Last week, I worked with middle school youth from Eastside Baptist Church (Marietta, GA) at week three of five of the Rosemont Community Interfaith Coalition’s summer camp. Each day, we heard a different parable of Jesus, sang songs, learned math, read stories, played field games, and did arts and crafts together.
“I’m not a bad kid. I’m a good kid. They’re calling me a ‘bad kid,’” is what a third grader said to me after he was sent away for almost getting into a fight with an older camper. I hadn’t called him a “bad kid,” I’d only asked why his day wasn’t going well as this was the second time I had to pull him out of our group that day. I assured him that I knew he wasn’t a bad kid and that God loves him no matter what.
This made me think of other labels we give humans and spaces in the world. “Bad neighborhood,” “rough city,” and “dangerous people” are all labels I’ve heard people use to describe Baltimore. These voices haven’t gotten to know Baltimore the way its citizens know Baltimore. Most of these voices haven’t even set foot in Baltimore.
At camp, we got to work alongside leaders in the Rosemont neighborhood who recognize the good people, good resources, and good potential that already exist. Furthermore, these leaders represent faith communities that likely would have never organically worked together if it were not for the coalition they have formed. Regardless of theological differences and preferred praise styles, these leaders and the groups which they represent love this city and love their neighborhood.
One of the many things I have learned while working at The Center is that when we use words like “violent” or “scary” to describe people and places, we put them in a box and the box becomes a system that takes away their potential. This boxing in functions the same way as referring to the third grader as a “bad kid.” Giving him that identity teaches him that all he can amount to is misbehaving and making poor choices. When we take a step back to determine why we perceive a neighborhood as “rough,” we are able to see the pile of factors that contribute to that viewpoint.