I first felt the warmth of Baltimore’s hometown pride on a Sunday morning in late September of 2007. I was living in my new neighborhood of Federal Hill, freshly transplanted from the Pacific Northwest.
A bit bleary-eyed, I headed over to Sam’s Bagels when I was met by a crushing wave of purple-clad pedestrians, raucous people of all ages, sizes and colors, and nearly all emblazoned with the number 52. They crowded the streets and the sidewalks. Curious, I approached a security guard in front of the American Apparel store. “Is there a game or something today?” I asked.
“Yes, the Ravens are playing,” she responded.
After a quick mind-scan of my pitiful sports knowledge, I asked, “Wait, then what sport do the Ravens play?”
Eyes wide, she replied, “You’re not from here. Football.”
Thus began my indoctrination to the devotion of all things Baltimore. It was infectious.
A few years later, I found myself standing in awe of the crowd in another neighborhood. I arrived with camera and notepad in hand just after dawn in April 2015 at the intersection of Pennsylvania and North avenues. Gut-wrenching images filled my mind and heart from the night before, but I was certain there was nowhere else I’d rather be.
The CVS drugstore fire — after the death of Freddie Gray — had long been extinguished, and the TV cameras were no longer there. But neighbors from all areas of the city were there cleaning up and repairing the pieces of a broken community. The camaraderie, relief and resolve were palpable. There was another flame ignited that day.
While it’s undeniable that TV images from the previous night told one story of a moment in time, it was the fellowship and dedication of neighbors helping each other that to me feels like the true-blue Baltimore, the in-it-for-the-long-haul Baltimore.
But that takes time, and it takes hard work. I’ve reported on stories about countless grass-roots nonprofits that continually put in that hard work — committing resources, talent and time toward improving and uplifting Baltimore and her residents, which is part of what makes me love this city all the more.
There are organizations such as Intersection of Change, which literally has transformed a neighborhood and the lives of those living in it, and Thread, which connects mentors with some of Baltimore’s lowest-performing students, and they stick with them for years. Baltimore Ceasefire unconventionally and successfully persuades people to put down their guns.
The volunteer medical students at Medicine for the Greater Good take a holistic approach to educating Baltimoreans about how to remain healthy and happy. The award-winning Christian Warriors Marching Band, under the wise guidance of the Rev. Ernest King, provides discipline, engagement and joy for many young people living in West Baltimore. Black Yield Institute, Adelante Latina, Jews United for Justice, B-360 — the list goes on.
It’s too easy to accept curated images and stories as truth. Show up and bask in Baltimore’s fierce love and see for yourself. It’s contagious.
Melissa Gerr is a freelance content creator for print, audio and visual. She is a producer/contributor for “On the Record” at WYPR Radio.
Join Melissa Gerr on Jmore’s Weekend Agenda on Facebook Live Feb. 15 at 12:30 p.m. at facebook.com/jmoreliving.