TELLING STORIES, CHANGING THE CONVERSATION

16 reasons why we fell in love with Baltimore

in Arts & Culture/Politics & Social Justice by

There are many reasons why we bang hard for Baltimore. Here are a dozen and some change.

1. Ama Chandra

On any given day, activist-turned-nurse-turned-singer, Ama Chandra, gives affirmations on social media then rotates her words of wisdom with going off-of-the-grid for peace of mind. After a few days of convening with ancestors and mama earth, she jumps back into Boom Bap Baltimore’s rotation by rocking theaters with show stopping performances.

Chandra, a migrant to Baltimore, works as a nurse at Johns Hopkins hospital. At one point, she specialized in providing care to patients recovering from heart surgery. While in Charm City, she engages in the city’s cultural landscape as a Capoeira practitioner of the Afro-Brazilian martial art.

One of the many who pushed against the injustices of the local establishment, she was front lines in the protests after Freddie Gray was killed and the city exploded. Shortly after the civilian uprising demonstrating Gray’s killing at the hands of local police, Chandra battled, literally, for her life.

On an ordinary midsummer’s night in a Baltimore flat, an intruder snuck into the bedroom of Ama Chandra as she slept with her then, three-year-old daughter. Within seconds, the trespasser attacked them with Chandra’s kitchen knife. Chandra fought back with her only weapon — her hands — all the while her daughter watched. Focused on protecting her child, the mother of two successfully defended herself, eventually causing the attacker to flee. Then Chandra realized that she was bleeding from multiple stab wounds to the chest and one deep cut to her heart.

But it would be her generous giving heart and fighting spirit that saved her after a 5-hour-surgery and months of recovery. Her advocacy and artistry went deeper following her experience. Although, she found out that there were similar attacks to women in the area, she never left Baltimore, but became an advocate and pushed for holistic healing. Much of that is through song and workshops she gives.

Says, Chandra. “Medicine songs. I want people to have simple catchy sounds rhythms and messages that easily reset them to a place of love. Most people notice my tone and energy. It goes down easy. From babies to elders. Over the years I have employed my healing and sound for myself and others. I Lead with Love. Another human striving to be whole. Chasing visions of victory for all of us.”

2. Taharka Bros. Ice Cream

When The Taharka Brothers Ice Cream presented a flavor called, “A Dream Preferred” in ode to Langston Hughes and his love for penny candy then came out with, Pryor Knowledge, to celebrate other “N” words like flavors such as Nutella, nutmeg, nuts and ‘nutter butter cookies, we’ve been hooked to Baltimore’s homegrown dessert company.

Fusing imagination and social consciousness, the company uses the ingenious concept of creating various ice creams around social justice or a known social justice advocate such as Chaka Khan, Howard Zinn or after The Haitian Revolution.

Plus, the ice cream is delicious. In the summer of 2013, the Taharka Bros. served ice cream in front of Seventy Sixes barbershop in Newark, New Jersey to local students on hot spring day. The result was 10 gallons were gone in less than an hour.

Over the years, the company strikes collaborations to maintain sustainability in the city and bring jobs to local folk, and especially opportunities for youth with a focus on young black men.

Named after Taharka McCoy, a youth advocate and mentor who turned his life around, he was shot by a 14-year-old when attempting to wrestle a gun out of his hand. Several of the his mentees decided to keep his name alive and became The Taharka Bros. Today, they company is known for their signature pink truck that they fundraised to buy and restore in 2013, The Taharka Bros. is undoubtedly, a made in Baltimore, original.

3. Ta-Nehisi Coates

Washington DC, June 19, 2019, USA: Ta-Nehisi Coates and Danny Glover arrive at The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties hearing on H.R. 40.

Occasionally, when Coates speaks and gets deep into analysis, you hear the richness of the B-more accident come out. But that’s not why we effs with Coates. He is one of the rising, great thinkers today. Through his writings and talks, Coates has forced this world to think about the lens of the Black experience and its complexities.

A 2015 MacArthur Genius recipient and currently, a writer in residence at New York University’s, Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, he represents the intricacies and brilliance of Baltimore well. From his eye opening pieces explaining the residues of slavery with his investigative piece, The Case for Reparations, to flossing his creative jaunts as a writer for Marvel’s Black Panther and Captain America, or even the near release of his fiction book, The Water Dancer, Coates is a Baldamore classic.

4. Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture

The largest museum focusing on the Black experience and its culture for Marylanders, it chronicles the richness of history and people who built the state and keep it flourishing.

