In early May 2015, my friend Caitlin and I ran a half marathon in Ocean City, Maryland. I’ve run a lot of these things but this one was memorable for a few reasons. It was Caitlin’s first half marathon and her husband Mike dropped us off on Assateague Island at 7 a.m. for the start of the race. It was flat and gorgeous and way too cold for May. And, I took an oddly hard stance that I doubt one stranger from Philadelphia will ever forget.
If you’re a Baltimorean or just a person who sometimes turns on the nightly news, you know that the Baltimore Uprising that followed Freddie Grey’s death in police custody occurred on April 27, 2015, just a week before this race (maybe you don’t know the exact date but I will never forget it). I’ve seen and heard a lot in Baltimore in my 29 years but April 27th, 2015 was absolutely the scariest. It’s way too complicated to get into the 5 Ws and 1 H of that day but it was hard. I remember working on eggplant parm with Chas and suddenly he was running out the door and driving to MEMA where he’d more or less remain for a straight month afterward. I remember driving down St. Paul St., a main artery and a street on which I used to live and looking up to meet the eyes of a National Guardsman sitting in an actual tank. Pharmacies sat smashed and pillaged behind wooden boards instead of windows. Law enforcement seemed like they were everywhere for that time. And activists continued to protest. Our mayor fumbled. Our council-people swept streets. It was straight up confusing.
But there were signs of hope. Businesses and schools sent up banners reading “ONE BALTIMORE” and “BALTIMORE STRONG.” This song which makes me cry every time I’ve watched and listened, followed a little while later, released by Living Classrooms Foundation. Plus, I had found out 3 days before the Uprising that I would be at LMCJ the next school year–a goal I’d been working toward for a long time. Baltimore City would be my employer and I could truly be in a position to help the kids who were from the same city as I am. Nothing could keep us down. We’d bounce back.
When I approached Mile 10 of my race and our path began encroaching The Ocean City Boardwalk, I found myself swapping places with a man wearing a Philadelphia Marathon T-shirt. I passed him. He passed me. Repeat. Repeat. Just as we crested The Boardwalk and a large crowd too, he zoomed past me and said, “Ya still back there?” Oh yes, yes I was still back there.
I shot my 5’2 frame forward, maybe clipped his elbow (made that up but it sounds badass), and yelled, “Yea I’m still here! ‘Cause you’re from Philly and I’m from Baltimore and Baltimore doesn’t give up!” I took off like the lunatic I am. I ran my 13th mile in about 7:13 (I usually run about 8-8:30 miles in a half marathon and I’m nearly certain I get slower at the end). I couldn’t yell that to this man and a crowd of people and not completely smoke him.
So I’m a nut. And I love Baltimore.
But this time, rather than rant and rave and tell you why it’s so underrated and unnecessarily hated, I will give you some options for making it even better. People love to complain and bemoan Baltimore and say, “Oh what will we do?” Well, do something then. Don’t complain if you won’t act. And once you act, I bet you’ll automatically stop complaining anyway. If you’re not in Baltimore, I am sure there are similar opportunities where you are. So let’s just make the world better. And these are more practical than the way I focused on in this post.
My admissions are many: I have not tried all of these things, I am not trying to tell you what to do (but I kinda am), I am by no means all-knowing, I did as much research as I had time for (and I had three loads of laundry to fold before my basketball game), and I am not seeking a pat on the back or innocent assumptions that I am a mayoral candidate (not that mayors are required to be saints, amIright, Mary?) or Mother Teresa wanna-be. Selfishly, I just want to get people out there and acting on this place that I love.
I added some helpful hashtags so that you can target your interests. Full disclosure: WordPress lets me track “clicks” on the links I include so I will know if my readers actually clicked.
- #quick Nancy’s concept of Trash Ministry is genius. Picking up trash anywhere is not just helpful to prevent that shit from ending up in the Harbor or the Chesapeake Bay, it shows other people that someone cares about this place. It sets an example. It’s an action and a call to action. I like this kind with the rounded, suction-cup-like ends. It’s easier to pick up light things like cigarette butts and straws than just a serrated rubber edge. Mom, you can weigh in when you comment.
- #superimpactful This is a bit of a jump from picking up trash but mentoring is incredibly important. The YMCA offers a free membership for people who mentor two hours per week. It’s called Reach & Rise Mentoring. If the youth scare you, bother you, frustrate you, then help them. (Or don’t complain. Too harsh?) Other mentoring opportunities include: Boys and Girls Club and Mentoring Male Teens in the Hood.
- #diverseopportunities The YMCA actually has a bunch of opportunities for community engagement including Togetherhood, a group my neighbors are part of. They painted the hallways at LMCJ over the summer.
- #greenbutalsopatient Get Baltimore City to plant a tree near your house. The website says “BE PATIENT…” ha! Baltimoreans know patience better than anyone.
- #asylumseekers There are so many creative ways you can help asylum seekers in Baltimore. See AWE’s website for information, or ask me for ideas.
- #endbmorehunger The Maryland Food Bank provides food to families in their neighborhoods and even via schools’ pantries. They offer three-hour volunteer shifts for sorting food, working in their kitchen, and some office work.
- #allgirlsschool #shamelessplug Lillie May (the school where I work) is courting competent volunteers, too. Email me for information.
- #instantandpainless When you use Amazon, yes I am assuming you use Amazon because Jeff Bezos owns us all, there is an option to go to smile.amazon.com instead of regular amazon.com. When you use smile.amazon.com instead, you can select ANY nonprofit and tiny bits of your sale will support that organization. If you want to support LMCJ, choose “Girls Charter School, Inc.” or select any of the other million charities that deserve our love.
- #granolasinthecardoor Baltimore is full of people with cardboard signs. Just keep granola bars in the car door pocket. I offer those over money. First off, I don’t have much money but I can always give a granola bar. I buy the Giant brand in bulk and at the very least, I am telling that person that someone cares, even if it’s in a tiny way.
- #alltheanimals The MDSPCA has the cutest volunteer opportunities. I can barely handle it. This image is from their website.
- #creativerecycling Although I think AWE should get lots of the things you want to give away, there are a ton of really cool recycling programs in Baltimore (again, probably every other city too). You have stuff you don’t need? There’s a way for it to be re-used.
- #cellphones House of Ruth accepts unlocked, used cell phones to give to their clients who are victims of domestic abuse.
- #microwaves House of Ruth also has a great Wish List for their most needed items including small microwave ovens (Jesse), school uniforms, and bedding.
- #recycleChas’sPS4pleaseandotherthings This list is incredibly comprehensive. It includes ideas, information, websites, and contact information for where to donate items from batteries to bikes, from VHS tapes to the very video game system on which Chas will not stop playing Call of Duty WWII. (Note: they do not accept skis.)
- #recyclecyles (I just made that up–I like it!) Today I met with a guidance counselor from Digital Harbor High School where they have a Bike Club. The club members refurbish bikes that are found in landfills or donated to the school. They fix them and sell some to earn shipping costs to send the rest to small villages in Africa. I mean damn.
- #momsorganic Mom’s has the crunchiest recycling section and sometimes they recycle things like jeans to turn them into environmentally-friendly insulation (didn’t make that up).
Whatever you do, pay kindness forward. This city, this world need some serious love.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” -Anne Frank