Living in Two Baltimores
I have always known that I live in two Baltimore Cities. Yesterday, I spent the morning surrounded by friends in their warm homes, visiting, talking about social and political issues, sharing laughs and coffee. In the afternoon while patronizing a closing Target store, in West Baltimore, I had another smack in the face of reality regarding the other Baltimore City, the one that makes national news. The one where surrounding counties are afraid to let their children visit on school sanctioned field trips. The one where kids are in schools without heat. The one with the high murder rate. I ended my evening at a party with like minded civic friends in a warm home in the comfortable Baltimore City where we talked about our first world problems, our kids, hopes and the reality of the other Baltimore City.
My family and friends live in generally safe Baltimore City neighborhoods and send our children to an outstanding Baltimore City public school. Our school has engaged parents, devoted teachers and an administration supporting the needs of teachers and families. Not too far from our part of the City, we live relatively close to some of Baltimore City’s most dangerous neighborhoods. We are geographically near where Freddie Gray lived and died. We aren’t far from where a Baltimore City Police officer was murdered and there is still no suspect several weeks later. These are the two Baltimore Cities that I know.
School District Closed, a Free Day and the Universe
Our entire school district has been home from school because one third of Baltimore City Public schools do not have heat. My children, in a school with heat, did not have educational instruction on Friday, because the whole system shut down for the third of schools without heat.
The Mayor announced that they were hopeful that all schools would have heat restored over the weekend and hopefully school will open on Monday. The statement was carefully worded. This is a decades old problem, with the goal of being fixed within 48 hours. Mind you, this problem hit the fan after it was announced on Twitter that all schools were checked for heat prior to the snow… then came the viral influx of photos showing classroom thermostats at 40 degrees and kids wearing hats and coats inside many Baltimore City Public Schools. In response to public pressure, schools with and without heat system wide were shut down. And, this also meant that many children receiving free food were without food until emergency plans were executed. There were problems with locations and quality. Schools are serving the needs beyond academic instruction.
On their day off from school, my children had the luxury of ice skating in the City, going to lunch in the City, and visiting the National Aquarium in the City. I was at work, in the the City, whereas my employer understands that I am a working mom and my kids need to check in with me from time to time when they are not in school.
The Universe Corrects Itself
With last minute planning, three of my four kids slept at their friends’ houses after their excursions. The next morning, I volunteered to pick kids up from various sleepovers and take their friends back home, too. I complained to the other moms via text: “Karma got me, I will bring home 5 kids from sleepovers, that should be a great car ride.” One mom replied to my snarky mom attitude, “You don’t have our sympathy, we took 3 of your kids last night and ‘the Universe corrects itself.’” Remember, the Universe corrects itself.
Throughout the post sleepover morning pickups, I lingered at each stop and we had meaningful conversations. We talked about volunteer initiatives for both adults and kids. We talked with older siblings attending Baltimore City Public schools and why they don’t use the City’s unreliable public transportation. We talked about kid pranks. We covered a lot. Though at the third house visit, while acknowledging that I was wearing my daughter’s warm fleece pants, it was stated, by my daughter, that the warm fleece pants were actually pajama pants. All of the families we visited were still in their pjs, that’s how you know you have good friends.
Knowing I am Privileged. Toilet Paper is Toilet Paper.
I finished with the sleepover carpools and dropped off my daughter for a free arts program at the inspiring Baltimore School for the Arts, a gem within the Baltimore City Public School system. Then, I went to a closing Target in West Baltimore at Mondawmin Mall. This was the site as seen on the national media when Baltimore was looted and rioted in 2015 in response to Freddie Gray’s death while in police custody. In my small part to show support for this part of the City, I began shopping here. I felt that if there were more sales, there would be more jobs.
In this part of town with high crime and without many community resources, I patron the Target and Marshalls stores. I am often criticized by people I know, outside of the City, for being in this part of Baltimore. They are right, this is a high crime area. And, I am right, this is an area with kind people needing an influx of support. I know I am privileged. I am white. I have an engaged family. I am a college graduate. My husband and I are employed professionals. So what if I look different than the majority of the clientele? Toilet paper is toilet paper. The customers are generally pleasant, and the employees are always helpful and I sense that they have a high level of pride in their work. Frankly, this is not the consistent employee vibe that I have felt at other Target locations. Nonetheless, this Target, corporately known as Baltimore West, is closing in a few weeks. The pharmacy already closed.
