(BALTIMORE – August 20, 2018) – I have covered Maryland elections for more than 20 years. In that time, I have seen a lot of political types come and go. I’ve seen stars rise and stars fall. And I’ve witnessed – as have many of you – a ton of empty promises such that North and Patterson Park – North and Poplar Grove – they look much like they did back in the 60s.
It’s kind of funny: The way I’ve seen ordinary folk put on an elected official’s cape and a mask and all of a sudden, they are suppose to lead us somewhere. Folks running for office tend to talk about education, seniors and being tough on crime. They know the buzz terms du jour, the latest poll results, and probably know how to solve a Rubic’s cube.
What is glaringly absent, however, is real leadership. Honestly, these new leaders lack a sense of history and how significant Baltimore is to the broader State of Maryland.
So goes the phrase, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die!” Everybody wants the glory of winning an election and posing on TV, but very few understand the people in which they are charged with serving: And not just the upwardly mobile in our society; ALL of the people!
But that’s not what happens; elected officials do not pay appropriate attention to the poverty in Baltimore. Politicians pay attention to the voters and the people who make the most noise, and that sometimes means the people with the biggest campaign donations – whether they are unions, advocacy groups, or lobbyists/special interest groups.
And so what results is a further dilapidated East and West Baltimore, a Park Heights that will not likely see a return of any African Americans any time soon – just like in East Baltimore around Johns Hopkins Hospital Complex. On the other hand, we see a centre city (Station North) marked by bike lanes and ever expanding to neighborhoods that have been African American for the past seven decades or so.
But, hey! That’s change, a constant we can all count on. And yes, there is also a Whole Foods in Harlem now. Maybe that’s what‘s taking so long on Park Heights Avenue!
In any event, elections don’t make leaders. Just because someone win’s an election does not mean that they are leaders. To be a leader, you first have to stand for something. Additionally, somebody has to follow you. Otherwise, who are you leading?
The year was 1967. The late, great Marion Barry and Mary Treadwell co-founded Pride, Inc., a Department of Labor-funded program that provided job training to unemployed black men. The group ultimately employed hundreds of teens to clean littered streets and alleys in Washington. It further solidified Barry’s reputation in the community. And this is before he ever ran for office.
People today want a lot of photo opps, but really lack a significant body of work.
Take the late Dr. Bea Gaddy, for example. She founded the Patterson Park Emergency Food Center in 1981 out of a need to feed her family. She went to local churches collecting food in a shopping cart and passed the food out to the neighbors in her community. The word soon spread that “Miss Bea” would help you to get food if you needed it.
The internationally-renown Afro photographer J. D. Howard told me many stories of how she would go into alleys and dark places late at night in the cold and then call out the homeless by name, saying that she had a blanket and some hot soup for each of them. This is the kind of leadership to which I’m referring, not people who are preoccupied with Instagram likes.
Here’s a name: William L. “Little Willie” Adams (January 5, 1914 – June 27, 2011). He was the Godfather. Not only was he a prominent Baltimore businessman and venture capitalist, he was also known for bankrolling many African-American owned businesses in Baltimore in the mid-twentieth century. Due to his business involvements, Adams was also a prominent figure in Baltimore politics, although he never held office himself. Truth be told, he carried more weight than most politicians, black or white, but he used it to help empower his people..
These are but three examples of real leaders, whether you liked them or not. While Barry and Gaddy held elected office, “Little Willie” never held an office. However, they were all leaders who touched people and who made a difference.
Marion Barry got people jobs. Bea Gaddy fed people. And Mr. Adams financed a lot of African Americans in business. The interesting thing is, we need those very same things today.
But I’m not sure that kind of dedication and patriotism exists today, especially among African American elected officials. What I have been seeing as of late is window dressing at best. Baltimore is facing a series of changes, but no noise whatsoever from our Baltimore City Council. This is what has become of our so-called leaders. They tend to be silent on the issues that matter.
For instance, we have 13 high schools in Baltimore where not a single student is proficient in math. Why wasn’t there a special session to get these students up to par; Hell, parents in need of GEDs should have been in the same damn classrooms, if you ask me. We spend millions to win an election, but a simple “summer education push” campaign is simply out of the question, right? Exactly! Give them a DJ, some watermelon and a popular R&B group out Druid Hill Park and call it a day!
We close recreation centers or fail to invest in them, but we can certainly find somewhere to lock up these same underserved youth. That’s Baltimore!
Malcolm X said, “You can’t serve the people if you don’t love the people.” We are not seeing love in Baltimore. Three years after Freddie Gray, East and West Baltimore are loaded with vacant homes, closed schools, and a vicious drug trade.
At the same time, we have all witnessed the seemingly overnight transformation of North and Charles. And there you have it, folks: The insidious behavior by the powers that be to do absolutely everything within their power to avoid investing in any African American neighborhood. The only time investment happens is when the blacks are moved out and replaced by whites.
Baltimore, if I am not mistaken, is the last (or one of the last) city on the East Coast to be re-gentrified. But, it’s coming!
Yep! Baltimore is leaderless! No one sees this inundation of white addicts from out-of-state who are flocking to places like Sandtown as if this Historic West Baltimore community needs their bullshit. They are standing at I-83 and North Avenue damn near intimidating motorists into giving them a buck. And some of them act so entitled as if it is your fault that they have chosen to be a tramp.
I’m not exaggerating. I’ve seen the same kind of thing on the West Coast. Portland, for example, somehow turned into the dumping ground for homeless addicts from San Diego to Seattle. People would go there from up and down the coast seeking a safe haven. While some do get clean, what city is prepared for thousands of additional intravenous drug users? Baltimore is not ready for such a thing, yet it is happening right before our very eyes. But, no one has said a word. No one has the guts. Everybody wants to be nice and safe.
Tell you what, slaves trying to escape did not need nice people nor safe people, they needed leaders like Harriet Tubman. They needed people who were bold enough to make things happen, not a go-along-to-get-along. Mass incarceration disaffects the people of East and West Baltimore more than any other demographic in the state, yet how often do we hear our leaders – especially our black leaders – speaking out about it? Ummm, never! Yet, a lot of jokers want to have a title before their name as if that is being a real leader. Meanwhile, the nuclear black family is being decimated in Baltimore.
Nope, this is not a job for nice and safe people. Baltimore needs real, on-the-ground leadership in order to get this ship on the right course. What Baltimore does not need is another party patsy to carry a broader agenda: One that does not include African Americans.