MTV’s “Real World” series’ opening narration is something to ponder. While the show was vapid, the narration, oddly poignant: This is the true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite…and start getting real.
Read that one more time folks. I moved to Baltimore on June 18, 2012. My residency year was the “true story” of education in urban America. It was the story of 89 strangers with 89 vastly different truths and experiences living on one [dry] campus. We lived, worked and learned together. There were breakdowns when we stopped being polite and the city of Baltimore started getting real.
Baltimore has been many things to me but the people of this city have never let me down. Sure, I questioned what kind of teacher I was becoming my first year when I was a negative controller. Sure, I felt left out and isolated knowing people thought of me as “the whitest black person” they’d ever met. Yes, it hurt my feelings to be judged and sidelined my first year, but this city wasn’t built on polite…it was built on people getting real.
My host teacher and friends from my residency year allowed me to make this city a place I long for when I’m gone and cherish when I’m here. It sounds weird, but I enjoy driving to my west side school to do my running around the school’s track…to be of the neighborhood and experience as much as I can of the daily life where I taught.
To get to where I am now, comfortably feeling at home in Baltimore, I had to resolve and settle many struggles within myself when I moved out here. What was my identity? Who did I want to be? What was my vision? I’ve always contended that “Baltimore black ain’t Iowa black” and I have never taken culture differences for granted. Being rejected by a group hurts but the hurt I often felt my residency year and first year pushed me to immerse, value and learn about the realness of this city and its own scars.
The best communities in Baltimore are the ones I entered in to: my teaching program, my colleagues at work, the students and parents at the school I served. Just like friends from college and family back in Des Moines, IA- the key to community is a continual investment in the relationship. I stay present, go to events and continue to be a presence even though I am no longer a classroom teacher.
As I enter five and a half years of living in Baltimore, I smirk when I see “The Greatest City in America
” on old benches throughout the city and I chuckle at the nickname “Charm City”. There is an unyielding and unapologetic realness to this city. This city stops being polite and starts getting real your first few days here but you know what? This is the true story and I am forever grateful I was “stranger from” and now am “person of”.