There was about five hours left in the second Baltimore Ceasefire of 2017 and Ericka Bridgeford seemed exhilarated, when she probably should have been exhausted.
Bridgeford, one of the Ceasefire organizers, was at the Real News Network downtown to participate in a panel discussion, following a screening of, “The Interrupters,” a documentary about the ceasefire movement in Chicago. Baltimore’s first took place this summer. She had just left Edmondson Village in West Baltimore where she and other members of the Ceasefire team were part of a massive “human chain,” hundreds of people locking arms and holding hands along three rainy city blocks in the Village, in solidarity with the Ceasefire Movement.
The human chain and the Real News screening were just two of dozens of events during a 72 hour repudiation of violence and homicide in Baltimore.
In the midst of what has turned out so far to be Baltimore’s most murderous year (an average of one homicide about every 19 hours), Baltimore was heading towards 48 hours without a murder. “So, we got through 24 and a half hours, and then like 12:45 a.m. police got the call,” Bridgeford said, referring to the murder of Anthony Mason, Jr., an off-duty DC cop who was killed on Elgin Ave., in West Baltimore.
As she waited to sit down with her brothers and sisters on the Ceasefire team for the panel discussion, Bridgeford reflected on the past three days. “What we will have done is improved the Ceasefire Weekend from the last time. And I think what’s significant about it is, so many people got to work earlier this time, like really into their neighborhoods, really giving people resources, really having conversations. `What will keep you from being in violent situations? Can you just agree for these three days…do these three days really mean anything to you?’” she said.
Bridgeford’s life’s work has been helping people squash beefs and avoid violence as a community mediator (she is director of training for Community Mediation Maryland). She intimately understands how the immense pressure of poverty and ubiquitous violence traumatizes people in mostly Black, mostly poor communities and how the ability to breathe a little easier, if just for 72 hours, can mean the difference between life and death. “How much just having a break means because it’s just too much. In real life don’t nobody want to die out this bi–h. And that’s their language, that’s what they are talking about,” Bridgeford said.
Baltimore’s national and global identity has mostly been of murder and mayhem, protest, poverty and police misconduct, fairly or unfairly. Yet, beyond Black Baltimore’s cloak of pathology is the beautifully resilient community Bridgeford and so many of us come from. And sometimes, we need a reminder of who we really are.
“What I wanted personally, selfishly is for Baltimore’s self esteem to be risen. This narrative that I’m going to live and die in these streets, that’s just low self esteem. You don’t understand who you are,” Bridgeford said. “And so…in real life I have survivor’s remorse. And every time somebody is like, `Oh, you’re so great, you’re so good,’ I’m great on the backs of all the people that I buried. I get to be great because I’m burying people and I need to do something with that pain. And I need people to understand that I’m not nothing that you’re not, I’m Baltimore. Nothing is more Baltimore than me. If you see greatness when you look at me, that’s because I’m just a mirror. So, I need you to understand what you are, you deserve life…you deserve your chance in the sun. And we don’t talk about that enough.”
Ultimately, Bridgeford, who lost her brother and several friends to the violence she combats, wants Baltimore residents who are all too often confronted with the most harrowing choices imaginable, to choose life over death, one day at a time.
“This weekend…`I’m not going to kill nobody, because I decided not to kill nobody, because I can do that,” she said.
“You can’t un-forget that you had that choice. That you had that awakening about your power and your belief in yourself…and that feeling is just so good. I love that Baltimore is being the Baltimore that I know made me.”
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and host and executive producer of the AFRO First Edition video podcast.