by Terri Lee Freeman, Museum President
I, like many of you, have been fixated to the news reports of the unrest in Baltimore. However, for me, it is personal.
Having left the Maryland area just six months ago where we worshipped in west Baltimore, around the corner from the mall that was ransacked, I was watching my hometown be torn apart. And like many of you, I was horrified at the lawless actions of a few that did such incredible damage to the Charm City, but I wasn't surprised.
Like many cities, Baltimore has invested billions in its downtown area, luring hundreds of thousands of tourists to the Inner Harbor every year. Neighborhoods that once were industrial areas are now upscale, gentrified communities with a mix of residential and commercial developments that serve their residents with the expected community amenities. But not more than a half mile away from these new, trendy neighborhoods are residential communities that have experienced no measure of public or private investment; where rows, upon rows of homes are boarded up. Communities that have served as home to generations of impoverished Baltimoreans, many of whom are children. Communities that have a liquor store on one corner and a check-cashing store on the other, but no grocery store for miles. Communities where sub-standard education is the norm. Communities where the police are viewed as the enemy and spark fear and concern in the hearts of residents. They are communities of broken windows, dreams and hopes. So when I saw the CNN coverage of Monday's activities I realized that the youngsters doing so much damage to their own communities, didn't feel they had much to lose. They demonstrated to the entire world the rage they've felt for so long. Don't get me wrong, their actions were not at all justified, but a society without hopes and dreams is one without a future.
The picture of Baltimore -- 63% African American, 24% poverty rate -- is not much different than many urban cities across our country including Memphis. We can't expect people who have been disenfranchised for so long to continue to simply exist. They realize that not only are their civil rights, those privileges afforded based on citizenship, being violated, but their basic human rights are also being denied. Is it reasonable to ask people to "do better" when they are denied access to equal education and employment opportunities? Denied fresh, wholesome food, quality healthcare and adequate transportation options? More importantly, is it unreasonable for them to voice their concerns through protests and acts of civil disobedience?
Until our cities and communities provide authentic opportunities for ALL residents to voice their concerns, and until those concerns are acted upon, we should not be shocked by increasing protests and civil disturbances, and regrettably, acts of violence. It is imperative that we prevent the simmer from becoming a rapid boil by addressing the issues plaguing our communities and by taking personal responsibility for our actions. Public servants need to govern for all the people. Communities must take responsibility for their young people and show them how to manifest their rage in a manner that encourages empathy as opposed to disgust. And public safety agencies and their professional staffs must protect and serve communities equitably. This is the three-legged stool that will help us move beyond these turbulent times into an era of limitless opportunities.