping on CNN and MSNBC to let the people on cable news know that you are from Baltimore will not fix the problems, but work will. Not goofy tweets acknowledging that work needs to be done, we know that –– but quantifiable goals, receipts, not just talk.
Baltimore has the rawness, resilience and innovative survival skills needed to be the greatest city in America, but it can’t and it won’t if we continue like this.
D. Watkins is editor-at-large for Salon, a lecturer at the University of Baltimore and author of “We Speak for Ourselves: A Word from Forgotten Black America.” Twitter: @dWatkinsWorld.
Editor’s note: This is the first in an occasional series of essays about “Our Baltimore” from prominent Baltimoreans.