Heeding the call to save the city

First Person

December 02, 2007|By Kathryn Cooper- Nicholas

In the summer of 2004, I was so excited about moving back to my beloved Baltimore. I had been living in the suburbs of Philadelphia for more than 23 years.

I have a professional background in community economic development and was eager to apply my skills here in Baltimore.

When I arrived, I was not prepared for the devastation that I encountered.

The physical deterioration was compelling, but the biggest disappointment was the apathy of the citizens. The violence in this city is overwhelming, and the citizens seem to be numb.

Coming back to Baltimore with two teenage sons immediately became a safety issue. I found out very soon that being concerned was not enough to keep my sons safe.

In 2005, my oldest son, then 20, was walking to his car after work when he his attacked with a baseball bat. The attacker thought that he was someone else. Once he was healed, he moved back to Pennsylvania.

In April, I got the call that no mother wants to receive. This time it was my youngest son.

The nurse said, "Mrs. Nicholas, this is Maryland General Hospital. We have your son here with multiple stab wounds. He needs emergency surgery, so we need you to come and sign for his treatment."

When a mother gets that call, many things go through her head.

How bad are the wounds? Will my child live until I get to him? Will I be able to drive myself to the hospital? Who should I call first?

Finally, I just stopped to pray. I called on God to get me to the hospital to be with my son.

On the way to the hospital -- in a very distraught and hysterical state of mind -- I started speed-dialing family and friends.

Walking into the surgical-prep room and seeing my son covered with blood was a surreal experience. I covered him with my body and began to pray.

It hurt me so bad that I was not able to keep him safe. I was not able to keep him from being so viciously attacked.

After I signed the hospital papers, they wheeled him away, and then I was left to wait. After 5 1/2 hours, I was able to see my son. His first words to me were, "Mom, you were right."

I had warned him not to go to the concert at a local venue that night of the attack. At 20, he had never been to a rap concert in a city before.

He did not know the signs gangs use before an attack. The people on the bus stop [at Eutaw and Saratoga streets] took off as two teenagers approached him, then attacked him.

When they got closer, he told me, they said, "You are going to die tonight."

My son spent eight days in the hospital. I visited him daily, praying for him and with him.

I struggled with how such a tragedy could happen to such a loving and compassionate young man.

On the third day of his hospital stay, I told him that it was time for us to pray for the young men who attacked him.

He told me, "It was already done. I know that they didn't grow up with the love and caring that I did. They are just empty inside."

After he came home, I continued to struggle with the constant reminders of the violence in our city.

As a Christian, I felt that I had to do something. God spoke to me one Sunday after a very moving sermon by one of our ministers at Douglas Memorial Community Church.

He called me to organize 10,000 women for a prayer vigil throughout the city of Baltimore. I do have a strong background in urban ministry, but I had never been involved in a prayer vigil.

I sent out 350 e-mails telling my son's story and asking people to join us for a prayer vigil. My hope was that word would spread and that 10,000 people would show up. About 100 people heard the call and came to the street corner to pray in early September.

As I stood at Saratoga and Eutaw streets praying, I saw how prayer was touching the lives of the people gathered.

My commitment to pray for our city has been strengthened, and I will not cease until there is a positive change in this city.

My younger son continues to heal from his attack. He also recently decided to move back to Pennsylvania.

The Sept. 3 prayer vigil was spearheaded by Sisters Saving the City, a group that grew out of Nicholas' efforts. It meets the first Saturday of each month. You can contact Nicholas at kace1051 @verizon.net.

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