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A better understanding of Baltimore’s past could lead to a brighter future | READER COMMENTARY

Baltimore’s challenges are well-documented. From sky-high crime rates to a lack of access to quality education, jobs, housing and health care, far too many of our brothers and sisters in Baltimore are in despair and seek any sign that gives them a reason to hope and to dream of a better tomorrow.

Our city is at a crossroads culturally. The accomplishments, struggles and personalities of prior years are fading. A new generation and future generations are emerging without an understanding and appreciation of who participated in the advancement of our culture and the obstacles they had to overcome.

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As a pastor and a native Baltimorean, I’m blessed to stand with one foot in the past and one foot in the future. The history and culture of the largest African American Historical District in America is in my memory, having lived as a child in the 1200 block of Druid Hill Avenue, the planned site for the Justice Thurgood Marshall Amenity Center. To be housed in the former P.S. 103, the center is to make the rich culture of this historical community come alive for future generations (”Thurgood Marshall’s education began at this West Baltimore school. It’s set to get new life as a community center,” Feb. 21, 2020).

Persons will come and learn about the cultural contribution of legal giants Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, Clarence Mitchell Jr., Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Milton B. Allen and so many others who had legal offices in this community. It will be the responsibility of the Judge Alexander Williams Center for Education, Justice and Ethics to make that cultural history come alive and to inspire future generations of the careers and possibilities in the legal field.

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Persons from this community made outstanding contributions in the cultural arena of music and arts. It was a vital leg of the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” Every musical personality or artistic talent of note frequented this community. The Billie Holiday Liberation Arts Project will expand upon that cultural legacy and expose this and future generations to the richness of our cultural heritage in the fields of art and music and the historic interpretation of historic artifacts.

In partnership with BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and the Project TAKE Off program, the Center will teach future generations about the cultural contributions African Americans made to the field of aviation and provide them with practical skills to learn about careers in airport management and aviation.

It will also offer spaces that provide visitors the opportunity to learn of the contributions of Thurgood Marshall, including in a classroom restored to its original design, thereby transporting them back in time. The Center will also commemorate the life and career of the late U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings including displays featuring recordings of his booming voice reminding visitors, “You are better than this!”

Among others to be featured by the Center is Walter Sondheim, who served as the president of the city’s school board in 1954 and moved to desegregate the Baltimore City Public School System, the first school district south of the Mason Dixon line to do so.

By lifting up these heroes of the past, we are giving those with little hope reason to dream and to strive for a better future. We can learn much from the past. What better place to do so than historic P.S. 103, the future home of the Thurgood Marshall Amenity Center.

Alvin C. Hathaway Sr., Baltimore

The writer is president of the Beloved Community Services Corporation and pastor emeritus of Union Baptist Church.

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