Generating Power: Impact. Influence. Endurance.
Baltimore has been a city that has generated power since its founding in 1729. It grew from a small rural village to the largest municipality in the state of Maryland, the second biggest port on the mid-Atlantic coast, and the largest independent city, not linked to a county, in the nation. The city of Baltimore provides the perfect environment to examine the multifaceted nature of power.
The NRHC invites you to contemplate the ways power is generated, for example, from natural resources, to people’s ability to use social media to crowdsource to create change in societies; from the impact of government to force social change, to the impact of science to force crops to grow quicker and stronger to provide food to the starving; from the influence of the thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, JFK, and Martin Luther King, Jr. that have helped generations of people overcome hatred and violence, to how media influences how we see ourselves, the earth, and others in positive and negative ways; and finally, how can we generate political power that can endure other than by creating dynastic rule.
Power as Impact
Leaving an impression (impact) is one way to generate power. Even though we rarely realize the impact we can have on others, each of us can generate power by leaving a lasting impression, whether through a smile, hug, handshake, idea, or well-made argument. Scientists and doctors have affected the way we live through making discoveries and breakthroughs that improve human life but also push moral and ethical boundaries. Government intervention can impact citizens’ human rights through legislative protection or revocation. Access to education, safe neighborhoods, and fair labor practices impacts one’s future.
The city of Baltimore is the birthplace of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The British attack on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that would become the national anthem (talk about a lasting impact). Baltimore has also had a significant impact in educating its citizens, from being the first public school system south of the Mason-Dixon Line to desegregate after Brown v. Board of Education, to offering educational opportunities to women, to the present-day Mayor’s Scholars Program, which covers tuition and fees for high school graduates to earn associate’s degrees.
Power as Influence
Power can mean being influential enough to alter physical properties and human perceptions and behaviors. We have witnessed through elections that a candidate’s influence during campaigning can result in a win (even if the influence is not positive). The impact of non-violent protest by Gandhi and Dr. King resonates today. John F. Kennedy understood that every person has the ability to influence—“ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” The powerful emotional and behavioral influences of advertisements, social media posts, and viral videos grip and influence us every day.
Baltimoreans have a long history of activism. Historically, working class unions made progress in limiting work to an eight-hour day. Today, members of the Baltimore community influence others through social justice through movements like Black Lives Matter. Recognizing the negative influence of violence within the city limits, Baltimore proactively has been working to effect positive change through its Safe Streets program.
Power as Endurance
Finally, having power can also mean having the strength to endure in times of adversity. We all face obstacles and our ability to endure despite these obstacles shapes us into the people we are today. Patiently enduring and peacefully confronting hatred, sadness, tragedy, and negative discourse is extraordinarily important in the face of all too common occurrences of school attacks, political missteps, and unjust defamation of character in the news media. Understanding power as endurance means to be patient, kind, loving, and respectful and to remain unbiased when we examine issues such as labor inequities, unfair housing and access to education, and racial and gender inequality.
As a city, Baltimore has endured despite its history of racial division. Five out of the last six mayors have been African American; the first was Clarence “Du” Burns in 1987 and the most current mayor, Catherine Pugh, was elected in 2016. Student activism endures in Baltimore; hundreds of students came together to protest for gun-control in March 2018. Youth efforts have been consistent over the years as students continuously campaign for a just, more equal, and safe society.
How power is used (or misused) will determine our legacy. Understanding the multifaceted concept of power is more important now than ever. How can we use our power to influence positive outcomes in all facets of life? How can we channel our power for positive changes, whether social, political, environmental, and so on? How can we harness power to endure challenging times without resorting to negativity? How can we get beyond the idea of power as something that means dominion over others? Let us recognize Baltimore for the legacy it has achieved and continues to create. Baltimore is a living exemplification of power and all its dynamics. Let us have a deep and meaningful discussion on the role of power in our history and its ability to unite (or destroy) us today.