Several Novembers ago, Emily mentioned that she was considering leaving Michigan. That March, she then proposed! We decided to get hitched quick and then chase our future, together! Our hope was for Emily to find her calling close to certain prestigious law schools in the US. We made a list of cities and ranked them from D.C. all the way down to Austin. Like other cities with high quality law schools, such as Boston and L.A., Baltimore was not on that list.
Yet, there we were, the very next November: residents of Baltimore!
Shout out to college friends of Emily’s who were like, yeah, come on out to the Mid-Atlantic and let’s just become family friends forever? They gave us astonishing levels of support as a brand new couple moving across the country! Literally we were put up in a private suite, rent free, while Jack got his Paralegal Certificate.
It had a private vending machine, a tv and lounge with all of the football, a gorgeous yard… I mean, I have to stress that we were really scared to move. All we could see while we were packing was the life that we were leaving behind. We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into on the other side of the freaking mountains. I guess the ancient Greeks used to refer to the future as what was “behind” them. The past was what was “in front” of them, because that’s all they could see. We talk about time as if we’re moving through it, facing the future, but really it’s a better metaphor if we’re moving forwards but facing backwards. Because we couldn’t see the future, we didn’t know we would be met with such generosity of spirit. Early supporters of our mixed-faith and mixed-race family are our most cherished family and friends to this day.
We rented our first place together – a 500 sq.ft. studio in a row home – in an old neighborhood with the most welcoming rodents and stray cats in all the alleys along all of the rowhomes in Baltimore. We were charmed, and we hated to leave! But Jack had an opportunity to work with an esteemed legal scholar (and EFF Board Member) by attending one of the law schools in nearby Lawyer Capital of the World: Washington, D.C.
Shortly after we left, the nationally infamous Baltimore Police Department viciously beat Freddie Gray in the open street before taking his limp body into custody for the last remaining minutes of his life. National news cameras arrived to watch as our Mayor called for a curfew for black residents. Community leaders, such as local ministers and State legislators, organized local neighborhood cleanups and meetings with local BPD precincts to discuss policy changes that would foster trust between public servants and the public. Students’ bus rides home were stopped at a local Metro hub and swarmed by police with riot gear. Baltimore’s Uprising started, and the city’s residents would be heard.
“Yeah, but are you even gonna stay here?” one of our white friends asked. We were so far out in the suburbs at that point, we didn’t even get Baltimore news or traffic – we were in the DC market. We never intended to make Baltimore our home, but we couldn’t help but have an impact on the city one way or another. Several of the wealthy Baltimore suburbs – including ours at the time – sent in extra police force to where the media cameras were set up downtown, recording the violent beatings and arrests of black residents breaking curfew. Then we charged the city one million dollars for officer overtime pay. The local outrage in our suburb led to the eventual repayment of that million dollars. Jack’s incessant whining about living in the suburbs only grew louder.
Jack experienced a mix of settings growing up, from farms to small urban apartments. Starting with a Montessori kindergarten, Jack attended four elementary schools, one middle school, and two high schools before his first choice college in NYC turned him down and he went to school in nearby Hanover, New Hampshire (like all of New Hampshire, it’s not near anything). Our first apartment in Baltimore was Jack’s seventh time renting a place in a major US city.
Baltimore was Emily’s first experience with city living. She grew up in a gated community that had a safe place to live and play, with a neighborhood swim club, central meeting locations like a clubhouse, and access to the area’s best suburban schools. It was far from the vulnerable, where it was wonderful and safe; it was any parent’s dream. She then attended a private college, a brief 30 minutes outside of the busy streets of downtown Lincoln, Nebraska, before eventually being counted in the 2010 Census as one of the 3,951 residents of Shelby Township, Michigan. When we moved to Baltimore the first time, it was two blocks away from a busy railroad and an even busier freeway. Now, when the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice answers the people of Baltimore with a Consent Decree outlining new ways to protect the rights and the lives of the public, we’re in a 1,000 sq.ft., 2 bedroom/2 full bath apartment with off-street parking in the suburbs. In no time at all, Emily decided that it was time for Jack’s whining to come to an end.
Dear Reader, why are the better educational opportunities in the suburbs? We know some truly dedicated teachers who work in cities, and let’s just say reports indicate it’s a struggle all over. For every one dollar that we invest in just pre-school alone (!) society gets $7 back in economic benefit later in life – conservatively estimated. It’s even more when invested in disadvantaged communities. If we have this guaranteed way to make money and improve schools for teacher and students alike, then why do families flee to the suburbs once they have kids? Why not stay in the city and build the economy within those limits?
City living also provides opportunities for more diverse experiences. When we trained for the Baltimore Half Marathon, we ran along the Inner Harbor all the way between Federal Hill and Brewer’s Hill. Do you know how hecking charming this city is? It’s lousy with hip places to eat, bakeries that fill entire neighborhoods with yummy scents every morning, and fun things to do in the community. Baltimore boasts a 100-year-old theater with Broadway shows and a free summer camp for special needs kids, the Hippodrome; the largest free arts festival in America, Artscape; and a chance to be more effective at reforming a system that keeps undermining its most vulnerable communities!
I mean, we know why suburbs are popular. Individual families are incentivized to act against the public interest. We have public policy that we know needs to be changed. Either we’ll do something about it, or we’ll do nothing.