Dear Future Bon Secours Ministry Volunteers,
We are so excited for you all and your coming year with BSVM; get ready for an amazing year full of growth and change! We wanted to take the opportunity to address the recent uprisings in Baltimore, something that has been at the forefront of the news, and also, as we’re sure, on your hearts and minds as you prepare to make the move to Baltimore in September. Because we were all in a similar position as you just a year ago, we understand that there is much uncertainty and anxiety associated with a move like this, perhaps even more so in light of the unrest. We want you to know that we are here to talk to you about whatever it is that is on your mind and to answer questions, both now and throughout your volunteer year. This letter draws from each of our experiences in Baltimore during the unrest, and hopefully provides a perspective on the events that doesn’t typically reach the media and doesn’t enter the national discussion.
It has been a privilege to live in West Baltimore at this time in history. Much of the rioting following the death of Freddie Gray occurred two miles north of our current home in West Baltimore. The activity began shortly after schools were let out and as it unfolded we each experienced different feelings and emotions. Some of us felt that we should make plans to leave in case things turned for the worse, while some of us felt more comfortable staying. But, we all realized that we had a choice to leave, to find safety. Many of our neighbors did not.
In the days and weeks following the riots we began reflecting and talking about what had unfolded. We were outraged and saddened that the people of Baltimore could riot and destroy their own community. We were scared that the rioters and protesters might march down our street. We were saddened by the death of Freddie Gray. We were angered that police brutality is all too common in our neighborhood. Ultimately, we were disappointed that a community we have come to love and be a part of was now “living up” to the reasons that others tend to avoid it. As a community, we found ourselves trying to make sense out of what was happening, but the noise of “figuring it out” prevented us from hearing the needs of one another, those within our immediate household as well as those in our greater West Baltimore neighborhood.
Amidst trying to figure all of this out, our Director posed a question that shifted our focus from formulating answers, to listening for them. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “a riot is the language of the unheard”. In light of this, we were challenged to ask what was really being said by those who participated in the riots. Through discussions with coworkers, conversations with parents, and media coverage of the topic, it was apparent that, for the most part, there was a failure to ask why the unrest had happened in the first place. Did the rioters just lash out because of the tragic, unjust death of one of their neighbors? That might be reason enough. But we realized that it was much more than that. It was an outcry for justice.
In the days following the events that took place, we embraced the opportunity to practice listening by being active in our community; we participated in a potluck dinner just a few blocks down the road, attended a community meeting led by a prominent activist, and continued with our daily work routines. Our home was and continues to be a safe place for us to process our thoughts and feelings about what was taking place. After coming to appreciate that listening was integral to this processing, we came to the conclusion that the reason the riots happened is the reason we are here in the first place.
We might not understand what it means to be permanent residents of Baltimore but we are . You are called, as you enter into your year of service, to continue these flames for justice and peace through love.
There are a lot of things that we wanted to convey to all of you: the ways in which we have all grown from this experience, the tensions we have felt as a community, how we have learned to listen to one another and understand our own unique backgrounds. In the end, what we really want you to take from this letter is that, despite difficult times and situations that try our beliefs, the reason we are all here is to bring a loving presence to this community as we work toward a world in which everyone is heard.
With love and peace,
The BSVM Community of 2014-15