Honor fallen heroes by building on belief

October 25, 2002|By Michael Cryor, Wally Pinkard and Tom Wilcox

WE ARE burying seven heroes this week.

Baltimore lost not only cherished neighbors but also a major battle when Carnell Dawson Sr., his wife, Angela, and five of their children paid the ultimate price for standing up for what is right. This outrageous mass killing demands that we wage and win a war on terrorism at home just as we fight terrorists from abroad.

We must preserve and protect life in Baltimore and the rest of the nation.

Neither the Dawsons nor the other thousands of children who have perished in our nation's streets should be allowed to die in vain. The horrific tragedy that cost the Dawson family their lives in a protest of crime and drugs will be even greater if others suffer a similar fate because we fail to make it clear that, as a community, we will not tolerate this or any other scourge.

We are at war in our city, a war led by our mayor, Martin O'Malley, against this indomitable foe.

There has been demonstrable progress on many fronts: a reduction in violent crime, ubiquitous signs of the rebirth of our city and a growing citizen response to the notion of belief -- belief that together we can win this war. We risk losing this momentum if citizens lose confidence in the possibility of safer streets and the likelihood of a community standing united.

If the horror of the Preston Street fire is to be only a battle, and not a tacit surrender, we must recognize the stakes, come together and protect ourselves from forces that are surely as powerful and motivated from within as are the terrorists from beyond our shores.

We must not accept the status quo. This city's organizations, its initiatives, its various campaigns and all of our energies must be brought together in a singularly focused effort if we truly want to break a vicious cycle of addiction, violence and economic decline. We recognize the breadth and depth of the challenge before us, but now is the time to build upon the momentum of positive change apparent in so many forms across our region. Our business groups must speak as one; our disparate neighborhoods must become a community; the many campaigns for good must be joined under a common banner.

The task will not be easy.

We in Baltimore do not practice the habit of working together. We are too quick to recognize and emphasize our differences and not nearly as inclined to capitalize on our commonality.

How can we win when we are so quick to fight with each other and hold each other suspect? How can we bring about change when we remain comfortable with the status quo? How can we expect the best from our leaders when we carp at their every flaw yet fail to hold ourselves accountable to reasonable standards of investment?

Baltimore Believe is defining and mounting the second phase of its campaign, a ground campaign intended to unite a host of organizations and efforts to speak with a common voice and to provide the substantive underpinnings for significant change.

The strength of the common voice will help to extend the war beyond drugs and violence to include victories in our schools, our neighborhoods and in a brighter economy, an economy based on the promise of our young. The substantive platform of this campaign will be based on solid research and follow examples of what we know works. Everything we invest in will be tracked and measured for success.

To be sustainable, the Believe campaign must include all of the city, as well as the region. It must waken us to the realization that the only long-term solution to our challenges is heightened opportunities for all citizens. If we achieve that realization, restoring neighborhoods, creating jobs and improving schools become the inevitable result of our collective investment. This is what is achievable when we work together.

It can be done. Children and families can thrive in Baltimore. We can marry economic development with poverty reduction and greater opportunity for all.

Our citizens can walk the streets with confidence, and businesses can grow, but only by setting aside our differences, recognizing our common challenges and working as a team.

We best honor the courage and memory of the Dawson family by committing ourselves to become the city they dreamed of for their children.

Michael Cryor and Wally Pinkard are co-chairs of Baltimore Believe. Tom Wilcox is president of the Baltimore Community Foundation.

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