City vot­ers choose food, fel­low­ship

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - E.R. Shipp E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize win­ner for com­men­tary, is the jour­nal­ist in res­i­dence at Mor­gan State Univer­sity’s School of Global Jour­nal­ism and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Her col­umn runs ev­ery other Wed­nes­day. Email:

As the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign winds down, an in­creas­ingly des­per­ate Don­ald Trump is cast­ing doubt on the le­git­i­macy of the en­tire demo­cratic process. Should he lose to Hil­lary Clin­ton in a few weeks, he says, the blame will lie with a cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and an equally cor­rupt me­dia in­dus­try that are con­spir­ing to de­rail his move­ment.

As with many mat­ters, Mr. Trump is wrong. If he loses, it will be be­cause of peo­ple like those I met in Reser­voir Hill on Sun­day who re­ject the racist, misog­y­nis­tic and xeno­pho­bic strand of pa­tri­o­tism that dom­i­nates his cam­paign. And they do so, not with march­ing and protest­ing, but with greens and kugel.

There’s “so much more to Bal­ti­more than just un­rest and po­lit­i­cal tur­moil and crime and drugs. We have all these peo­ple pretty much com­ing to­gether, and look how dif­fer­ent we look out here,” said Tif­fany Welch as she gazed at neigh­bors and friends gath­ered for the White­lock Har­vest Fes­ti­val in Reser­voir Hill. “We have black, white, Jewish, Mus­lim — all these groups that live right here in this neigh­bor­hood and are com­ing to­gether be­cause of healthy food.”

Well, food, yes — greens as­so­ci­ated with South­ern black cui­sine and kugel as­so­ci­ated with tra­di­tional Jewish cui­sine — but also the hard work of cre­at­ing a cli­mate and a space where there is no such thing as “other.”

“There’s a lot of co-min­gling of cul­tures and food, and that’s by de­sign,” ob­served Rabbi Daniel Burg of the nearby Beth Am Syn­a­gogue. “The best re­sponse to all the hate and all the ‘oth­er­ing’ is to just build re­la­tion­ships, to try to un­der­stand each other’s nar­ra­tives and per­spec­tives. That’s re­ally what we’re com­mit­ted to in this neigh­bor­hood.”

This city en­clave is no Shangri-La by any means, but it rep­re­sents on an ev­ery­day ba­sis the brother’s-keeper spirit seen af­ter fires and traf­fic ac­ci­dents and hur­ri­canes or dur­ing feel-good events like the re­cent Fleet Week wel­com­ing sailors and their ships. Peo­ple sud­denly re­con­nect with an in­ner goodness that is often sup­pressed in our ef­forts to just get through the day with a min­i­mum of as­saults from bad news and bad acts.

Wear­ing a “Jus­tice and Love” T-shirt, Tara Perez, a re­cently trans­planted New Yorker who is proudly Puerto Ri­can, pro­nounced a plate piled with greens and kugel to be “ex­cel­lent,” along with the com­mu­nity.

“I’ve had more peo­ple help mehere than in NewYorkever, just for nore­a­son — there is no agenda, just to be kind,” she said, adding: “I think it’s prob­a­bly be­cause a lot of peo­ple go through stuff, and ad­ver­sity builds char­ac­ter.”

More than six years ago, hundreds of vol­un­teers be­gan the process of turn­ing aban­don­ment into abun­dance when they cre­ated an ur­ban farm on what had been garbage strewn va­cant lots that were them­selves tes­ta­ment to failed ur­ban de­vel­op­ment plans. Through their ver­sion of peo­ple power, they re­claimed the land, beat back the food desert and forged last­ing re­la­tion­ships.

Around the coun­try, peo­ple make head­lines for strik­ing out to achieve what those on the left might call “the beloved com­mu­nity” and those on the right might call “the shin­ing city on a hill. A high school foot­ball team in Seat­tle is in the news be­cause it joined the swelling ranks of ath­letes tak­ing a stand against in­equal­ity and po­lice bru­tal­ity. In San Diego, the pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice made news when he apol­o­gized for a “dark side of our shared his­tory” — po­lice com­plic­ity in racial op­pres­sion through the years.

“While we ob­vi­ously can­not change the past, it is clear that we must change the fu­ture,” said Ter­rence Cun­ning­ham, the law-en­force­ment leader. “We must move for­ward to­gether to build a shared un­der­stand­ing. We must forge a path that al­lows us to move be­yond our his­tory and iden­tify com­mon so­lu­tions to bet­ter pro­tect our com­mu­ni­ties.”

Away from head­lines, though, is where sus­tain­abil­ity is found. At the har­vest fes­ti­val, Rabbi Burg sam­pled Do­minic Nell’s “kale yeah!” dish and they eas­ily slipped into con­ver­sa­tion about our coun­try be­ing a quilt com­prised of dif­fer­ent patches stitched to­gether.

Rabbi Burg: “And it’s so easy for some­one who wants to un­ravel that quilt to just pull on a thread, right?”

Nell: “Yeah, just push those but­tons or pull on cer­tain threads.”

In this Bal­ti­more en­clave, peo­ple are vot­ing with their feet and their food. The dark forces don’t have a chance.

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