At the museum, you can trace Harriet Tubman’s fateful escape from slavery and her trips back, to the movements and experiences of Frederick Douglass, both who are some of the most notable Americans in history.

5. Harriet Tubman

Not far from Baltimore, Harriet Tubman plotted and successfully escaped slavery 170 years ago. Once in Philadelphia, she realized her purpose. To free others.

Her first trip was to Baltimore, to help her cousin and children escape. Making multiple trips down south, Tubman is documented for helping 300 people flee slavery. Her travels mark landscapes today that are celebrated in counties from Canada down to Georgia.

During the Cival War, she joined the Union Army as a spy and scout. She is known as the first woman and Black person to lead a calvary when she led 150 Black Union forces in South Carolina where they defeated Confederate soldiers in what is known as the Combahee River Raid.

There is so much to be said about Tubman, who gave every dime of hers to uplift Black people, we simply would run out of space. Even though she might not be on the $20 US bill, she is a priceless person in American and world history.

| Read more on how black spies played a pivotal role in the Civil War |

6. Frederick Douglass

“No man can be truly free whose liberty is dependent upon the thought, feeling and action of others, and who has himself no means in his own hands for guarding, protecting, defending and maintaining that liberty.” Frederick Douglass

Like his contemporary, Harriet Tubman, the quintessential free man, Frederick Douglas was born in Tuckahoe county, about 69 miles east of Baltimore and across Chesapeake Bay. He came to the city as a child and stayed for 18 years of his life, where he learned to read and write while working at Baltimore’s shipyard.

Douglass escaped from slavery, becoming one of the most authoritative figures, thinkers and speakers of the nineteenth century. There are so many enterprises he launched for Blacks, like Tubman, he gave his earnings to the upliftment of African Americans who were then called Negroes.

Not forgetting his early life, Douglass eventually built five homes in the Fells Point section of Baltimore so that Black folk could rent without being discriminated against and who were working to get on their feet. The homes were called, “Douglass Place” or “Douglass Row.”

7. The Short Kuts

What do you get when you fuse the genius of educator and inspirational speaker Dr. LaMarr Shields and creative enterprising entrepreneur, Darius Wilmore along Baltimore’s MC Brawl with DJ Excel? Dope shit.

The Short Kuts is a live storytelling series for educators and students that primarily runs out of the Reginald Lewis African American Museum. Teachers who run the gamut of awe-inspiring lives, narrate their experiences as inner city educators in front of an audience.

The partnership between Shields and Wilmore started with Shields’ Fades & Fellowship, a theatrical company consisting of barbers bringing to life the barbershop conversation and culture. The featured actor is Nelson Malden who has operated a barber shop at the center of Centennial Hill, but also worked as Martin Luther King Jr.’s barber in the 1950s in Alabama during the Montgomery Bus Boycott that lasted two years.

Fast forward, bringing on others for The Short Kuts, the series explores HBCU school days to immigrants and living as a member of the LGBTQIA community.

8. Baltimore House Music

If you’ve ever heard a remix of a Jill Scott’s “Long Walk Home” and found yourself sweating from dancing uncontrollably then you’ve experienced Bmore house. Emerging from disco, soul, gospel and R&B genres of the 70s, Bmore house sprung into life in the 1980s by deejays interlocking and experimenting with Chicago house, hardcore UK rave, Miami booty-shake bass, hip-hop, rave and chopped staccoto music with a James Brown breakbeat to ground it.

9. Afro American Newspaper

The longest running family owned newspaper in the country that was established in 1892, by John Henry Murphy Sr., a former slave, The Afro American, popularly known as The Afro, consists of a chain of papers throughout Maryland (National News – Baltimore News – Washington D.C. News – Prince George’s County News).

Headquartered in Baltimore, The Afro continues to capture the experiences of Marylanders and hold its legacy of resistance through reporting and featuring communities, often overlooked by mainstream media.

10. Blue crab season

Blue crab season – It is essential to eat Maryland’s favorite local meat, blue crab, to get a taste of the local cuisine in its freshness. Well that’s if you are not allergic to crustaceans. Try steam crab, fried crab, boiled crab, crab fricassee, crab cake, crab salad, crab fritters, crab burgers and the hundreds of other culinary inventions during the year.

11. Morgan State University

Morgan State University – One of the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU) educating local African Americans, Morgan State holds a history of producing some of the brightest in the area with specialties in cyber security, public health, education reform, criminal justice and neighborhood and community revitalization. Today it is named, “Maryland’s Preeminent Public Urban Research University.”

