An aerial shot of the city of Baltimore.

Baltimore's Saints

By Brian W. Simpson, MPH ’13, Editor

The next morning the people came back to the streets of Baltimore. They brought brooms and shovels. They swept up the broken glass and picked up debris.

Riots erupted the night of April 27 following the funeral of Freddie Gray, who died after suffering a spinal cord injury while in police custody. The images of buildings afire, police cars’ shattered windshields and looters sprinting from stores will linger in the mind.

I prefer, however, to think of the people of the morning.

They are the crowds who volunteered to clean up stores that had been ransacked, clear their neighborhood side-walks and do their part to begin healing the city. After a night of desolation, their actions reveal the great heart of this tough city.

They represent all the people who get up every morning and face tough odds to make a positive difference in their communities. They remain resilient and caring.

The hope embodied by Baltimore’s morning people resonates strongly with our story “The Saints of the Streets.”

The story’s genesis traces to last fall when Urban Health Institute director Bob Blum told me about the amazing people UHI had come across in a recent community survey. He thought they would make a great story for this magazine. I agreed. We started kicking around story possibilities. He quickly came up with an idea for having people in the community nominate their “unsung heroes” for recognition.

Thanks to the Unsung Heroes awards (part of UHI’s 15th anniversary celebrations), you get to meet people like Pastor Bea Bastiany, who volunteered to run a computer lab for kids in a recreation center; Bertha Queen and Tonya Johnson who run the Beginning Effective Recovery Together (BERT) program to help people get off of drugs; and John Murdock, a rec center coach who once took a team of local kids to a basketball tournament in Russia. Writer Salma Warshanna-Sparklin collected their stories in concise portraits that give you a glimpse of their remarkable impact.

To capture the essence of the unsung heroes, we turned to one of their neighbors, photographer Robert Houston. His iconic photos of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Poor People’s Campaign have graced the pages of Life magazine and the walls of his East Baltimore row house. He’s just one of many of Baltimore’s incredible citizens.

At a time when many of us feel saddened by the destruction that burned through Baltimore, it’s important to know there are many people facing the hard challenges with knowledge, skill and sincere care for others.

Here in Baltimore, the saints take on the streets.