By Dr. Kaye Whitehead
Special to AFRO
A few days before the beginning of the new year, I called my father to rant and rave about Baltimore. I was frustrated by the rising homicide numbers and the general air of malaise that had settled over the city and overwhelmed by having to facilitate ongoing conversations on my radio show (Today with Dr. Kaye) about the death and suffering of my people.
My father, who is a southern baptist minister, quietly listened as I spoke and cried, and then he took me to the book of Esther while weaving in a little bit of Dr. King. “Relief,” my father said, “will come to the city of Baltimore, but if you are silent, at this moment, then one day, your silence will be seen as betrayal. And who knows, perhaps, you were moved to that place for such a time as this. You are in the small space now, hold your ground.” I laughed when I hung up because when I was growing up, during the Watch Night, New Year’s Eve service my father would always remind the congregation that we had moved into a small space, and we needed to hold our ground. He would tell us, at about 11:55 pm (right before the countdown to the New Year), that there is a small space that exists right between who you used to be and who you want to be, where you must stop and make a decision. Do you go forward to carve out a new path, running toward the person you want to be, or do you turn and go back to the familiar path, chasing after who you used to be?
It is in that quiet moment when you are alone, where you must stare into the mirror and take a long loving look at the real you. It is a painful moment, one that might break your soul. It is a place where two roads have diverged, and whichever one you choose, the well-worn or the less traveled will determine who you are going to be. It is an occasion that must be marked, to record for years to come that something happened, that a decision was made. Marking moments is something that we, as human beings, do. We mark the moment when a child is born when we get married, or when we fall in love. We record the day when we lose a loved one, when we decide to get sober, and when we realize who we are in this world. We mark these moments because something significant happened. We mark them because they matter.
Within small cities, places like Baltimore, we mark our collective shared moments. We look around our beloved city and collectively struggle to reconcile ourselves with the reality that we are both moving forward and standing still. We are in that moment, where we must ask ourselves, are we willing to pay a pound of flesh to save this city. It is very likely that the cost of this battle (to pull us forward into who we want to be), might be more than we are prepared to give. To be clear, it will not be more than what we have; but, it might be more than what we are prepared to give. ‘
Baltimore actually hurts. It takes your breath away and gives you moments where you gasp and clutch your pearls; where you scream and cry out loud; where you go to bed angry and wake up pissed off. If you care about the future of this city and if your heart is breaking for what breaks the heart of grieving mothers in this city and if you co-labor with those who are standing at the edge holding back the fire in this city, then your spirit is probably deeply troubled for what has been happening in this city. We are at a moment where if you choose to remain silent about what is happening in this city, then one day, your silence will be seen as a betrayal. This is a moment that will define us for years to come.
As a people, we have been here before. We have come of age in a nation that has been hellbent on oppressing us, on trying to break us, on attempting to hold us back. We know how it feels to speak up, to pay the pound of flesh, and to move (as Dr. King once said) against all the apathy of conformist thought. We have been here before when the silence of our elected officials spoke volumes and made it clear to us that they care more about themselves than they do about us. We have been here before as a people, and we have been here before as a city. We know what to do. My prayer for Baltimore 2.0 is that this is the year when we reclaim our city, we lean into our city, and we fight like hell to save and transform our city.
Karsonya Wise Whitehead ([email protected]; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is the #Blackmommyactivist and an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland. Recently selected for the Essence Woke 100 List, she is the award-winning host of “Today With Dr. Kaye” on WEAA 88.9 FM. She lives in Baltimore City with her husband and their two sons.
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