Creating Better Community in Catonsville
Can a community come together to help erase some deeply etched lines?
At times this town seems like an experiment in contradiction. There's inside the Beltway Catonsville and outside the Beltway Catonsville, Route 40 Catonsville and everything else. There's private school Catonsville and public school Catonsville. And then there's black Catonsville and white Catonsville. For goodness sake, there is even an Opie's Catonsville and a Tastee Zone Catonsville.
At times, some of the lines drawn are charming—like the Opie's vs Tastee Zone one or the ones in which individual neighborhoods battle for best float in the parade. But other times they're not. Not even a little.
If we look at the history of our town, it's easy to see why these lines are deeply etched. In the 1930s Thurgood Marshall fought to desegregate Catonsville High School. He lost that fight, but used language from that outcome to win the battle. During the Vietnam War, a group of nine Catholic anti-war activists broke into the draft board and destroyed draft files. This town has a dichotomous history that goes back to its inception. One need only to look at the mural in the post office as illustration.
I must admit, all this confused me when I moved here 11 years ago. Now, as I raise my children here, I think about what it means for them. What stories will they tell about their hometown when they get older?
A couple weekends ago, we took the kids to Inner Harbor. There was a free event called the Ultimate Block Party. Basically, it was celebrating a day of play. It was joint project put on by Port Discovery, Baltimore City Public Schools, the Center for Jewish Education, and so many others. They had the first last year in New York, then the next in Toronto. Baltimore hosted the third.
The idea was simple enough, although I'm sure the execution was complex—let everyone in the community come together for a day of play, exploration and discovery. There is something that cuts across social and racial strata like nothing else—free community events. Combine that with getting kids involved and by George, you've just rocked the world, or at least the community.
When people come out for events like the Ultimate Block Party or Free Fall Baltimore, something almost transcendent happens. People commune, engage and those lines that seem so deeply etched begin to fade, if just a little.
We had an event like that here in Catonsville recently. Catonsville Elementary School hosted an Environmental Festival. They opened up to the community and had a buffet of hands on projects from which kids could choose. There was paper making, fashioning shopping bags out of old tee shirts, turning water bottles into miniature greenhouses, a demonstration where kinetic energy was used to power a light bulbs and so much more.
It helps that these events are family focused and geared towards the next generation. It's as if our hopes for the future are clearly articulated—they can help erase those deeply etched lines that continue to segregate us—across color, socioeconomic status, even by which side of the Beltway or Route 40 you live on.
I'd like to see more of these types of events in our community. We may not have the resources the city does, but we do have much at our disposal right here in our town. Rather than have one school host something, why not team up? Businesses, think of all the traffic you could get when you combine forces to host an event for the community outside of the Fourth of July. Churches, pull your resources together to create an interfaith community event.
Let's get people out of their houses, meeting people from one end of the town or the other and realizing we all have so much more in common than we have differences.
Now I admit, solving the dichotomy problem is a complicated issue heavily nuanced and ripe with tension and emotion. And I don't know that free community events are the all-powerful magic cure. But won't it be fun to get out there and find out?