By Archbishop William E. Lori
Their curiosity and concern served as a reminder that the rest of the nation retains the image of Baltimore that they saw during national news coverage of last spring’s unrest following the death of Freddie Gray. And the recently begun trials of those charged in his death have put the city back in the national spotlight along with those sad and disturbing images of rioting and smoldering cars and buildings.
Thanks to shows such as “The Wire” and “Homicide,” Baltimore’s national image was shaped long before now. But those were fictional depictions of our city. What happened last spring was reality TV in the truest sense of the phrase; what some people were watching on television, others were experiencing in real life.
And while those who don’t call Baltimore home may believe the city’s plight has forever been reduced to the conditions emblazoned on CNN and Fox News, we know better.
In no way do I wish to minimize the depth of suffering and the hopelessness and despair that characterizes many of our city’s neighborhoods. These conditions are the result of decades of systemic problems such as a lack of access to quality housing, educational options and healthcare, as well as the ever-lingering sin of racism. And while I believe every resource should be exhausted to right these wrongs, I contend that if we allow ourselves to wallow in despair, if we are content to be the subject of national ridicule and even pity, and if we fail to recognize the efforts currently being made by individuals and institutions to make our city better, then we allow Baltimore to become that Baltimore, that city that fell down but which the nation didn’t see pick itself back up.
The rest of America isn’t seeing the construction cranes that dot the city’s landscape. The networks aren’t reporting about the life-changing education being provided at several outstanding schools in Baltimore, including our own Catholic schools, which serve children from some of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. America isn’t seeing the new auto mechanic training and job placement program operated by Catholic Charities in the heart of West Baltimore. And few people outside Baltimore, if any, knew Kendal Fenwick, the 24-year-old father of three who was gunned down in the street near his Park Heights home. Police believe Mr. Fenwick was targeted because he was building a fence around his property to protect his family from drug-related violence. His was the 295th of 344 murders that occurred in Baltimore last year, per capita the deadliest in its history.
The violence that envelops many communities of our city must be stopped and every resource should be exhausted doing so. And it would be understandable for those of us who live and work in Baltimore to fall victim to the same view of our city as that which is held by others watching in disbelief from a distance. But doing so would be akin to throwing in the towel and would send the message that people such as Kendal Fenwick died in vain fighting to make Baltimore better.
Instead, we must come together – residents, community and business leaders, politicians and faith leaders – to ensure their deaths were not in vain and to continue the work they began. Perhaps then the rest of the nation will come to know the real Baltimore, the city we know it can be. The nation saw a city fall to its knees last spring. Now, they need to see it back on its feet. That’s the Baltimore I’ve come to know.
Read more “Charity in Truth” columns from Archbishop Lori here.