by Bill McCarthy
We all call Baltimore our home. In the last week, our comforting notion of “home” has been shattered by the aftermath of the tragic death of Freddie Gray under as-yet undetermined circumstances. Since then, we have witnessed mourning for a young man’s untimely death, community dialogue, peaceful protests, and finally violence, and senseless destruction.
At Catholic Charities, we firmly believe in the power of one person to impact the life of another person in powerful ways as well as the ripple effect that can lead to profound change. Recent events in Baltimore have made me think of the importance of creating “one community” that has the power to create change for the good. We (and that’s a large collective “we”) need to build “one community.”
Freddie Gray lived in a neighborhood in West Baltimore where decades of profound poverty have left individuals and families in despair. The unemployment rate there is 67%. The poverty rate is 35%. School attendance rate is around 50% and a person’s life expectancy is 69 years.
There are other parts of the City just like this. Violence, disparities in education, a void in employment opportunities, inconsistent law enforcement, and disparate criminal justice have fueled the frustration and violence that has occurred. On Monday night, the power of one person was evident from the beginning. I saw ministers linked arm in arm put themselves bravely between the protestors and the police as well as neighbors who stood in front of broken storefronts trying to prevent further damage and looting. But for those actions, the damage would have been worse. Their courage and actions mattered.
On Tuesday morning, I walked with Archbishop Lori and Bishop Madden through sections of West Baltimore to visit, support our neighbors and to see firsthand the aftermath of the previous night’s violence and destruction. As a son of West Baltimore myself, the destruction was heartbreaking, but we also witnessed the power of one at work already. It was very early, yet we saw many people already clearing the debris from sidewalks and streets on every affected street. Some people were from the neighborhood and others had come from outside the neighborhood to lend a hand. They also helped secure properties that had been broken into. We saw this block after block, street after street… one person, one community, one purpose.
Later that afternoon, I made my way to New Shiloh Baptist Church. My travels were hindered by so many closed streets but with the help of a number of neighbors, I eventually got to the church. I saw and experienced peaceful marching, kindness, and respect. That night, Bishop Madden and I attended a meeting and service at the Empowerment Temple off of Reisterstown Rd. There were 300 ministers and about 1,000 people in attendance. It was emotional. One at a time, individuals expressed anger and frustration. But more importantly, they also expressed hope and a resolve for change and for justice.
That’s where Catholic Charities comes in. The values that we live call us to love, serve, teach and work for justice. We assist people living in poverty with a wide variety of programs while on their road to self-sufficiency. We want to be part of how, as a City, we join with others to reduce the profound impact of poverty on our neighbors and the community at large. We have the same hope and resolve for change and justice. We must create “one community” where every person can live with dignity and respect.
I thank you sincerely for your part in our work to improve the lives of Marylanders in need.
William J. McCarthy, Jr.