There isn’t a corner in my city that hasn’t been disturbed by violence. I’ve routinely lost friends and family to it since I was a child. It will forever and always be present in this country, especially in impoverished communities.
There is no one-sized-fit all solution to stop the violence, but, there is a radical and ground-breaking movement happening in Baltimore to slow it down and revitalize how people cope with the trauma. PTSD is an unsung tune in our community, but it inflicts mental instabilities on the thousands of people in the aftershock of their loved ones being killed.
I didn’t think so when I first heard about it, but Baltimore Ceasefire 365 is the guardian angel that my city needs.
The goal is for people around the city to engage in life-affirming activities, along with putting a muzzle on violence in the community. The first ceasefire was took place the first weeked in August last year and there was no murder for a total of 67 out of the 72 hours. This was still ground-breaking as statistics proved – at this time there was one murder every nineteen hours. The second ceasefire, which took place in three months later in November saw art installations, workshops and a community tailgate, but was marred by a murder 26 hours in.
The third quarterly Ceasefire took place last month, with a packed programme of community events, including people were leaving visible markers in the places where people have been killed. They’re turning what were once murder scenes into sacred places.
Baltimore Ceasefire 365 was founded by Erricka Bridgeford with an organising committee of five men and women from across the Baltimore community. Mrs. Bridgeford’s own harrowing journey is behind the idea: murder snatched two of her cousins, a brother, and a step son.
“Every time there’s a ceasefire weekend and someone gets killed, we immediately find that family and give them money,” explains Bridgeford. Funds are donated and she goes to explain that the money can be used for anything from funeral expenses, to fresh sneakers: noting that healing mechanisms are subjective and that they want what’s best for everyone.
In the process of hitting the streets, Ms Bridgeford and other organizers ask the people of the community “What do you need in your life that will help make things better for you and your loved ones?” The idea is to be hands-on, sharing resources that can help people struggling with legal issues, financial trouble and mental health issues.
The Baltimore Ceasefire is geared not only towards stopping shootings, but all violence. I spoke with Hannah Brancato, who’s a part of the Monument Quilt Project who held a workshop during the ceasefire to honour victims of domestic homicide. On the quilt were collections of stories from people who’ve been impacted by rape and abuse, along with messages of support from others.
I asked Brancato her thoughts on the importance of practicing art in communities—and specifically the way in which yoga and fitness being practiced in urban communities to help heal the people. Hannah responded, “Envisioning the world we want to live in, and dreaming about something different is necessary for social change work—and for our own well-being. In that way, we can be free and help each other get free.”
As I scanned the room I saw Bridgeford’s mother, who was sitting with her 18-year-old granddaughter. I asked them about generational trauma, since all three of them are engaged in working on a solution. Bridgeford’s mother saw domestic violence as a child, but believes the cycle stopped because she was able to limit what her children would and would not see. It was these principles which her daughter would carry forward when raising her own children.
Much like Bridgeford and her family, I believe that if we can pass down trauma from generation to generation, we can do the same with healing and nurturing, forming new foundations of love. Baltimore Ceasefire 365 is showing us the way.
Ceasefire out on the street
Interviews: Nyonna Scott and Shaqueal Wilson
Baltimore’s Walks of ART is one of many creative youth projects in the city. Here’s what happened when we asked Nyonna and Shaqueal to talk to some key organisers during the second Baltimore Ceasefire 365.
Nicole Hanson, organiser
“We decided to bring resources to people that were lacking. We had services like acupuncture and Black mental health providers. There were legal and civil attorneys, programs that dealt with youth and expungement services. We were out in the community from 6pm to 6am on Friday and Saturday. I know we served over 150 people. We expunged over 200 records and I know on the West Side we had a sign in sheet with over 300 names. We wanted to do it around the times that the states attorney said that crime happened the most in city – we chose two locations, one that was one of the most violent neighborhoods in East Baltimore around Erdman and Belair Rd and another that was a violent neighborhood in West Baltimore along Frederick and Collins Ave.”
Matthew Ellis, assisting at Hoops Don’t Hurt
I went to jail as a kid and I’m just trying to help out. I like the idea. Coming from a background of doing some bad things, I know there are people who could call the shots to end the violence. It has to be small starting off. We have to agree to a little bit at a time. They aren’t just talking about stopping the violence, there are being resources provided. There are opportunities out there for people.
Deandre Foote, 22, attending
“This is my first time attending any event for the Ceasefire thing and I’m loving it. I think it’s a positive group that is trying to make aware to the people that they need to put down the guns and do positive things.”
Brother Merrick Moses, 43, workshop host
“I was invited to do a meditation and healing workshop for LGBTQ persons. Queer and trans folks are experiencing a lot of violence in the city of Baltimore: Alfonso Watson, Mia Henderson, Sister Crystal, Sister Tiffany and maybe trans women of color have been murdered. [The ceasefire] is an endeavor of the human heart. It’s about human beings coming together to heal themselves and thusly changing their environment.”
Ellen Gee, 43, organiser “We have the audacity to believe that Baltimore can do something different. We know the strength of our city, we believe in the people of our city, and we understand that spell that people in Baltimore are under can be broken. The first ceasefire was an example for people of how to be creative and how to use their imagination to design life-affirming events. There was an elevation in levels of creativity during the second ceasefire. We have partnered with Fusion Inc, a 501 c3 fiduciary agent that will be collecting tax deductible donations for us. If you aren’t in Baltimore but you have connections to or contacts In the city, reach out to them and ask them how they are supporting the ceasefire effort, but more importantly how are they helping Baltimore.”
Thanks to Shawn Burnett for interview support.