Two Cities

Lissy Velez

As I commute from Mount Clare neighborhood to the International Rescue Committee in Highlandtown, I pass through different Baltimores. One that is forgotten, with vacant, destroyed houses and a very limited amount of businesses, a Baltimore that is known for its crimes, poverty and broken households, demonstrating the worst effects of historical and systematic social injustices. As I drive down Pratt street into Downtown, I see a thriving, populated city, crowded with young people who are formally dressed and headed to work. Rapidly and dramatically, the buildings change from brokenness to luxury. I pass the Harbor and well-kept buildings, fancy restaurants and chain stores.

I drive a bit further and the luxury of Downtown passes by, but the Baltimore in which I arrive is not the same one I departed from. Early morning before work, I walk around the neighborhood. Again, thriving local businesses plague the streets, stores and restaurants alike. People walk to and from work, I say hello to the same guard in front of Bank of America every morning, and I do not remember seeing any bank around Saint Claire. I notice all the businesses in one street alone, and I am completely amazed. There is probably half of these restaurants in a five block radius around our temporary neighborhood. Around the IRC, there are numerous churches, incredible art street- as oppose to the occasional graffiti -and no vacant houses. The colorful buildings are charismatic and inviting, and as I walk by the park, I can easily imagine living in the houses that surround it.

Two different Baltimores are engraved in my mind. Mount Clare is the one in which I am living for the summer, one that is teaching me about the realities and injustices of a racially and economically divided city. In this neighborhood, I am learning about and falling in love with serving the city and living in community. However, I have biases that I have not been able to completely shake. This is also the neighborhood that everyone tried to warn me about, one in which I have had uncomfortable and slightly scary experiences. Growing up, I was not taught or encouraged to love, trust and serve this part of the city.

In Highlandtown, I have had friendly and enjoyable interactions, I am working an internship that I love, with people that I have known to care, sharing my experience with fun, supportive and hardworking co-workers. For a long time, I have wanted to work with refugees, knowing and caring for their struggles. I am excited to learn about their barriers and how to overcome them. I am not always as excited to be a part of the Mount Clare community.

Two different Baltimores coexist in my mind, which I can’t quite make sense of. As I acknowledge my biases, I try to overcome them. I know that I am having a life-changing experience, but I am not always eager to chase after it. What I want is to seclude myself and avoid interacting with the community because I cannot help but expect a negative experience like I had before. I know that is not what I am most likely to encounter. It is not what most of my BUP-mates have encountered, yet I have these expectations that factual knowledge cannot overcome.

I am still processing these divergent experiences of two cities in one and my limited motivation (due to past interactions) that have clouded my attitude towards the neighborhood. As the days go by, I make myself try, and I pray to God that He would open my heart and lead the way.

 

Lissy Velez

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