‘EVEN IF THE WORLD DOES NOT SEE US, WE SEE EACH OTHER’
Last night, once my house had settled down, I got up and walked through my house to check on my sons, as I often do. It has always been the most peaceful moment of my day, because I know that the boys are home and they are safe. Over the years — as more black lives were taken, locked away or forgotten — I would sometimes sit outside of their shared bedroom door, holding my head in my hands, trying to think about what I could do to help carve out a world and reshape a city where my sons could always get home safe.
As a mom and a professor and now the host of a daily radio show in Baltimore City, I both love the city and am frustrated by it. I write about the city, teach about the city, talk about the city, all the while trying to navigate and negotiate life in and around the city. Baltimore is the type of place that keeps you up at night, tossing and turning while trying to figure out what can be done to save it. There are so many questions and problems and challenges that need to be addressed that it sometimes feels like there is a deliberate plan in place to keep Baltimore from moving forward.
I have watched with alarm the rising homicide numbers as the city has become more dangerous, more hostile and more frightening. The pain in this city is palpable, and when my radio listeners call to share their lives and stories with me, it is hard for me not to lean in, not to react and sometimes not to cry. There are days when I read through the news and wonder how we are going to survive. I think about what it means to live in a city that is deeply segregated and economically separated and to try to exist within those spaces — and raise children among them.
At the same time, I know Baltimore to be a city of incredible joy and resilience that always finds a way to move forward. There are days when I walk around this city, heading down to have coffee at Nancy by SNAC or to meet my sons at The Children’s Bookstore in Lauraville, and I am absolutely convinced that Baltimore will overcome my biggest concerns and surpass my highest expectations.
I truly am in love with this city and marvel at the beautiful neighborhoods and the people, its history and its great potential — the nooks and crannies, the dents and the scratches that make up this place that I call home. I love the way that we rally and fight back against anybody who does not see us, does not understand us and does not recognize our incredible strength.
Two years ago, I began an in-depth ethnographic study within the most economically challenged neighborhoods in Baltimore City, found in the Black Butterfly on our city map. I would spend the day in the neighborhoods, talking to the residents and documenting and recording their stories. When I visited the Poe Homes Community, the residents were in the midst of a water crisis and had gone four days without running water.
As I walked through the neighborhood, I met a woman and talked to her as she was filling buckets from the water hydrant. She told me that she had stayed home from work all week because she did not have enough water for her and her children to bathe and flush the toilet.
“The mayor, our councilman, they don’t see us,” she told me in a quiet, but firm voice. “Baltimore City is a really big place, so I think they just forgot us. Is there any way that you can make us unforgotten?
I think about her often and about what it means to speak and write for those who cannot speak and write for themselves. I think about what it means to speak for the forgotten, to tell their stories, and to show the world that they matter. I think about my boys, and all the other black children growing up in Baltimore. And I know that even if the world does not see us, we see each other.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead (todaywith[email protected]; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. She is the host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM and the author of the forthcoming “I speak for the unforgotten: dispatches from Baltimore.” She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons.
Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Communication and African and African American Studies in the Department of Communication at Loyola University Maryland and the host of Today with Dr. Kaye on WEAA 88.9 FM.