Growing up immersed in diversity is probably one of the greatest gifts my hometown has given me.
In the city-suburb of Columbia, MD, 30 minutes outside of Baltimore, I grew from a child, who was taught to see character before color, into an adult who can recognize adversity among diversity.
From pre-school to senior year, I shared classrooms with people of all ethnicities, religions and financial statuses.
Three Catholic girls, a Sudanese Muslim, an Indian Hindu, an El Salvadorian and a nearly 6-foot, half-Jamaican girl made up the group of kids I called my best friends.
It’s the ability to see a person before his or her ethnicity I appreciate most about the environment in which I was raised.
Our teachers jokingly called Columbia “The Columbubble,” warning us that the places we go for college or move to later in life may not possess the same values we had instilled in us since we all could remember.
In a way, we were sheltered, too.
By no means did I grow up in some sort of utopia, but Columbia provided a far more accepting environment than many other places I visited.
A moment I will never forget is when my high school dance company went on a trip to New York City.
As nearly 30 of us congregated in one hotel room, we realized at one point, the white girls gathered in one area of the room and the black girls, another.
I don’t remember who it was, nor do I even remember which race, but someone said, “Hold on, guys! We segregated ourselves!”
We all laughed and came back together in a circle on the floor and carried on like it was nothing. It was in that moment I realized differences can pull us apart when we don’t even realize it, but positive action will bring us together.
As someone whose family immigrated from Europe and made their way from inner-city poverty during the Great Depression to supporting themselves in a single family home, I have the Baltimore “hon” spirit in my blood.
For those who don’t know, Baltimore is home to people who love crabs and Old Bay, Natty Bohs and The O's, The Ravens and calling everyone you meet “hon” (short for “honey”).
But, this is not the only identity of Baltimore. When visiting the city, it’s unlikely you won’t see one of the many homeless people who walk the streets day and night.
One homeless man I’ve encountered on numerous occasions sits on a bench in the Inner Harbor repeating the word “change” over and over again. Whether he wants coins or something deeper, I don’t know.
The city is no stranger to poverty, with wealth pushed right up against it. Just moments after driving past a neighborhood of mini-mansions, you can find yourself among boarded-up row homes and Section 8 housing.
While close in physical proximity, the high and low classes couldn’t be more distant.
There is no denying Baltimore’s issues run deep.
While the Harbor attractions, unique history and artistic flare of the city make it special and beautiful in many ways, a large population struggles with money, work, health and education.
Crime rates are high and the news always has something to report. Baltimore crime, as dramatized on the show, “The Wire,” has become a defining trait of the city over the years.
Over the past few weeks, after scarcely publicized peaceful protests took place following the death of Freddie Gray, riots broke out in the city.
Mostly, it is the youth setting fires, looting and being destructive. Towson University, where I go to school, has cancelled night classes in order to allow staff and students living in Baltimore to get home safely and in time for curfew.
Sirens can be heard frequently throughout the day. People are telling one another to “stay safe.”
While things have mostly carried on as usual, aside from the peaceful marches on campus, there is a feeling of unrest, as we are periodically reminded of what is going on 20 minutes away.
Students from the many surrounding colleges have gone into the city for cleanups all week. People of varying ethnicities walk together in the streets to represent the cause and message from which the rioting had distracted.
People care and are passionate about peace and their city, but this may not be shown on all national media.
I write this piece with the intention to state the obvious: What’s happening in Baltimore could happen in any city. The riots do not define Baltimore natives as violent people, nor should it project an image of general hate among the races.
Those who look on to Baltimore’s current situation from afar need to realize the scope they see things through via the media can cause misconstrued conclusions.
There is far more love among the people of Baltimore and all of Maryland than the hate and extreme actions being taken by those who choose to be violent.
While I cannot say I know for myself what it is like to struggle every day in Baltimore City, in an environment where people feel stagnant and unjustly treated, I can say I’ve seen a lot of good shining through the bad.
Of course, there is injustice and prejudice among authority and citizens; no town or city is without those who possess anti-progressive ideals.
But, I hate to see the progress that has been made, in the minds of Marylanders and all Americans, being undone by unfair acts of violence from all sides.
With both black and white citizens choosing to march together, Baltimore proves its resilience by showing that standing up to police brutality does not mean races must be posed against each other.
I believe it will take a lot of trying before all racial tensions diminish, and unequal treatment from the justice system is resolved. But, all the trying will pay off one day, and our children won’t have to try at all.
What’s happening in Baltimore isn’t a Baltimore problem; it’s an American problem and should resonate across the nation.
I am lucky to have grown up in the way I did. What is going on in Baltimore makes me appreciate an upbringing rooted in civility and diversity.
Knowing what a strong educational system can do for acceptance and equality gives me hope that Baltimore, and other places with similar issues, can learn from the bad and breed the good into the minds of the future.