Last evening we took a walk with the dogs to Patterson Park, and stumbled upon a re-scheduled concert that had been rained out earlier in the summer. A five-piece swing band backed up a singer who crooned naughty lyrics from the 1940’s like “You call everyone darling” and “You can have my husband but you better stay away from my man,” while couples twirled and toddlers bounced to the beat. The crowd was large and diverse and interested in making connections—dance partners changed with every song, children asked if our dogs liked sticks and then brought some to offer them, neighbors we know stopped by to say “Hello,” and strangers introduced themselves. It felt impromptu and intentional at the same time.
I’ve lived in a number of cities and small towns, but I’ve never known a place like Baltimore. A free concert in a public setting here feels more like a gift than it does in other places, like a package offered at a surprise party that it would be rude not to open and engage with on the spot. We had dinner to cook and some phone calls to attend to as we encountered yesterday’s music, but given all the ways that our city is wounded and struggling, we knew we had to stop and sway and say “Thank you.”
That morning my wife and I had run into a young mom who we know a little bit, who worried aloud about something going on with her son. Sarah offered a similar way that we had stumbled as young parents, and the woman immediately smiled and relaxed. “I hadn’t wanted to come home to Baltimore after a couple of weeks away,” the woman admitted, “but I think it’s going to be O.K.” It’s not always easy to live here, we admitted, but it is consistently meaningful. We need each other.
Zeke Cohen, the City Council representative for my district, wrote an op-ed in July about Baltimore becoming a trauma-responsive city. He said, “There is a cruelly predictable rhythm to Baltimore’s violence. After a shooting, local media show up on the scene for a few hours. Elected officials and police promise to redouble efforts and catch the bad guys. The school system sends in a couple of counselors. Eventually, public attention wanes a gunfire erupts somewhere else (and) communities are left to grieve alone.” Middle class families and neighborhoods have the resources to process the trauma, while poor people are often left to muscle through, and the impact of violence can have devastating effects, especially for children. Left unaddressed, traumatic events can “lead to increased risk of addiction, incarceration, and other risky behaviors,” Cohen writes. To respond, Cohen has written legislation that, if passed, would equip city agencies to rewrite policies with an eye toward reducing harm, fund the health department to train frontline staff, and convene a diverse community workgroup to promote healing.
What can you do to help our neighbors and our families and ourselves to be well? Build relationships. Listen. Offer our stories. Tell the truth. Discover resources. Share what we have. Foster resilience. Make amends. Respect our differences. Love each other. Stop and hear the music. Ask someone to dance.
There is a role for each of us to play in Baltimore’s well-being, as individuals and as a community of faith.