I’ve been blessed to travel the world in my 35 years of life. I have met a lot of great people, but the best people I know are all from Baltimore. All of us have tough skin, as thick as old leather, because that’s what it takes to survive the Black Baltimore experience. But something about that experience molds you, for better or worse. It makes you into something different, it changes you.
Last week, I attended a meeting with around a dozen grassroots organizations in Baltimore organized by We Our Us, a group that describes itself as a “Baltimore unity movement.”
The meeting, in many ways, was the result of our current state of affairs in Baltimore. As of this writing, according to the Baltimore Sun, we’ve had 219 homicides in 2023. Though we have seen a 16% reduction in violent crime citywide, death still permeates our streets with the same frequency as the rain. We’ve seen shootings at high school football games, a college campus, war zone-like shootouts near playgrounds, fistfights that turned deadly and arguments that took irreversible turns that left our communities grieving, parents weeping and the city bleeding.
Earlier this month, we had an active shooter situation at Morgan State University, where five people were shot. Thank God nobody was killed. However, it caused the university to cancel all homecoming activities and left many students traumatized. Shortly after that, I got the news that the city lost another young star to street violence – President Davo – a pillar of the Baltimore rap scene for years. His death sent shock waves through the city. Even now, I’m still numb, trying to process it. At times like this, it’s hard for me to believe better is coming when the storm rages to this degree.
Looking around at the gathering organized by We Our Us, it was easy to acknowledge the amazing work being done by the individuals and organizations in attendance. But it’s even easier to see that it’s not having the type of impact necessary to undo years of systemic racism, economic castration, educational divestment and political plunder that are choking the life out of our community every day. We’re fighting an uphill battle that we can never win as long as we’re fighting it as individuals.
So, on Saturday, Oct. 21, we’re going to do something that hasn’t been done before. We’re asking all of Baltimore’s grassroots organizations to come together and join us for a peace walk and day of service and giving. The title of the day’s events is “Put Down The Guns And Stop the Killing.” We will meet at noon in the parking lot at 940 Madison Ave.
After the peace walk, we’ll have a resource fair for parents and children, where we will connect folks to organizations offering jobs, medical treatment, mental health services, social services and food. There will also be a lineup of powerful speakers and youth leaders who will be discussing the root causes of our issues and how we can organize to address them as a collective.
I know some people who hear about this peace walk and day of service may see it as just another pointless march or rally. And I get that. In many ways, I’ve shared the same sentiments myself. I’ve been the one that says, “What’s the point of another stop the violence rally? What happens after the march? What’s going to make people stop shooting?”
But this time, we’re doing it differently. I can honestly say that at this point in my life, I’ve never seen all of the grassroots organizations in the city come together for anything of substance. We’ve had moments of unity, but nothing substantial enough to really lead to creating a broad coalition of community leaders and organizations united behind the same core goals with the same focus. But that’s exactly what we’re doing today. There will be ongoing engagement after the event is done. This will not be just a one-time thing.
In addition to providing services, we will connect individuals and organizations with similar goals with the purpose of sharing resources, collaborating on joint initiative, and holding policymakers accountable to address these issues through legislation.
Since we’ve started gathering, the number of grassroots organizations participating has tripled to more than 30. I’ve seen brothers and sisters of different religious backgrounds, social classes and statuses praying together, serving the community together and working together. I’ve been a part of some hard conversations that are helping us create comprehensive, community-based solutions to address problems we’re dealing with as individuals in our different fields every single day. With that kind of organization and selfless mindset, even a former nihilist such as myself can be inspired to believe that change is possible.
There are a few ways you can best support us.
The first way, of course, would be to show up on Oct. 21. Bring yourself, bring your children, bring your family, your students, mentees, lil homies, etc…But come. We’re looking to bring out at least 1,000 young people for this event. Students of all ages are welcome to attend. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in school for an elementary certificate, a high school diploma or a PhD. We want you all there. And we’re also providing students with community service hours for all that need them, so that’s an extra incentive to attend.
We will be doing a community cleanup before we get started, so feel free to come out early to participate in that. And the activities will be going on until 4:00 p.m.
Another way to show your support is by sharing information about the event with any youth, families or community organizations that you feel could benefit from attending, or who have services to provide.
If the violence in our community has personally impacted you and you need someone to talk to, we want you there. If you’re a student leader who has ideas on how we can address these issues and bring them to the table, we want you there. If you love Baltimore and our youth and want to see them succeed and have access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness outlined in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, we want you there.
Artists, creatives and entertainers, if you’re willing to come out and do a community art project, or some other form of activation or performance, come get involved.
Lastly, we’re still accepting a few more vendors to come out and provide free services, activations and community resources to all who are attending. So if you’re a business owner who is willing to give away something, reach out; if you have job opportunities to offer, reach out. If you have an organization that serves youth or families in the space of education, criminal justice, mental health, social services or anything of the sort, reach out.
For anyone interested in reaching out to bring youth, to be a vendor, organizer, or to volunteer, email: Pleaf@jhu.edu
Aaron M. Maybin
Artist, Author, Community Organizer, Former NFL player