“Diversity is not our problem,” U.S. Congressman Elijah Cummings told a crowd of 600 people during a town hall meeting held Sept. 4 at Beth Tfiloh Congregation. “It is our promise.”
Titled “An Interfaith Community Call to Action for Baltimore City,” the meeting also featured U.S. Senator Ben Cardin, Reverend Dr. Terris King of Liberty Grace Church of God and Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg of Beth Tfiloh. Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison gave brief remarks and Baltimore City Council President Brandon C. Scott and Delegate Sandy Rosenberg were also in attendance.
“The problems of hatred we see today are not just the problems of Muslims, or Latinos, or African Americans,” Cardin said in his opening remarks. “We are all in this together and the only way to combat this hatred is for all of us to work together.”
Why, some may ask, would one hold a town hall meeting about Baltimore City in a suburban Jewish congregation? A joint statement issued on August 11 issued by Rabbi Wohlberg and Dr. King following the dustup over President Donald Trump’s negative comments about Baltimore offer a clue.
“Improving Baltimore one neighborhood at a time by combatting the growing violence, racism and tribalism surrounding us is precisely what we two religious leaders have been doing for more than two years. We are a couple of the most unpredictable friends you could find — the senior pastor of Ashburton’s Liberty Grace Church of God and the senior rabbi of Pikesville’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation. And yet, we have united our congregations and partnered with local businesses and organizations to help a city worthy of assistance.”
The meeting provided an opportunity for Baltimore-area residents to hear from their elected officials about the challenges facing Baltimore City and what they are doing at a national level to address them.
“Unless we work across county lines, we will miss an opportunity to resolve regional, multicultural problems,” Dr. King told the JT.
Critical to the work of helping Baltimore will be the work that faith-based communities, the private sector, the local and federal governments, and the legislature can bring about working together, Cardin said in his remarks. He added that implementation of the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission’s report will be critical to these efforts. (The Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education is a multi-year initiative to improve the quality of Maryland’s public education system.)
“Poverty,” said Cummings, “is the common denominator” for issues facing Baltimore.
“Combine that with drugs that will tear a community and families apart, how do you deal with that?” before continuing to emphasize the value of education and mentors, as evidenced by his own story.
Both Cummings and Cardin stressed their commitment to continuing to work with Baltimore City, and both highlighted the need for broad-based coalitions, to include Baltimore City leadership, to ensure the continued viability of the city.
Dr. King stated that he hopes to leverage the names of Senator Cardin and Congressman Cummings, and other elected officials, to create some of those partnerships critical to helping the city. He pointed out that he would like to see more engagement from the private sector, citing the example of Wheelabrator, a local recycling company that has hired workers from Liberty Grace Church of God to clean the neighborhood.
Speaking to the JT after the meeting, Baltimore City Police Commissioner Harrison remarked, “I feel motivated and inspired by the opportunity to talk about all of the issues and hear from our faith community about what they can do to help — it leads me to believe that people don’t expect me to do it by myself,” referring to the expectation that the police do more regarding the violence afflicting Baltimore.
Sherrell Savage, Director of Community Organizing for CHAI, said, “The work that the pastors and other spiritual leaders are doing is amazing,” adding, “I think it is great that elected officials are here to help the city — we need more opportunities to build those coalitions.” Savage remarked that she looks forward to seeing what actions lead from the conversations at the meeting. She added, “People need to know that there are avenues to cultivate their own gardens,” referencing the remark by Congressman Cumming on Voltaire’s sage words in “Candide, or Optimism,” — “We must cultivate our own gardens.”
Bishop J.L. Carter, Pastor of Ark Church and President of the Ministers Conference of Baltimore and Vicinity — which brings together two hundred churches across the city — remarked, “This was a wonderful display of unity and diversity. Both the black and Jewish communities face the same struggle.”
Speaking to the JT after the meeting, Senator Cardin said, “That so many people wanted to be here shows a willingness to listen. We need coalitions, and we need to understand the value of our churches.”
“Rabbi Wohlberg and Dr. King are models for our community, our work together is to root out those intent on tearing us apart.”