2014 was a ridiculous year for me. A few passionate essays took me from being voted most likely to be racially profiled near Johns Hopkins University to gracing the cover of the school magazine.
My contact list only had guys like the other Wes Moore, but now I can easily reach out to the author Wes Moore, David Simon, Jayne Miller, Marc Steiner, and a host of other Baltimore writers and radio and TV personalities who I greatly admire while still hanging on Ashland Avenue or over Latrobe every day.
Access to these prominent people and their networks in combination with my own accomplishments is a bit more than I expected; however, it happened and it feels great—great for me, but that’s not nearly enough for my brothers and sisters on lock down and living below the poverty line. I am fortunate to have a voice, and 2015 has to be about using that voice to uplift as many people in Baltimore as possible.
Recently, I participated in a peaceful protest by the Washington Monument to stand in solidarity with the citizens of Ferguson along with some other Baltimore City residents—a diverse group of us hit the streets with bent faces, handmade signs, and rage against police brutality.
It felt good to unite with so many different people under the same cause but I still felt like it wasn’t enough. I have an immense amount of respect for protestors, marchers, and organizers but I realized that’s not the best way to create the change we’d all like to see.
That night I realized that my mission is literacy. Poverty and reading-comprehension issues go hand in hand. On the other side of the spectrum, I believe that the officers who commit these crimes are semi-literate as well—at least in terms of understanding the world of those they most interact with on Baltimore’s streets. That leaves us with two groups who can’t communicate, so they clash and it ends in death.
My resolution for 2015 is to promote literacy in the low-income areas of Baltimore City. I want to write stories that get nontraditional readers excited about reading. I also want to encourage them to write. My stories alone have resonated with thousands of people and I’m just one guy. I feel like everybody has a story that matters and I want play a part in helping those stories be told.
Before I became a reader, I had no problem breaking a Hennessy bottle across the back of some guy’s head. That type of anger in me was solely attributed to an inability to communicate. It’s the same anger many officers patrol with and identical to the anger that exists in the poorest parts of Baltimore. Reading has transformed me and caused me to channel that anger into strategic solution-based thinking.
At the Baltimore Book Festival a few years back, Sherman Alexie said, “Rich people who don’t read are assholes and poor people who don’t read are fucked!” He’s right. So if we can help create readers and writers, thinkers will be birthed, people will be better communicators, social relations will enhance drastically, and our city will be a less violent place. As a result, our two Baltimores could become one.
D. Watkins is a writer and contributor to City Paper whose Salon story “Too Poor for Pop Culture” sparked a national conversation.