Expired Dairy Representing Other Social Issues
I went to Target, with hopes of a closing sale (there were none) and I needed sour cream. I rarely check expiration dates, but I noticed many expired products on the shelves from December 2017. Of course there are health concerns, but my outraged feelings weren’t about expired dairy, per se. The expired yogurts represent a plethora of issues: this area is under served, a corporation built here under the auspices of tax incentives and they are leaving. This area has struggling public schools, people need better access to healthcare, there is a trust issue between the police and the citizens, public transportation is unreliable and violent crime is high. Target responded to my tweet calling them out about their closing and having expired dairy with: blah, blah, blah … “after careful consideration of the long term financial performance …. is seeing several years of decreasing profitability.” So, I believe that the lesson learned is that Baltimore City needs to have a prenup with corporations receiving tax incentives. For example, if the corporation stays for x amount of years, they keep x amount of the incentive. However, for any reason that the corporation needs to leave, we get a prorated amount of the incentive back so that we can invest in other corporations or community programming.
I spoke to a young employee who began removing the expired dairy that I was photographing. I asked him if Target was helping him to relocate to a different Target for other opportunities. He shook his head in the negative and said, “I live 2-3 blocks from here, so I’m not sure how I could get to a different Target to work.” I shared this story on a Facebook thread and many people, suggested that he takes a bus, on the surface, of course that makes sense. But, the bus may not be affordable and is unreliable to another Target. This young man didn’t suggest that he was finished with working, period. There are other places in the area where he can try and secure a job. We do not know the realities of this young man. I like working in the community where I live, it’s convenient, I understand that. I wished this employee the best for him and his family, he appeared thankful for our impromptu chat. And, I walked out the food aisles telling everyone to check the expiration dates that there is a lot of expired food on the shelves. One customer was helping me photograph the inventory.
Driving Around Inspires Me to be Part of the Solution
After picking up my daughter from her vocal class, we intended to drive two minutes to my favorite Italian market. This family owned market reminds me of the Sal’s Pizza Shop in Spike Lee’s movie “Do the Right Thing.” This market, owned by an Italian Family has been in business for more than 100 years and is located in an impoverished black community. The community left this business alone during the recent riots, or the uprising. I was so distracted by my beautiful morning with friends in my Baltimore versus my errand time in the other Baltimore. But, I got a fire in my belly and I got really lost on the two minute drive.
With my daughter, we drove through some of the most dangerous areas of West Baltimore filled with boarded up properties and subsidized housing. It was five degrees so many people weren’t out. I didn’t feel sad for this community, rather I felt empowered. I felt renewed to be a voice, be part of the action and be part of the solutions. I know people, we can are the seeds in the community to continue to bridge the Baltimore Cities that I know.
In less than a year, my children have joined me as we marched in Washington, Annapolis and protested at City Hall in Baltimore. Our voices were heard on federal, state and local issues. Clearly, we haven’t scratched the surface and have to keep up the good fight.
Good Intentions, Failure to see the Issues
Later in the day, I received an email from a prestigious sports organization even though my son no longer plays for them. They outreached to their sports community seeking donations of gently worn warm hats and coats for the students of Baltimore City Public Schools. The message went on to say that “FORTUNATELY a lot of schools are closing but that won’t be the case everyday with cold temps continuing over the next few weeks.” I hit reply, thanked them for their lovely hat drive and asked them to use their resources to contact our local and state leaders so that my children with heat in their school, along with the children in buildings without heat, can’t get an education if schools close, and thanks for the scarves. There was no follow up and with good intentions, privilege gone awry.
Do Your Part and A Little More
My night ended at a friend’s house party in the City. This family has a son who was my oldest son’s first friend when my children transferred out of their private school into their current Baltimore City public school. I was surrounded by my children’s classmates’ parents, now my friends for several years. I told many about my day in two Baltimore Cities. These are the people attending PTA meetings, Board of Education hearings, candidate forums and Little League games. This part of Baltimore City is very aware that we need to do our part and more.
First You Need A Lemon, Then the Universe Corrects Itself
I read another Facebook exchange between two of my friends. One suggested that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. I live by that mantra. Yet, a different friend replied, “first you need a lemon.”
I am a native of Baltimore. I love Baltimore City. I live here, I work here, our kids go to Baltimore City Public Schools. I continue growing with friends I have met through the Brody Bunch’s village and people we meet along the way trying to make things right for our City. If problems in the City don’t improve, they will sprawl into the counties because that is how crime works. But out of humanity, pick an issue, help and DEMAND action. I want to find the lemons, share the lemons, and smile when “the universe corrects itself.”