Welcome to Grand Central Station

Like an episode of C.O.P.S. the names here have been changed to protect the innocent.

Hamilton is in N.E. Baltimore, which is in Maryland, which is in the Eastern United States located in North America. I’ve lived here for two years. I never thought I’d be an urbanite but it’s come to suit me just fine. I like the ice cream trucks, the mixed culture, a plethora of restaurants, the ease of commuting all over the city and burbs in minutes.

I wouldn’t say Hamilton is “The Hood”. It’s one zip code south of the county, the next town south is one of the better places to live in Baltimore, Lauraville, which insulates us. But like all urban areas there are very little guarantees. Some nights it’s quiet, other nights I can hear teenagers swearing loudly at 2am and there’s usually empty beer containers on my lawn in the morning. It’s easy to see that our relative peace hangs by a thread, whether it be the bloods graffiti or the drunks stumbling through our backyards at 11 pm, our quiet community is quietly at war.

But this isn’t a post about Hamilton. Or about urban warfare. Or about gangs. It’s about kids and watching them grow up in a weird ecclectic neighborhood.

My house teems with children from dawn to dusk in the summer. My wife and I have 4. Three live behind us, one across the street, one next door, two more down the street, and another a block over. Add in the 10 kids or so my wife babysits plus other kids in the area and my house is rarely without 10 children between the walls.

Most of the white kids, like Bryan, attend charter schools or private schools. Bryan has two dads, is my son’s best friend, attends a charter school, and seems to be like every 7 year old on the planet. Annoying, loud, a bit of a fibber…………an all around good kid by most accounts (no sarcasm intended. These things sum up about every 7 year old boy I’ve ever met.) Last year he was held back in the first grade despite my wife’s efforts to turtor him the last several months of the school year. He still has a lot of trouble reading after two years in the first grade.

The Bi-Racial kids down the street, too, go to a private Christian school. These are good friends of ours that go to the same house church. Their dad and I can talk sci-fi for hours on end.

But the mixed latino-white kids that live in the neighborhood go to the local public school. A friend of mine recently told me that our middle school was rated #3 for most acts of violence in the country. I couldn’t find that information online but these kids go there and I know of their struggles being both latino and white and attending such a heavily black school. In elementary school things are pretty easy but the oldest, Juan, faces problems of overt violent racism that the youngest two do not. Recently the guidance counselor recommended homeschooling; his mom, unaware that such a thing was even legal, learned my wife did just that and asked if we could homeschool Juan for her.

My wife has tutored a lot of kids that hang out in our house, either officially or unofficially. Many of them do not do well in school. When it comes to education even the charter school kids seem to have the deck stacked against them.

David is an 11 year old African American boy. Tall and lean he started coming to our home this summer. Most of the kids here are younger, 5-9 but David doesn’t seem to mind. I used to see him playing with some other kids in the neighborhood but when I ask him about them all he says is that they are mean. Like lots of Urban African American kids he doesn’t live with his parents. I keep telling him that I have to meet them so he can borrow “T” rated video-games (the tamer of which he always brings back within a day or two). Anyhoo, whenever I ask who he lives with he always says: “This lady” or “Mr. and Mrs. Turner” or some other ambiguous response. When I ask if he’s a foster child he says “I don’t know” then changes the subject so I suspect that he is (Foster children don’t like admitting the fact). He always offers to help mow the lawn or anything else I need, always picks up a crying child, he just seems to want to be loved. David not only breaks the stereotype of what an urban african american child’s attitude should be but he gives me hope that maybe not all the kids, regardless of race, are going to grow up to be selfish brats.

On the flip side I see what gang culture does to people. Stephen and his brother are two teenagers that live across the street. At one point in time, especially when we moved in, it was well known that if your kid’s bike went missing there was a good chance they took it. They’ve moved beyond bikes these days, and while polite to those they know, they lack any sense of the fact that they are surrounded by other people; music blares at all hours where profanity seems to be the subject matter. A couple weeks ago both were on the lawn in handcuffs with several police standing over them.

Michael is a black kid just next door to Stephen. At 6 he’s rambuncious and known to other parents as the kid that will hit someone or break something within five minutes of entering your home. His mom, I believe, does the best she can, but raising two kids alone is tough (his younger sister is a couple months old). He’s up at all hours, allowed to run the street unsupervised……….one has to wonder.

His neighbor is an 11 year mixed girl, Cindy, with a single mother. Cindy has helped out my wife from time to time watching the kids. She always seems to be in a good mood and willing to look out for all the other kids. She’s kinda like a little mother to some of the kids that hang out around her.

As is typical in most Baltimore neighborhoods we had a group of “feral children” as I like to call them. These are wandering bands of african american children that appear to belong to no one, live no where, and generally cause trouble. Ranging in age from 2 -7 these kids would come over from time to time. Often they’d steal anything they could get their hands on. Most didn’t speak, most didn’t know their ages. Sometimes I would pull into my driveway only to see 8-12 feral children playing in my backyard unsupervised. Go into rougher neighborhoods and feral children abound. Last month the feral children (well, their family) got evicted, just like John the Redneck promised (though he promised it sooner!).

Meanwhile I sit back and try to take it all in. Will Michael make it through school and become someone? Or will he join a gang or become like Stephen and his brother? How long will David last, being all sweet & quiet, in public school? Will he be moved to another foster home, if he’s in one at all? How long can Juan survive in a Baltimore City Public School? If he stays in will he become tougher and meaner so he can survive? Will he weaken and take the punishment given him? Will Bryan ever get a decent education, even at a Charter School? Will Cindy wind up a young single mom like her own mother? Will Stephen ever wise up and realize that there’s more to life than thuggery?

In this neighborhood anything is possible. A kid can hit bottom as easily as he can rise to the top. I’m proud to say that I consider all of these children and (most of) their parents my friends. When one of my kids has a birthday they all magically show up, even if they are uninvited (God Bless ’em!); I’m running to the store to get a cake for an impromptu birthday party. If one kid gets hurt I carry them home, and if they get hurt on the street they run here asking for my wife to give them a band-aid or to settle some dispute (there are many!) or to ask if they can play Star Wars Battlefront on my PS2.

All these kids can drive a man up a wall (how many popsicle wrappers and sticks will I run over with the mower this week?; and how much screaming can one man take before developing a significant drug habit?). But it’s also nice to know that these kids, these people, depend on you.

I hope Baltimore doesn’t chew them up and spit them out. In fact, I pray for it.

Comments (3)

  1. David Reese


    I’ve been enjoying this blog since discovering it about a week ago, and I count myself among the growing numbers of Young Anabaptist Radicals in the US.

    I appreciated your examination of your neighborhood, but I wanted to challenge your “feral children” phrase. The association of people of color with animals is profoundly not okay. I imagine it wasn’t on purpose, but such parallels raise my concern- white folks like me have a long history of dehumanizing people of color by comparing them to animals.

    So, while it’s probably worthwhile to talk about kids who don’t seem to have a strong community of parent types, I hope you’ll find alternate language.


  2. somasoul

    I like language and the association with, say, a wild pack of dogs is fully intended.

    I’m not trying to dehumanize anyone. I’m trying to let you know how wild these kids are (indeed, wild is a good word!), how shiftless they seem (bands of 2 – 7 year children running around aimlessly without any supervision at all), and typically causing trouble (breaking windows, stealing things).

    Yes, much like a wild pack dogs. Come and see. I have an extra bed for you.

  3. al longenecker

    Me, an old guy in rural pa. salute you and yours . truly walking faith. blessings and honor..al l

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