When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – A Farewell Letter to Baltimore

During the week of her 33rd birthday, a dozen people were murdered, and 35 people were shot on the streets of Baltimore. Fed up with the pains of poverty, drugs and crime,
co-editor Shannon-Eli Braxton says goodbye to her hometown.


CP Cover Pg.
Cover of City Paper, July 3, 2013

Dear Baltimore,

You will always be my birthplace, but never again my home. Thank you for your tough love. I am tough enough now. The rats and the murals, the projects and the suburbs, the buildings built by slaves, and the land once called “Free” is not free at all.

I try so hard to keep my eyes to myself as instructed in the Qur’an, and to protect myself from the horrors of people so fat and diseased they can no longer walk, so skinny that the bones in their faces are protruding from use of heroin, meth or crack. Or poverty and a depression so deep that many cannot understand why we act the way we act. Everywhere, all day long, this is what I see. Hype off of alcohol, in these pissy, stank ass streets, people still sing and rap.

That’s what we’ve got Bmore, we will always have music, spoken word and our rap. Remember that.

Fifteen years ago on the anniversary of the murder of Tupac Shakur, Jada Pinkett (before the hyphen Smith), gave an interview to 92Q Jams. I’ll never forget her tearing up while talking about her love for Pac. Nor will I ever forget these words: “If you want to be successful, get the hell up outta Baltimore.”

jada dress
Photo credit: Essence Magazine, Sept. 2012

Fourteen years after that, she graced the cover of Essence Magazine in a long, clingy, gold dress. The dress and her elegance being an antithesis to the street corner where she posed. I scanned the image and got mad. I felt betrayed that she did not INSIST the picture be taken in Baltimore. “Damn, Jada is like all we got,” I thought to myself. She never makes public appearances here, no speeches to encourage the lost or steadily grinding people she left behind, the LEAST she could do was represent her hometown (the place who gave her so much spice) in a freakin’ photo.

But that was last year, and this year I’m in a totally different mental space. After being assaulted verbally and physically, emotionally and spiritually by the people in this town, I no longer feel the love I thought awaited me when I moved “back home” in 2008.

Honestly, I see Baltimore as a sinking ship. In 2008, I thought that I could save the Titanic, but now I realize that the best thing to do is get off the boat before it goes down.

Sure, there are areas in Baltimore that are thriving. Where gentrification and the cost of living prevent many natives from even visiting. Yes, there is free theater and artsy events happening almost everyday, faithfully playing just like the band that never stopped playing on that infamous sinking ship.

Do you think your music career is going to take off here, or your fashion line is gonna make it big? I have bad news for you. Though you might be very popular on this stage, this here ship, is going down.

I’ve heard many black pastors say this town is cursed. I’m sure it has to do with the massacre of the indigenous people, the 400 year tortuous enslavement of Africans, blood shed on the grounds of civil war, hate soaked lynchings in the suburbs, and the disbursement of crack cocaine and guns in the city.

Photo credit: Shannon-Eli Braxton
A Home in East Balt. County

Yes, I do have faith, but I also have common sense. I was raised around prayer warriors determined that “the prayers of the righteous shall prevail.” I’ve seen it all. From outside holy water baptisms to casket-led rallies for peace. And guess what, things continue to get worse. Don’t bother quoting statistics on unemployment and crime. Who cares how many people have been “saved” at your church.

What I’m talking about is the poor quality of life in this area, where even the sky is sad. Have you noticed that it’s been crying week after week, after week?Everyday there are dark clouds like the dark circles now formed under my eyes. Spend a day in JAI Medical Center downtown, right down the street from the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital. When you get out of the clinic, the first thing you will want to do is take a long shower, the next thing you will want to do is move.

Goodbye, Baltimore. I will tell others how strong you are. I am leaving for good because I want to live my life where the air is fresh, and the people reflect the beauty of their surroundings. No matter where you are, live while you’re alive. Find a place that aligns with your soul, gather the wind beneath your wings and soar.

