How much more can we take as a country, and where can we look to find hope? As we watch the events unfold in Baltimore, it is déjà vu. We have been here before, and we have learned nothing from our most recent history of spreading rumors, excusing bad behavior, politicizing tragedy, and doing nothing more than offering rhetoric that further divides us. We need to look beyond the riots and stop listening to the professional protesters. It is time that we have a real conversation, not the ‘breaking headline’ version that serves more as a distraction than a positive force for real change.
The truth is Baltimore is broken, as are so many communities across the country. The ‘for profit agitators’ would have us believe that the death of Freddie Gray was the match that lit the fire. Politicians, pundits, and disconnected elitists swooped into Baltimore and pointed the finger of righteous indignation in front of the cameras, then hopped in their limousines and left. The problem is that we are listening to the wrong people.
The facts are simple but do not tell the story of the people trying to help Baltimore. Approximately a third of the residents most affected by the riots live below the poverty line. 78 percent of the children born in this same area are born into a single parent household, most likely an unwed, single mother. Less than 60 percent of Baltimore’s high school students graduate. The unemployment rate for the area hovers at around 19 percent. While some would look at these numbers and immediately want to blame them on what they call “systemic inequality,” they fail to realize that they are doing nothing more than providing a false excuse that serves to further extinguish the internal flame of hope that once existed in all of us.
We need to stop making excuses and stop tolerating the rioters, looters, and arsonists. We need to stop excusing, or worse, condoning, their behavior as justified. To condone thuggish behavior not only serves to encourage it, but also to marginalize the people in these communities who are trying save their brothers and sisters. We need to hold up people like Pastor Donte Hickman Sr., Major General Linda Singh, and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, and let them lead without the distraction of a national spectacle or political charades.
Pastor Hickman was leading the effort to finish the construction of a $16 million community center and senior housing facility. The faculty was to serve as an educational and job training center for the youth of the area, and provide much needed housing for the seniors living in the neighborhood (which also would have provided jobs). Hickman watched with his parishioners as the community center burned to the ground, thanks to thugs ‘protesting injustice.’ Pastor Hickman’s response to the arson -“We’re going to rebuild. We’re going to come back strong from this.”
We need to look to Major General Linda Singh, of the Maryland National Guard. Raised by her grandparents for the first eight-years of her life, sexually assaulted by a relative, high-school dropout, and homeless at the age of 15, Gen. Singh never gave up. She joined the National Guard at 17, went to school, and is now the National Guard Officer tasked with trying to restore peace to her home, Baltimore. She also serves as a managing director for the consulting company Accenture. She lives by three simple leadership traits: Value Diversity, Always Be Authentic, and Mentor Others. Gen. Singh should be held up as role model for those looking for hope.
Baltimore should also be proud that they have someone such as Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. Raised in Boston by her parents, both of whom were police officers, Attorney Mosby chose public service over a big pay check. Ms. Mosby is a first generation college graduate, and has a distinguished academic record dating back to grammar school. As impressive as her academic record is, her judicial pedigree is stellar. Ms. Mosby could have made millions on Wall Street, but chose instead to serve the citizens of her adopted hometown, Baltimore.
Shut the cameras off and shut the politicians up, and let General Singh, Pastor Hickman, and Attorney Mosby lead the effort to help Baltimore. All three understand that mentorship and positive role models are needed more than ever. Now is not the time for a ‘national conversation,’ now is the time to let those personally connected to the area take charge.
It is time that we stop believing that everything is a national conversation. Issues are not solved by expanding the geographic involvement or by forcing outside influence. We owe it to these communities in crisis to have the breathing room to help themselves. That is not to say there shouldn’t be national and regional initiatives that support communities such as Baltimore. However, as with most problems, an issue is better served when the solution is closer to the problem. Something to think about now, and remember in the future, lest we continue ‘déjà vu all over again.’