Is it funny, sad, crazy, or criminal when I experience what happened in Ferguson, New York, and North Charleston—among other places—that I have a restrained dimension of response? When it happens in Bawlamer my emotions run much deeper. My sense of Christian social justice is more radically stirred.
Why is this? I guess it is because I grew up in Bawlamer, spent several years living there when I was twentysomething consulting with congregations in racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity areas, and I had a sister and family I visited who lived there for 30 years after my growing up years.
It is because I know many of the places where people marched, stores were vandalized, and buildings were burned. I looked up on Google Maps the location of all the incidents to see where they were in relationship to places I went and neighborhoods through which I traveled.
It is because I tell deep, personal stories about Bawlamer. It is because several years ago when visiting with a client in Bawlamer, I flew in early and spent hours driving around all my familiar places in Bawlamer recalling things that happened there.
“Yep, that is the place I almost got killed,” I think to myself as I see the hill I was coming down on my bicycle when I was about 10 years old as my chain came off, and I had no brakes, was about to roll into a busy cross street, and jumped off of my bike into the bushes. I only had scrapes and bruises, but it could have been much worse.
I thought as I drove around that it is amazing I could walk, ride my bike, and play with my friends several miles from home in the midst of Bawlamer in the late 1950s to the mid-1960s without my parents having any idea where I was, and without cell telephones or other means of communication.
However, wherever I went I was in my ‘hood. I was safe and my parents knew it. I did not have to worry about anyone trying to do anything. I certainly did not have to worry about the police. My parents mentored me about strange people enough that I had sufficient street smarts to avoid places and people of unknown danger. Also, I knew how to find my way home for supper.
My father was pastor of a church in Bawlamer. It was in the ‘hood. It was a great church in many ways. It also preferred people like them. Racism was not talked about much in the church as there was little interaction between our church and people from other ‘hoods. The only regular non-white person around our church was Cliff the church custodian. He came from another ‘hood.
This all changed in 1968 following the riots sparked by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. That is a story for another day. Besides I was living in Philadelphia by then.
Fortunately the public schools I attended in Bawlamer were much more diverse than my ‘hood. I learned to appreciate and understand people of various racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It was not people of African-American, Hispanic-American, or Asian-American persuasion that caused my blood pressure to go up. They were my friends.
It was the Jewish people. There were a bunch of them—particularly when I went to high school. They too were my friends, but they scared me. They were so smart. They intimidated me. Even my best friend in the 10th grade—Jonathan—was so smart that he came in seventh in the nation among Jewish kids his age in his knowledge of the Old Testament. He knew the OT so much better than me.
All I know is that my emotions are running deeper about Bawlamer and the injustice. It is compounded by the fact that I read the week before the demonstrations broke out The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander and Strangers at My Door by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.
My Christian social justice emotions are now radically stirred and Bawlamer is the reason!
Note: The term “Bawlamer” is a popular local term in Baltimore used to help new people or tourists learn how to pronounce Baltimore like a long-term resident. It is popularized in books, web site, and Facebook pages.