Live in Color – Shannon

Emelda De Coteau
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15 Replies to “When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – A Farewell Letter to Baltimore”

  1. Goodbye, you and your negativity will not be missed. Instead of blaming your depression on the city of Baltimore, maybe you should turn to medicine to address what can only be diagnosed as an obvious chemical embalance. Have you ever thought that it’s not Bmore, it’s you and people like you that’s the problem? What have you done to make the city better? What have you done to improve the quality of your own life and those of your neighbors? Why come down so hard on the church? Seek therapy. And do it quickly, before you move to another city only to complain that the sky is crying there too.

    1. Thank you for replying. Though your hostility is not your fault, it IS your responsibility to heal. This city can be healed person by person and both you and I can be a testimony to God’s mercy and grace.

  2. I agree. I do not feel spiritually satisfied here. I do not want to walk around take in my surroundings. I try my best to keep myself happy and make my environment as happy as I can. I walk outside and hear screaming, cursing, fighting, fireworks in people’s yards l, parties and car accidents. You get used to it through the years. The only problem is that if someone were in real trouble would you know? We’ve been tainted by Baltimore so bad that I don’t even bat an eye when I hear screaming and crying. Even if you called the cops it would take an hour for them to show up. So Yes, I would move in a heart beat if I could. A place I could walk outside and meditate, walk the dog, walk around and enjoy my view.

    1. Thank you for this response. Emelda wrote a poem about making a hard decision not to call the police. It’s in our poetry section, entitled “Did I Fail Her.” ttys

  3. Wow. That is really depressing. I don’t confine myself to Baltimore City so I don’t feel dragged down by the things that happen here. Honestly, the world can drag you down anywhere. You have to be strong within yourself because you won’t get enough support from other people to carry you through life’s challenges. I think it’s good to have a career or at least a hobby that works toward helping people. That helps when you feel negative because you know you are doing what is best in spite of what other people are doing. Also I see this blog as evidence of the optimistic and intelligent people who are doing something with their lives in this city.

    1. Thank you for replying and I’m glad you like our blog. I couldn’t agree more. It takes inner strength to navigate this world and serving others is essential to feeling fulfilled!

    2. I love this post! Being a Baltimore native whose mom made it out of the east side projects to be the first of her siblings to graduate college AND purchase a home, I strongly concur with the sentiment behind your post, Shannon. I myself currently live in my Safe Haven, Texas, which is worlds apart from my experiences living in Baltimore. I’ve evolved in many ways since moving here, and while my roots in Bmore has helped to shape me into the strong, intellectual woman I am today, my move to TX has been the catalyst to my evolving fully into the woman of God that Christ has called me to be. Living in Baltimore and seeing firsthand much of what is mentioned above in this post, has made me sensitive to the needs of others and inspired me to start The Beautiful John Doe Ministry, a Good Samaritan outreach in progress. But leaving my birthplace was the jumping off point to me “becoming a phoenix and rising up from the ash.” Very commendable and honest view. I say go find your inner Jada, girl. 😉 God Bless! XO

      1. Thank you for this inspiring response ! I’m glad you are thriving, and my inner Jada can’t wait to bust loose!

  4. You do have some valid points. People who want to succeed do leave Baltimore. We are cursed. This city and this state is. Baltimore is rebuilding itself. But is is seriously struggling

  5. I recently returned fro m Haiti which is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The per capita income is roughly 200.00 dollars a year. The unemployment rate is 80 per cent. Yet in the face of this level of poverty that we would find devastating there was an energy and vibrancy of life that could only be explained by their deep faith in God who cares and makes a way out of no way. On buildings, trucks, and businesses of all kinds the message was always one of praise to the Lord Jesus for every blessing big or small. I am sure these dear people at times feel overwhelmed but they never give up! They never give in. They know that the battle does not belong to the swift or faint of heart but to those who endure. I love Baltimore! I still believe that there are people like myself who are willing to work together, pray together to build a better community for all. For those who have given up we still love you. Our prayers go with you but like the Haitians I met our hope remains in the one who never fails! His name is Jesus!

    1. Thank you Mrs. Trudy! I’m grateful Baltimore has you. You and countless members of your generation, our mothers, school teachers, mentors and poets, have blown vital air on the fire in our souls. I think I speak for all of my generation when I say, your battle has not been in vain, your torch is in good hands and we will REP OUR CITY no matter where we go.

    1. Hi Ellen! I haven’t moved yet but I’ll keep you posted. With the winter here early, I can’t wait to leave!!!!

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