On North Avenue, A Chance Encounter with Dignity

A chance encounter with dignity: we were headed in different directions, our destinations – and everything else – unknown to one another.

A portion of North Avenue, formerly a city limit, is home to a jumble of long-time African-American neighbors, creatives, young entrepreneurs, and people passing through. Rich with their assorted cultural resources. 

It’s one place in Baltimore where racial and class silos are just a bit permeable. People mix it up on the street. At the corner of North Avenue and North Charles Street. At Red Emma’s, where you can pay it forward for a cuppa joe and browse radical lit. At the Y-Not Lot, home to community gatherings like the mourning after the Pulse shootings. At Impact Hub, a co-working and civic forum space. I was headed there yesterday to learn about the work of B-CIITY: Baltimore City Intergenerational Initiatives for Trauma and Youth. 

More about them another time: that event was cancelled at the last minute, making room for a different encounter.

 

North Avenue, Tuesday morning

by Sara Eisenberg

 

how ‘bout we exchange a little love?

you said,

throwing your left arm wide 

open for a hug.

 

awlriiiight, I said,

turning back to you

with a natural affection.

 

you’d spent four bucks

on a bus pass and had not

eaten, i had

a couple of bucks

to spare.

 

we turned away, headed in different

directions,

I had a clear destination, 

arrived to find 

B-CIITY’s event cancelled, so

 

(ten minutes) 

 

there you were, reached out

again, 

standing at the bus stop, half

a hot sandwich wrapped

in paper

 

made my day,

you said

turns out I came down here just to meet you,

I said

 

you looked emaciated, even a lightweight

jacket sat heavy on your

shoulders but

you had a destination too

 

and dignity

to spare.

 


Banner photo: Common Threads, by Linda Carmel, Hillsborough Gallery, Hillsborough, North Carolina

Freddie Gray: three years gone

I am an older white woman. My presence does not provoke a call to 911.

If I get pulled over for a broken tail-light, the most I have to worry about is a pricey ticket.

If I get followed by a salesperson, the most I have to worry about is her zealous devotion to making a sale.

If I am locked out of my house, the most I have to worry about is getting back in and maybe replacing the window I had to break to do it.

I am an older white woman. If I see a cop on the street, I am not likely to flee on foot, as Freddie Gray did on the day of his arrest. According to charging documents, ”unprovoked upon noticing police presence.”

 

Dear Freddie Gray

by Sara Eisenberg

 

Freddie Gray,

there’s a lot of people you never met

whose lives you changed.

 

You should have your own flag, rising

above your own Memorial

Stadium,

while we take the knee,

especially we

white people, 

it was our city that

would not hear your

story in your own words,

who you were, 

what you wanted,

what you wanted to give, 

what you wanted to leave behind,

 

and then leaving long before your time,

 

leaving a lot of people you never met,

whose lives you changed

these three years ago,

people you never met,

whose lives you changed:

in your name,

we’re not leaving

without changing

black men’s lives.

Designed to go on being, even when I forget to trust

I know I am designed “to go on being.” And to “go on being” not just anybody. Not an idealized, cleaned up version of myself. Nor an aspirational version. But a plain and quirky, occasionally brilliant, more often ordinary and flawed Sara: one-of-a-kind.

Yet I forget. I forget to trust my design. 

Life itself provides the reminders, as well as the support and pleasures of “going on being” in the company of other one-of-a-kinders.

 

recommissioned in perpetuity

by Sara Eisenberg

 

a wisdom-mechanism within

moves inexorably towards wholeness,

around, over, through the

barriers I have erected

(put in place for the Highest Good at the time: survival.) I

 

study myself to know I 

am alive, have a place. I 

push myself. I 

push against myself

(prevent  annihilation) 

unforgiving towards my

self as a flaw in creation. I

 

move out of the center of my attention,

move towards you: I 

push against you or disappear

(Reb Nachman said, ‘All the world is just a narrow bridge.” 

Just so my bandwidth for connection.)

 

in my 02 Honda the check engine light comes on.

Gary the technician reminds me it could be nothing, again, or one 

of ninety-two possible malfunctions.

Brenda the healer reminds me I can bear the incompleteness I

am.

 

the battery of the loaner car, parked

in front of my house 

dies.

 

by evening,

Daniel and Leah bear witness to the day’s

recommissions: I trust

my existence, relax

in my skin, dance

as I wash dishes,

self-forgiven,

soft, tender,

a woman

of rank.

Timeless power of language: nonviolence and violence

Nonviolence: using peaceful means rather than force, especially to bring about political or social change

Nonviolence, in Dr. King’s words, Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963:

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored…I have earnestly worked and preached against violent tension, but there is a type of constructive nonviolent tension that is necessary for growth… So the purpose of direct action is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.

 

Dr. King’s death was widely reported as an assassination, carried out by a sniper, a lone gunman, who was a white man (or men, if you follow one of many conspiracy theories, as did King’s family.)

In the shadow of the death of Dr. King, who had unparalleled command of language, voice, and delivery, I feel called upon to simply place the following words and their definitions in proximity to one another.

We may identify these words with quite different historical periods. Let time collapse into this historical moment. This moment. Today. As you reflect, let these words talk to one another:

Violence: behaviour involving physical force intended to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. In law: the unlawful exercise of physical force or intimidation by the exhibition of such force

Sniper: a person who shoots from a hiding place, especially accurately and at long range

Assassination: the murder of an important person in a surprise attack for political or religious reasons.

Terrorism: the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

Lynching: kill (someone) for an alleged offense without a legal trial, especially by hanging

Segregation: the act or policy of separating people of different races, religions or sexes and treating them in a different way

Mass incarceration: the imprisonment of a large proportion of a population, used in particular with reference to the significant increase in the rate.

Slavery: the practice or system of owning persons as legal property who are forced to obey their owners.

Institutional racism: racial discrimination that has become established as normal behaviour within a society or organization

White supremacy: the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society

Jim Crow: the former practice of segregating black people in the US; an implement for straightening iron bars or bending rails by screw pressure.

Redlining: refusal to give loans or insurance to people in an area that is considered to be a bad financial risk

White privilege: inherent advantages possessed by a white person on the basis of their race in a society characterized by racial inequality and injustice

(Note: definitions according to the Oxford English Dictionary)

For myself, I find the significance of each word 

is illumined by the others.

I am better able to take in each word as

the timeless/time-bound piece of reality it is, 

when amongst the others.

I take these words together to be the still 

unaddressed lineage of our country.

It is long past time to own up to our long history

of behaviors intended to hurt, damage, or kill.

May our reflections open us to insight and inspire us to action.

         

P. S. Historical note on the concept of race

IMG_1554THE HISTORY OF THE IDEA OF RACE… AND WHY IT MATTERS Audrey Smedley, Professor of Anthropology Emerita Virginia Commonwealth University, 2007, American Anthropological Association.

“In the middle of the 20th century, a new generation of historians began to take another look at the beginnings of the American experience. They spent decades exploring all of the original documents relating to the establishment of colonies in America. What these scholars discovered was to transform the writing of American history forever. Their research revealed that our 19th and 20th century ideas and beliefs about races did not in fact exist in the 17th century. Race originated as a folk idea and ideology about human differences; it was a social invention, not a product of science. Historians have documented when, and to a great extent, how race as an ideology came into our culture and our consciousness.” 

http://www.understandingrace.org/resources/pdf/disease/smedley.pdf

 


 

Photo of segregated drinking fountain taken at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, October, 2016