With the nation’s eyes on Baltimore (and Baltimore’s eyes on Sandtown), what has struck me, as someone who has lived here for five years, is the speed with which people from the outside are willing to impose their own preconceived notions on my neighbors and our neighborhood. There have been arguments about the rhetoric of “outsiders” from the start, but whether it was protest leaders accused of hogging the camera or violent protesters accused of causing trouble, those of us here recognize that the cameras will follow the loudest voices. Though more accurate narratives took a few days to emerge (and rightfully so), we’ve been blessed to have fair, thoughtful stories and interviews featuring people young and old from my neighborhood who have been working for change. What has been harder is seeing local forces disrupt our daily life and national media discussing what’s the events of our neighborhood with only the faintest idea of what people who live here think.
I don’t watch TV news of any sort, so I’m sure there were worse examples there I missed. However, my eye was caught by David Brooks’ recent column discussing the need for a change in culture and social values in inner-city communities without any hint of the fact that people here in Sandtown have been doing that work for decades. One of my church elders started a program specifically to focus on mentoring black men to be better fathers, primarily those returning home from prison. It’s an uphill struggle, certainly, but this reflects what black leaders have been saying in their own communities for years: we have to take responsibility, encourage stable families, and (since many of these proclamations come through the local church) we have to call for spiritual renewal. If any of this is news to you, you probably haven’t been listening to black Christians.
Matthew Loftus, in as close to a must-read essay about Baltimore as you’ll find.