Starting as a private college, Centenary Biblical Institute, in 1867, Morgan State became a public institution in 1939 then changed its name to Morgan State College. One of the first of two universities to receive accreditation—University of Maryland College Park was the other—it is known for educating Black students when they were barred from attending white colleges and universities.

In the 1970s, it became a university and continues to be an essential space in Maryland while located in the heart of Baltimore. Now, with 150 years of excellence, it has become a sought after university with students from all backgrounds.

12. Birthing jazz greats

Jazz would be missing a part of its soul if not for Billie Holiday and Eubie Blake, both legends who mapped out important works to ensure jazz remains an American classical music. While Holiday’s syrupy voice marked important works such as the timeless and poignant, “Summertime,” “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless the Child,” “Gloomy Sunday,” and “Body and Soul,” the musician Blake, a widely celebrated composer, was part of creating and popularizing both ragtime and jazz.

Blake’s songs include “Bandana Days,” “Charleston Rag,”, “Love Will Find a Way.” He’s also noted for writing the music for Broadway hit classic, “Shuffle Along.”

13. Thurgood Marshall

Cecilia Marshall (2nd from left) and Justice Thurgood Marshall (right) and their two sons. (Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage)

A legal genius and civil rights anchor, the work of Thurgood Marshall helped shift critical legislation protecting Black folk and people of color. Often overlooked for his work as a lawyer during the Civil Rights Movement, his legal expertise proved to be critical. In other words, while MLK and others were marching and preaching, Marshall, along with a cadre of lawyers were suing the hell out of the US government.

Marshall was the grandson of a slave who admired the teachings and guidance of his father. He went to Lincoln University with his classmates being Langston Hughes, the future first Black president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, and musician Cab Calloway.

Even though Marshall is turning in his grave by the roll backs of laws today, his life work went to correcting the legal injustices of the US. Born and reared in Baltimore, Marshall was the first Black Supreme Court Justice.

14. Mo’Nique

When we hear, “Hey my loves,” we know we’re about to be loved on, educated, cry and laugh in one comedic note, because the artist known as, Mo’Nique, comes as a truth-teller and slays all of the bullshit when she talks and performs.

Along with her lifelong partner, Sidney Hicks, a childhood best friend also from Baltimore, Mo’Nique often talks about her lifelong work towards advocacy. She has the receipts to prove it. From standing up to the pay inequalities at Netflix to calling out Oprah Winfrey for her questionable ethics around the time Mo’Nique promoted the movie, Precious, in which she won an Academy Award, it is good to see how the Baltimore original has blossomed before our eyes.

Mo’Nique’s revolutionary roots come from a longline of Baltimoreans intersecting arts and activism. The arts and artisan industry in the city is part of the area’s soul. Today, artists fight of an arts and entertainment district to sustain themselves and promote their work.

Drink your green juice and construct your story while checking white supremacy. We see you.

15. Amy Sherald

The portraits of US presidents and their spouses are artistic feats leaving indelible marks in history. So when the unveiling of Amy Sherald’s portraitures of Barack and Michelle Obama broke the mold and recreated another one, we have to thank Baltimore for creating a person of such innovation and boldness. Sherald, like Mo’Nique come from the long line of artists in the city.

16. Revolution & Resistance

The history of Baltimore’s resistance movements gets underscored by recent reports of a city that fell into neglect in a post-industrial US. However, the people know the stories and continue to ride on the energy implanted by those who came before them.

As the second most important port during slavery in the 1700s, there are documents showing the numerous resistance and abolition efforts of Blacks both enslaved and free. During post-emancipation until the 1960s, multiple movements for equal protection and rights were carried out by a host of churches, newspapers, clubs, and civic organizations founded and operated by Blacks.

Baltimore Black folk used to hold so many demonstrations that President John F. Kennedy had to step in and pass an ordinance to desegregate the city’s eating spaces. One of the nicknames for Baltimore is Mobtown due to the number of civil unrests in the city. As if the city by the water would quell, it erupted in 2015 after the death of Freddie Gray.

When the country exploded about the recent attempt by Number 45 to gut Baltimore of its history, we at Ark Republic simply laughed. You’ll love Baltimore like we do, if you just visit and support the local culture, businesses and social justice groups who are working towards progress and freedom.

When the country exploded about the recent attempt by Number 45 to gut Baltimore of its beauty and people, we at Ark Republic simply laughed. You’ll love Baltimore like we do, if you just visit and support the local culture, businesses and social justice groups who are working towards progress and freedom.

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