A Question of Belief

Thoughts on addiction, fear, family, God, hope, resignation, beauty and believing on the streets of Baltimore.

July 14, 2002

This spring, stark black billboards featuring somber and somewhat cryptic statements began appearing around town. Looming above trash-strewn streets were the messages, "Believe," "Believe in Yourself," "Believe in Us," "Baltimore Believe." The messages were part of a $2 million media campaign, including TV and radio spots, aimed at changing the way people viewed Baltimore's insidious and intertwined problems of crime and drugs.

About a month into the 15-week campaign, which ends Saturday, new messages, often including an 800 hot line number, appeared. Some sought new police recruits or community volunteers; others bore stern warnings, such as, "When you buy drugs, you're not just killing yourself. You're killing Baltimore."

According to city health officials, the campaign has already had a measurable impact in the area of drug treatment referrals. Hundreds more calls for referrals than normal were received in May and June by Baltimore Substance Abuse Systems, and hundreds of additional treatment slots opened up in expectation of increased demand are being used.

But what about results that can't be so easily measured? For those going about their lives in the damaged neighborhoods where the billboards are most heavily represented, does the "Baltimore Believe" project resonate? Sun photographer Amy Davis set up a view camera and asked passers-by for their thoughts about the billboards, about what they personally believe in, and about how drugs had affected their lives.

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