Flames taunted East Baltimore’s black sky, and I began to question just how far a mile really is.
That’s about two miles from here. Pretty close. They probably won’t try to come this far south, though. But my lovelies—how many of them live even closer?
The well-being of my high school students, past and present, whom I call my lovelies, was more pressing, and less certain, than my own. Therefore, the news that schools would be closed today, leaving my lovelies with one less option of somewhere safe to go in the wake of Baltimore’s riots, unnerved me.
I trembled at my concerns, questions and fears about their safety, and the bowl I held slipped from my hands. When it struck the floor, it shattered. In the next moment, I, and my tears, also fell.
Moments like that will be what I remember from last night. Those of us in Baltimore last night, as well as those who felt safer leaving Baltimore for the night, those who have loved ones in or from Baltimore, who have memories of Baltimore, hopes for Baltimore: we will all have our own stories to tell about last night. About the riots. And everyone’s story is their own truth, and it matters. That I respect.
But the story isn’t just about last night. Our hearts shouldn’t break only for the destruction we saw, heard, smelled, tasted in our beloved city yesterday. Those memories shouldn’t be all that haunting to us. This story started before Freddie Gray died, before his spinal cord was injured. And it has obviously continued after he has been buried.
The story of last night, the stories leading up to this, and the stories to follow—these are the echoes of stories untold. Stories broken. Because we do not often enough share our stories outside of our comfort zone. How we can live in this city—nicknamed Smaltimore, yet somehow so severed between races—boggles my mind. How so many of us can be strangers to one another in a town that I swear truly deserves to be called Charm City, maddens me.
Anyone surprised by the story in Baltimore last night has not been paying attention. Harbingers of these flames, this shattered glass, those thrown rocks, have been in national headlines. But they have also been in the poverty, segregation, oppression and racism that are so everyday in places like Baltimore that agitating against them can seem countercultural.
When I broke that bowl last night, it wasn’t with any agenda. I broke it unintentionally, but something about it shattering made me feel either safe or uninhibited enough to finally let myself cry. The energy I spent yesterday trying to create space for my lovelies to share their own stories exhausted me. The grace in the fact that no one expressed concern for my well-being last night without also wishing safety for my lovelies overwhelmed me. The fear of what would happen in Baltimore not just last night, but beyond, crippled me. When that bowl broke, something inside me somehow felt free.
Please do not misconstrue these next words with anything resembling support or approval, but I would imagine that somewhere amidst last night’s wreckage, at least someone who had a hand in it feels a bit more free. No, this is never the way to achieve that, and God, I wish it hadn’t gotten to this point, but I’m willing to bet theirs is a story marred with trauma. A story that would benefit from being told, and heard. Two of my lovelies are responsible for some of the damage done in the riots, and I know the heartbreak of their stories. There is heartbreak in so many stories.
I pray that last night will provoke more of us to finally start hearing such stories, to help heal this heartbreak. If one of my lovelies can be so emboldened as to call me last night and ask, “I feel like there’s just this dark cloud over Baltimore. I’ve been walking around all day, and I have this feeling inside, and I don’t know what it is. And I–I don’t know. How do I process all of this?” then someone ought to be noble enough to at least try to answer him, and others like him: young people who would rather make sense of this nightmare through dialogue than destruction.
Last night, sitting by my window for hours, I heard the wail of sirens, the hum of helicopters, and the staccato of gunshots. And I can’t help but wonder: how much of this could have been avoided if there was a more authentic and meaningful exchange of stories within this Baltimore of ours?
I also can’t help but hope: how much more brilliant will Baltimore be once it becomes a city of story-sharers?
Author: Kerry Graham
Editor: Travis May