Dear President Trump,
I live now on Kaua’i, but I am a proud daughter of Baltimore – born, reared, and educated. Each of my immigrant grandparents arrived by ship and settled. My parents built a business, a home and a family there. I trace their roots to East Baltimore; my own to West. Always, the city – never the suburbs. Congressman Elijah Cummings would have been my representative.
I’m a proud graduate of a fully integrated Forest Park High School – more than fifty years ago.
But there is much more to this story. I wasn’t always grateful. We were a blue-collar steel mill town (though, frankly, I never set eyes on one) in the obliterating bright shadow of the nation’s Capital just down the road. It was decidedly uncool to be from Baltimore.
When an early boyfriend from California loved Baltimore, it was a revelation. He saw the deep ethnic pockets of culture, restaurants, and more. He saw the potential in that body of tainted water on the city shores – the Chesapeake Bay. He thought DC was bureaucratic, governmental, and homogeneous. He praised Baltimore for its urban grittiness.
Yes, Mr. President, I’m a proud graduate of a fully integrated Forest Park High School more than fifty years ago. But from this vantage point, my experience appears to have been an accident of timing. Because, in truth, though the vice president of our graduating class was African American – I remember the shock of being refused entry to our graduation breakfast at Howard Johnson’s because of her. Now, I ponder, the innocence of that shock.
In truth, I entered Forest Park with the first and last fully integrated class. When I entered as a freshman, the senior class was, with few exceptions, white. When I was a senior, the freshman class was, with few exceptions, black.
Fear, Mr. President, was the reason for that change. The identical fear – these fifty plus years later – that you heartlessly rekindle and stoke.
Fear, that with the arrival of a single African American family, the value of our homes (embodying all that our working-class neighbors owned) would plummet. And plummet they did. We moved. Forest Park shed its diversity. White flight – only the realtors had anything to gain – moved us outside of what would have been Congressman Cummings district to the further reaches of Baltimore.
That was the truth of my youthful Baltimore. I am among the very few of my Grandparents’ descendants to leave the city for greener pastures. My parents lived and died within its borders. My extended family remains intact and at home in the city of Baltimore.
But that is not where this story ends. In the intervening years I have lived in: Madison, Wisconsin; Florence, Italy; San Francisco, California; Annapolis, Maryland; Saigon, South Vietnam; Cleveland, Ohio, Rochester, New York; Washington, DC; Union, West Virginia; Roanoke, Virginia; Portland, Oregon – and for the past twenty-one years – Kaua’i, Hawai’i.
Trust me, Mr. President, I have had the opportunity to see this nation and this world – urban, suburban and rural. Here’s what I want you know.
For eleven years, my Native Hawaiian husband and I have spent our winters speaking on behalf of his oppressed people and his powerful ancient culture across every inch of the United States. In these past few years, when the exhaustion of car-travel - driving from speaking gig to speaking gig - necessitated a “base” to travel out from, we might easily have chosen that base in Santa Fe or Seattle or New Orleans or Minneapolis.
We surprised ourselves by choosing Baltimore.
For three months each winter we rent a tiny space in West Baltimore – directly around the corner from Mr. Cummings’ district office. My Native Hawaiian husband refuses fear – and so there is absolutely no inch of that inner city where we do not (bundled against cold, snow and wind) walk. In between tour dates: we walk to free museums, ethnic restaurants, inexpensive jazz clubs – and the storied tourism-hub around the Inner Harbor.
I beg to disagree, Mr. President. Walking among strangers – most often African American - we are warmly greeted by the “no humans would want to live there” and amicably welcomed by all of those who are “living in hell.”
In sum, Mr. Trump. Lay off my hometown.