It’s been way too long since I wrote here. I still believe in the power of love to build community, but I need to remember the love has to be active. I express much of that love through writing.
And its not that I have not been writing–every week a new poem at faithfulpoetics.net and a new post by Malachi Grennell and I at sexbodiesspirit.net, often about, at least indirectly about building community. But there are other topics near and dear to me–racial justice, undermining white privilege, justice for Palestine and true security for both Israel and Palestine, caring for our physical world, sharing theological visions and thoughts outside poetry.
Today, I want to focus on the story of one young man in Baltimore–a story I encountered in the Washington Post recently, and which has renewed my hope and my desire for change in our marginalized urban communities, the places where hope seems impossible and where violence becomes a way of life. But even in these troubled, even desolate, places, sprouts of life spring up and somehow, by the grace of God and some good people, they are not destroyed. Indeed, they are nurtured and we see yet again that it is possible to make a way out of what seems to be no way.
I can’t recount the entire story of this young man, Khalil Bridge, but you can find the story, “Coming of Age in a City Coming Apart” here. The basic story is that he has grown up in a troubled part of Baltimore, with a lot of street violence and drugs, that his father is long gone, that his mother has so many ailments he has been raising her (and now she is in a care facility), and that he has led a checkered life–but thanks to some grit in himself, and some amazing educators and social workers he has graduated from high school, and is headed, thanks to a GoFundMe campaign to community college. The money and support really came about because of the article, linked above, by Theresa Vargas of the Washington Post.
In addition to the report about Khalil Bridge personally, Vargas makes a powerful point about the presence of violence in the community served by the school from which Khalil just graduated, Renaissance Academy High School and Booker T. Washington Middle School (housed in the same building). In a survey by Promise Heights, a support program run through the University of Maryland School of Social Work, 41% of students surveyed reported knowing someone younger than 19 who was a victim of violence. In addition, 23% of the total sample reported being a victim of violence themselves, and 40% reported knowing someone who has a gun.
How students can succeed in such circumstances is pretty much a mystery to me. That is what makes Khalil Bridge’s story so remarkable. I really hope you read all three-plus pages from the Post.
I contributed a small amount to the GoFundMe campaign, which has raised more than $38,000 on a goal of $30,000. Thus, I am now going to support an organization started by the principal of Renaissance High, Nikkia Rowe, called “Seeds of Promise: Transforming Black Boys into Men,” which aims to provide support in the school for mentors and others to help some of the young men who show real promise. I think that is a wise investment, as does Rick Barth, the Dean of the University of Maryland School of Social Work. You can link to that funding page here.
It’s simple really. We’re never going to break the endless cycle of inner city violence and despair if we don’t begin to make special investments in at least some of the most promising, and simultaneously improve public infrastructure in those same communities.
Just because its simple, does not mean it is easy. But I am quite sure that my investment in Khalil, modest though it is, matched with those of hundreds of others, will help him go all the way to a brilliant career doing something important and a beautiful life he otherwise had no reason to expect or hope for.
And I am also sure that Antwon Cooper, the mentor who was one of the first four hired by Rowe in the Seeds of Promise program and who supported and challenged Khalil Bridge, can do more good, and could, with his three colleagues, do even more if they had more co-workers in the program. That’s where we and others come in.
I have lived in Maryland for just shy of one year, and I can now see that Baltimore is one of the most dis-eased cities in our nation. I was born in Michigan, 40 miles northwest of Detroit, and that place has barely survived some of the worst social storms endured by any people, They are on the way back, I am told. I had thought I would try to find a way to invest in Detroit, but I think I will do this closer to my home. Real work by not only government and schools, but also private citizens taking initiative is required if we are turn to this beautiful place around. Again, click the program name here for the link to support “Seeds of Promise: Transforming Black Boys into Men.”
I hope you can help. Give if you can and pray, and even if you can’t give, pray for Khalil and his brothers–those who yet live and those already struck down–in Baltimore.