Greetings of Peace = UBUNTU
Baltimore; Reflections from the Field
As I sat in my living room in Boston watching the media reports of the uprisings in Baltimore, MD, I was compelled to travel there to see how ICNA Relief USA could assist. My faith called me to respond. Understanding how media sensationalizes reports, I wanted to see firsthand the situation on the ground. What I found was a city under siege although very different than what was being portrayed by major news outlets.
Upon arrival in downtown Baltimore there was an eerie abandonment of the city. I walked past blocks of businesses which were closed but oddly there were no vandals on the street. I stumbled upon what looked like an army base in the middle of the city however to my surprise it was City Hall Plaza. While approaching the scene; National Guard were in full combat fatigues gripping their assault rifles perched upon tanks – yes tanks invaded the streets of Baltimore! What looked to be a sea of blue; police stood in riot gear. I wondered what they were preparing for. I, myself felt threatened as I walked past a convoy of military vehicles; my heart began to race and my natural defenses alerted, not knowing what I’d encounter.
I, a white Muslim woman arrived on West North Ave; Ground Zero in Baltimore and strangely did not find looters and rioters instead a resilient community attempting to survive. As I walked the neighborhood near the CVS which was burned during the uprisings, I didn’t feel threatened but what I saw was devastation which existed long before the murder of Freddie Gray. Rows upon rows of empty boarded up buildings which absentee landlords abandoned many years before. I saw children with nowhere to turn except the city block to play for their community centers closed, even before many of them were born. I observed red, black and blue colors united; so called “gangs” of youth sitting on stoops of boarded up buildings with nowhere to go. These young people the media described as thugs were united to keep the peace within their community.
As I walked, I saw churches unloading truckloads of food to feed the community, I met organizers from Ferguson who were there to share lessons of a shared struggle and I was greeted with smiles as I walked past residents who were continuing with life as usual. For many who live in this community the events leading up to the murder of Freddie Gray were nothing new; it is a reality they live with on a day to day basis in this section of Baltimore which seems forgotten; plagued with some of the worst poverty in the country. When I reached my destination; Masjid ul-Saffat headed by Imam Hassan Amin which was established in 1971; I saw that they are a central organization in the community. Masjid ul-Saffat; home to the Muslim Social Service Agency (MSSA); has boots on the ground in serving the community. It was the perfect relationship for ICNA Relief USA to forge. This is an organization which has been serving their community since 2008 based on the teachings of Islam.
ICNA Relief USA and MSSA teamed up to serve those hardest hit by the recent uprisings; senior citizens who are now been cut off from being able to access basic needs. The CVS which was destroyed during the uprisings sits across the street from a nursing home. There is another senior center directly across the street from a Save-a-Lot grocery store which is now boarded up and a third senior home within close proximity. These seniors; many of whom use wheelchairs or walkers are unable to travel far; now unable to shop for themselves, cut off from basic necessities. While ICNA Relief USA and MSSA were able to provide short term relief by providing basic food staples and personal hygiene products; the need will remain for some time.
The Muslim response in Baltimore has been extraordinary; unfortunately not covered by mainstream media. There are numerous indigenous Muslim Centers and organizations who are taking a leading role in their community but lack the resources to bring about a greater systemic change. So remember there are always two sides to the story and often what we see on the TV is not so. I now have a better understanding of the institutionalized racism the residents of Baltimore face on a day to day basis which breads the environment we have today. #BlackLivesMatter