Senior Center Fire Shines Light on Long-Neglected Baltimore Communities

Pastor Donte Hickman of the Southern Baptist Church says the looting and arson are responses of the unheard people in Baltimore city

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Story Transcript

ANGEL ELLIOTT, REPORTER, TRNN: For The Real News Network, I’m Angel Elliott. I’m here in East Baltimore at the Southern Baptist Church with Pastor Donté Hickman, where the senior center that you see beside me was burnt down last night. The latest: the fire was ruled an arson by Baltimore police. I talked to Pastor Hickman about his positivity in the situation and how this fire won’t deter the church from revitalizing this East Baltimore community.

PASTOR DONTE HICKMAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CHURCH, EAST BALTIMORE: I’m feeling more resilient than ever. The fire to me last night was not merely a fire, it was actually a light that was shining on a community that has lacked so much investment for decades. And now it’s getting the attention that it needs and deserves. This is beyond this building. This is about all of the projects of affordable housing that we’re trying to do in East Baltimore, and the youth center, so that we can mitigate against the injustices and the unemployment and the lack of access that our people have.

ELLIOTT: Baltimore hasn’t seen anything like this since 1968. When you heard that the senior center was on fire, what were your immediate thoughts?

HICKMAN: When Johns Hopkins was displacing people for their development, the church stood up and said we’re going to have a plan and a vision for the community. We’re going to work to make sure everybody gets to stay in the community that they were born and raised in. And so it had to have been somebody who was insensitive to the church’s efforts and how we’ve worked to partner with this community for redevelopment.

ELLIOTT: But a lot of what the mainstream media isn’t talking about is the systemic poverty and degradation and lack of education that Baltimore residents are facing. I’m a Baltimore resident myself. Talk to me about how Baltimore residents are pretty much fed up. Of course it’s not an excuse for rioting, it’s not an excuse for looting. But you know, it is a cause.

HICKMAN: I’ve seen this all my life. I’m born and raised in Edmondson Village to a single parent at home. I was in the drug-infested communities, I felt the pain. I saw it from the other side. And I don’t cast judgment, I don’t cast blame. I knew what it was like to have to overcome, myself.

The people in Baltimore are not what they’re being portrayed to be on the media. They’re showing war zones and they’re showing children and people looting out of a sense of frustration and poverty. But this is a people that has largely been unheard for years. People who have not–that our recreation centers have been taken away from us. We see condominiums being built around the Inner Harbor, but we’re left with boarded-up homes and rat-infested neighborhoods. We’re left with lead paint in the fountains. We’re left with schools that are in deplorable and dilapidated condition. No air in the summer, and hardly any heat in the winter. No good drinking water.

Somebody has to stand up for this. And I believe that the injustice that took place with Freddie Gray sheds a light not just on what happened to him, but what needs to happen for the other Freddie Grays that continue to live in our communities.

ELLIOTT: For The Real News Network, I’m Angel Elliott.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.