Why Baltimore Matters

“One of the great tragedies of life is that men seldom bridge the gulf between practice and profession, between doing and saying. A persistent schizophrenia leaves so many of us tragically divided against ourselves. On the one hand, we proudly profess certain sublime and noble principles, but on the other hand, we sadly practice the very antithesis of these principles. How often are our lives characterized by a high blood pressure of creeds and an anemia of deeds! We talk eloquently about our commitment to the principles of Christianity, and yet our lives are saturated with the practices of paganism. We proclaim our devotion to democracy, but we sadly practice the very opposite of the democratic creed. We talk passionately about peace, and at the same time we assiduously prepare for war. We make our fervent pleas for the high road of justice, and then we tread unflinchingly the low road of injustice. This strange dichotomy, this agonizing gulf between the ought and the is, represents the tragic theme of man’s earthly pilgrimage.”– Martin Luther King Jr., The Strength to Love

I try very hard to not get political and that’s why I am going to try to stay as neutral as possible in this post, but I am frustrated. Please understand that these are my opinions and are based solely on observations in the past few days of the Baltimore riots situation, and nothing else.

I want to begin by saying that my heart goes out to the family and friends of Freddie Gray, because regardless of your feelings on the situation or circumstances, loss is hard. I feel for those directly affected by his loss, and I pray that there is a complete and thorough investigation into the cause of his death and that they find ways to prevent any future incidents like this. I pray that his family finds strength during this difficult time.

That being said, I am disappointed in the way this event has spiraled out of control. I agree, that there is a problem with the system and that these young people feel that their voices are not being heard and that they are being neglected. This is a very real problem that should NEVER be ignored, BUT violence is not the answer. There is a huge difference in protesting and making your feelings known and ensuring you are represented appropriately, and wreaking havoc in your community by looting businesses and destroying the very well-being of those you claim to represent.

I believe there is an underlying issue here, and that this was the stone that broke the levee and it is unfortunate that what started as a peaceful procession became something so violent. There is no excuse for burning vehicles with people inside them. There is no excuse for burning down buildings. There is no excuse for destroying businesses that support a local economy and culture. And yet, we keep making them.

One line that stuck out to me, and I’m paraphrasing here, but someone said something like, “these kids are lashing out because they don’t plan to live long or to have much of a future.” This bothered me so much, because if that’s true, then what are we doing to ensure that they feel differently? How are are as a society working to improve their outlook? What kind of programs are we not providing that can make them more filled with hope, dreams and inspiration?

I will not for one moment even attempt to say that I understand how the people of Baltimore feel, but I know that I come from a family of immigrants that worked in factories and mills for nearly nothing for generations. They dreamed that they could be more and they encouraged their children to do more and be more. Four generations later, we’re only rich in love, and we still believe that we can do more and be more. I know, that some are not as fortunate as I am. I spent 21 years living side-by-side with hundreds of foster siblings because my parents believed in instilling that same hope that we have to those children. I grew up listening to the horror stories these children (most of them in the single digits) had experienced. As a family, we saw success and failure, but we never gave up.

If what that person said is true about the youth in that community, then we are failing. We are failing at investing in the future by failing to see the potential in the next generation. I am sure there are many resources in the community, but are we engaging them in an effective way? Is there accessible transportation to resources such as after school or mentor programs? As a young person, who has lived in big cities and rural communities, I have to say that it’s strange to see the striking similarities and even repetition in trends of disengagement of generations with one another. And I am sick of Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, whites and blacks, rich and poor fighting against each other instead of with each other. This problem isn’t specific to a political party– it’s a problem that crosses lines of race, socioeconomic status, and communities. We can’t continue living in a constant state of separateness. The only way out of this is by coming together.

It is our responsibility, as a new generation to bridge this gap by investing in our youth. We need to educate them on ways they can let their voice be heard in their communities– city council meetings are not just for stuffy old men. If you think your city council isn’t listening or properly representing your needs, then get involved and vote for someone who will. I can’t even begin to express my frustration when people say that voting doesn’t matter since their vote won’t count any way. Tell that to Rick Santorum who beat Mitt Romney in the 2008 Iowa caucus by 34 votes, and then lost the Iowa caucus in 2012 by 8 votes to Mitt Romney. Or what about Samuel J. Tilden who lost the presidential election in 1876 to Rutherford B. Hayes by only 1 electoral point? The only vote that doesn’t count is the one you don’t place.

I would like to applaud the heroes of the Baltimore riots– the kid handing out water to police officers; the Mom who called her son out on his actions and held him accountable; the volunteers who encouraged rioters to go home for the curfew; the people who worked together to clean up the damage and messes made; the churches that opened their doors as a safe haven for those in their community; to the National Guard who handled the curfew in a calm and respectful way. To these heroes and more, I say, thank you. Thank you for giving hope to your community and for setting an example of what is possible in the aftermath of the riots.

To everyone else, I say, regardless of your views, open your eyes. Educate yourself and let’s all work together to ensure our young people are heard so that they don’t feel the need to express themselves with violence. Let’s open our ears and our hearts and work to ensure that they see a brighter future for themselves, because that’s the only way to move forward.

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