Over the last two months, when I speak with people outside of the Baltimore area, they begin the conversation with “How ARE things there in Baltimore?” They are not asking me about the weather or my health. They are asking about how things are from my live-and-in-person perspective here in a city where the reports shown on television, radio, online, and in print have revealed a dangerous and scary state of unrest and siege.
I’ve thought a lot about my take on things here in my adopted home of Baltimore. I’ve lived here for 10 years. I’ve waited for genuine leadership to emerge from city leaders since the rioting, and I’m still waiting. If someone is leading, I’m not seeing it or hearing it. But what I am seeing is the people of Baltimore – residents, religious and educational institutions, neighborhood associations, not-for-profit organizations, shopkeepers, and business owners – all figuring out ways to make things better. Some voices are competing and some are collaborating, but the spirit of the city can be seen and heard.
What could make a big change here in Baltimore? Not just now, but an on-going difference? Not just in Baltimore, but in any city?
If every place of business took a kid who is from a poor family in the city, a kid who had the odds stacked against them, a kid who is part of minority/race/ethnicity, and provided them with an internship. If every organization from the Mayor’s office to the sandwich shop on the corner, from Under Armour to the Stadium Authority put an effort into really making a mentoring program work — that could build a bridge.
It could provide a kid with a place to go and learn about how the world of work works. They could interact with people who can truly help them learn what do and what not to do. They could learn needed skills and expected behaviors. . They’d get feedback about behaviors that will help them succeed in the real world of work. It would allow people of privilege to get to know those kids who want to step up but don’t have the consistent support and feedback to make that happen.
A program that lasts for a few months won’t compensate for an inadequate education or home life. We don’t need another program that allows everyone to feels good and then ends before the hard work really starts. We need a long term consistent program that last over time. A strong cloth woven out of parenting, teaching, and employing can make a difference. Kids struggle, but when they realize they are not struggling alone, it can alter and maybe ease the struggle in a powerful way.
I’m not saying it will solve all the problems. The challenge is a large one and no matter how hard some work, life will knock them down one time too many. There is only so much any one person can do. It won’t change the system that created poverty or racism. It won’t undo the machinations of gangs or erase an arrest record. Other kids in their neighborhood will get pregnant, drop out, join a gang, deal drugs, be abused, partake in crime, end up in jail or get shot. It’s depressing.
An ongoing, long-term, mentoring program that is there to make a dent in the barrage of challenges the kids in our city face every day would allow those who truly care and want to make a difference a way to show they care. And it would allow those who want to step up and out to have a bridge.