Why Mark is Running
I am running for City Council because at this critical moment in the history of our city we need public servants who have a love for the people of Baltimore, who are deeply rooted in community, who are dedicated to collaborative leadership, who are optimistic about the future of our city, and who are realistic about the challenges we face. I strive every day to be that kind of leader, to put my own gifts and ideas and energy into the mix alongside community association members, teachers, community organizers, artists, non-profit staff members, business owners, and elected officials. We are all in this together, and I have been engaged in collaborative leadership for more than six years here in Southeast Baltimore--whether it's been an effort to better welcome immigrants and refugees or a collaboration to build community across barriers of age and race, whether we're pushing to increase youth employment or remove persistent drug dealers from our corners, whether it's looking for ways to promote homeownership or create a new early childhood education center, whether it's addressing school overcrowding or serving on the master plan team for Patterson Park. In all of those efforts and more I have worked alongside talented and determined neighbors to make real change in our communities.
That's the kind of leadership we need on the City Council--someone willing to walk alongside other community leaders and be part of the collective long-term efforts necessary to address the otherwise intractable problems facing our district and our city. I am committed to being that kind of public servant, and I've demonstrated that in my work so far among my neighbors. We have little use on the council for those who need to have the loudest voice in the room, those who have to be "the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral," and those who already know all the answers. The challenges are too great and the opportunities too precious, this year more than ever. I promise to work together with other elected officials and with all of you to push for real progress on those things holding us back as a community: economic inequality, housing insecurity, crime, trash, uneven education, systemic racism, and a fiscally-incapable government.
Yes, that is ambitious. No, it won't all happen at once. But why shouldn't we be ambitious when it comes to our neighborhoods, our children, our city? And the only way forward is to be in this together.
What follows is a lengthy reflection which incorporates elements of my biography and love for our city with this particular call to public service. Read it at your leisure. But, like I said, it's long.
I was raised in South Baltimore by parents dedicated to public service. My mom worked as a nurse at University Hospital; my father worked as a public defender at the courthouse downtown. They were both original dollar-home homesteaders in Otterbein and spent their time, energy, and money rehabbing a house for our family and creating a community in which we could grow up. My parents took me along with them to community association meetings and on Citizens on Patrol rides. I was nurtured in our local church which always stressed that the purpose of life was serving your neighbors, not yourself--and demonstrated that commitment by starting a hospital, building apartments for senior citizens, partnering with local schools, creating a neighborhood preschool, and establishing an emergency shelter and full transitional program for homeless women and their children. My first jobs were delivering the community association newsletter, walking our neighbors' dogs, and looking after gardens when people were on vacations. And while many other families in our neighborhood moved away--seeking the suburban promise of better schools, lower taxes, and a backyard--my parents stayed and set our family's roots deep into our neighborhood.
It was difficult to watch friends and other families leave. Property taxes were also a significant burden for our family. But both paled in comparison to the challenge of providing a suitable education for two dyslexic sons at a time when public schools were still learning how to support dyslexic students. The expense and transportation burden of our private school education was nearly prohibitive. But as dedicated parents they sacrificed and did all they could to provide for us--not just as a matter of education, but through the advantages of growing up in the heart of a great city with diverse peoples, cultures, and experiences just outside our door.
After high school I had the opportunity to study history, government, and Spanish at the University of Maryland, where I was able to witness two straight Final Fours and a national championship. I'm a proud Terp and deeply grateful for my Maryland experience. While at Maryland I had the chance to study neighborhood revitalization alongside the Patterson Park Community Development Corporation, serve as a Mayoral Fellow in the Department of Housing and Community Development, and launch a tutoring program for Salvadorian immigrant children. I then went to seminary in Philadelphia, focusing on urban ministry, and deeply appreciated the opportunity to experience first-hand how religious institutions, non-profits, recreation centers, and schools work collaboratively to support families and strengthen communities. I felt called to return to Baltimore and put all of that training and experience to work in 2009 as a community-oriented pastor of an historic but renewing congregation in Highlandtown--Breath of God Lutheran Church.
Of all the ways my parents blessed me, I hold none more important than the gift of a Baltimore City childhood. It is a privilege to provide that same blessing now to my own son and daughter. My four year old son will proudly tell you that he is from Highlandtown. He gets upset about trash on the street. He's excited to start kindergarten in a neighborhood school. And he calls Patterson Park "our park" even with hundreds of other people using it when we go swimming there on a summer weekend. He is proud of his neighborhood, and he already is beginning to know the joy and challenge of living in community. My one year old daughter, meanwhile, is learning about the neighborhood by diligently tasting every stick and leaf she can find.
It will require less sacrifice for our family to stay here than it did for my parents. While progress has at times been painfully slow, Baltimore is in many ways a better and stronger city than when I was a child. And yet we still have challenges to address. We still have obstacles to overcome. We still have barriers which make our neighborhoods less livable for families, children, retirees, people of color, homeowners, renters, and businesspeople. There are no excuses for the sanitation issues that trash our streets and pollute our harbor. The educational opportunities of every child in our district, at every school, should be excellent--their futures shouldn't hinge on the result of a lottery or on which side of the street they live. New neighbors, from out of state and around the world, need to be welcomed and invited into the leadership and life of our communities. A late night out, a morning run, a shopping trip, or the walk home from your car shouldn't be cause to fear for your safety. Cramped 19th-century neighborhoods need more options than 20th-century cars to transport residents around our city. And no one should be treated like an outsider in their own community because some neighbors of limited perspective think they "don't look like they belong here." We've got too much at stake for interpersonal racism and xenophobia to disrupt our communities or our shared efforts at progress--and the racism embedded in the structures of power in our city can only be dismantled through our unified effort.
We ought to be and we can be a national model for 21st-century urban communities: multi-ethnic, economically thriving, collaborative, creative, and environmentally-sustainable. But to do that, government resources, private enterprise, and non-profit organizations need to line up alongside community leaders to collectively address our challenges.
We have the capacity: brilliant people, dedicated leaders, strong community organizations, international and local businesses, faith communities, thriving arts, and a rich cultural heritage. We have much of what we need to address our challenges together. But it takes collective will and collective imagination. It also takes leaders, elected and otherwise, who are willing to listen and who are dedicated to bringing the proper resources, people, and incentives to fully support the vision we have for our neighborhoods. When we achieve that vision, and we will, then we become the model for other communities and other cities seeking renewal and transformation.
My life right now is full, is complete, is enough. Raising a family, serving in my community, providing leadership as a pastor alongside so many great neighbors--there's enough challenge and joy in all of that to last a lifetime. But I was raised to always consider how best to serve and make an impact on the well-being of others--and serving our community through the City Council seems like an extension of the public service I'm already privileged to do. Our community benefits when we have as many good choices as possible to consider for our elected leaders. I hope you'll give me the chance to introduce myself and my family to you, and that you'll find me to be one of those good choices in this election. I look forward to seeing you around the district over the coming months.