‘EVEN IF THE WORLD DOES NOT SEE US, WE SEE EACH OTHER’

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - COMMENTARY - By Kar­sonya Wise White­head

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.

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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.

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