“How did this community get this way: so cold, so distance, and so hostile?,” an elderly man asked me one day while I was buying coffee.
When I’m walking back to my job teaching students at Arlington Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore, I notice several Black men occupying corners. Some have cold in their eyes, pants sagging, and exchanging drugs for money. In front of the liquor store, men are drinking and talking. Smells are coming from the bakery, as customers line up. People are coming in and out of the barbershop like it’s a Black Friday sale. Cars are lined up like they are parked outside of a popular nightclub. I cross the street and go back into the school.
Later on in the day, it’s time for recess. The children are excited. I’m observing the children playing football, coming down the sliding board, and running after each other. They are being children. As I’m about to sit down, I see several cars pull up and purchase drugs on Lewiston Avenue. “Where are the police,” I wondered. So I called 911.
Meanwhile, when I’m communicating with the 911 operator, several black men are rushing toward two vehicles on the 5400 block of Narcissus Avenue. They exchange drugs for money then they go back into a house on Narcissus Avenue. Not only that, cars pull up to this house, people get out with nothing, then come back with bags, backpacks , purses, shoe boxes, etc.
The police and the helicopter arrive too late. We go back into the school. But this is what I see on daily basis. These incidents happen in broad daylight. I can only imagine what they do at night.
When I look around this community, I see its people have no shame, goals, hope, or inspiration. This is tragic to a point where politicians, police, and others believe the same thing about the people. How can residents, police, and politicians allow a drug stash house to exist across the street from an elementary/middle school? How can a liquor store be that close to a school?
According to news reports, the barbershop owner and the bakery owner were arrested because of drug trafficking. On the day of their arrested, they found a half million dollars of drugs in each of other their cars. So why are these two establishments still operating?
These are questions the residents have to deal with. The police don’t live in the community. We know now that 70% of the police don’t even live in the city. The politicians give us lip service every election. People in the neighborhood turn a blind eye to crime, until a relative or a young person gets killed then the people in the community want to say something. On July 2, 2015, a 15-year-old was stabbed to death by a 13-year-old on Arlington’s playground. Who spoke for him?
What about the future? Do we care? It seems to me we don’t by our actions. I want to see a community that’s thriving like The Avenue (AKA Pennsylvania Avenue) once was. I see a people who are proud to be in their skin. Loving themselves as God loves them. Taking care of the community like it’s worth a billion dollars. This is not rhetoric, but sincere words to a people who came from the bottom to rise to the top with intellect, heart, prayer with works, and the souls of our ancestors. We can do this, because no one else will.
Tony Hayes is an elementary math teacher at Arlington Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore who cares about the future of his people.