Two Baltimores

Lissy Velez

As I commute from Saint Claire 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. Every day I go from corner stores and abandoned houses to UM Medical School, Forever21 and Starbucks.

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 from 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 back 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. Saint Claire 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 divide city. In this neighborhood I am falling in love with 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.

Lissy Velez

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