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Baltimore Innovation Week / Crime / Guest posts

When violence struck at #BIW16, here’s what one Baltimore native reflected on senior business manager Vincent Better is thinking about what Baltimore is and what it could become — and how those two things are sometimes at odds.

At the Open Works opening during #BIW16. (Photo by Christopher Wink)
I was born and raised in Baltimore. I grew up in the Waverly/Lakeside area in the shadows of Memorial Stadium. My family is still here, largely residing along the Loch Raven corridor, representing a few of Baltimore’s middle-class neighborhoods.

This is where I became the person I am today. A scholarship opportunity allowed me to complete the small, independent high school Park School and go on to to earn both undergrad and master’s degrees from Temple University. From there, my career began in enterprise sales where I learned that I liked (and still do) connecting varieties of people to varieties of services. I traveled throughout the country and had some remarkable experiences. And I would always come back home and see the family and cheer on the progress happening in Baltimore, albeit slowly and not obviously. It remained a once-great city, which has been losing population my entire life.
An opportunity to contribute to the future iteration of Baltimore is one of the many reasons I was excited to join the team a year ago. I care about their mission, connecting technology and business communities while also caring about how that success can benefit longtime residents. I can always read Technically Baltimore and look to see how these developments can positively impact the lives of family and friends dedicated to making the city a better place.
I often think about what this tech community could have meant to me when I was growing up, when options were far more limited. City and federal government jobs were seen as the primary paths to success. Entrepreneurship and innovation was barely a thought, much less a plan. We were still reeling from the shutdown of Beth Steel and GM and the move of our historically-beloved Colts.

A tale of two Baltimores, converging on one week.

So you can be sure the fifth annual Baltimore Innovation Week was personal for me. Nearly 70 events brought together some of the smartest people in the region. Importantly, many of the events took place in parts of the city that meant something very different to me growing up. I still see many things through that childhood lens.
Baltimore has lots to be proud of and plenty of successes. But we cannot ignore that there are also many challenges.
So, unfortunately, it’s not unusual that there was violence in the city during a week highlighting progress and filled with celebration. It’s something I’ve known my entire life.
However, as common as violence is to many in this city, two incidents in particular might have stood out to some who read this site, who are part of the Baltimore tech and innovation community.
On Saturday, just a few blocks from the newly opened Open Works, a makerspace that welcomes all corners of Baltimore on Greemount just off North Ave, an area I visited frequently as a child, there was a shooting. It happened just a few hours after Open Works’ beautiful family-friendly event, where thousands of people came together for music and food and maker groups. It was an event open for all of Baltimore. It was a near collision of who we are trying to become and who we have historically been.
Then on Wednesday, outside of Impact Hub, right on North Avenue and Charles, there appeared to be a stabbing (there are no news reports of what happened that day, but it was clearly a crime scene). It was first thing in the morning, not long before our own session of Dev Conference coding classes began. Since opening in 2015 in the redeveloped Centre Theatre, Impact Hub has worked hard to be as open as it can be. One of a number of redevelopment projects on North Ave, it has a diverse membership of people trying to make Baltimore and the world better. A stark contrast to the yellow tape being used to block the intersection that rainy morning.
Baltimore can't heal without opportunity and that's what the tech scene represents.

These incidents are all too common. But increasingly these kinds of locations, like Open Works and Impact Hub, are becoming more common too.
I’m writing here to say that we can’t ignore the violence near these new places for collaboration. But that doesn’t mean we should let them change our course or chase us away.
I have this memory of being maybe eight years old and my father picking up pork rinds at a neighborhood take-out restaurant along the block occupied by a Rite-Aid, near what is now Open Works. There was no Open Works nor Rite-Aid then. I was scared.
As a teenager near what is now Impact Hub, I saw the fallout of a murder on North Avenue right in front of McDonald’s. There was no Impact Hub then. I was frustrated. Much of the reason I went away for my higher education, not even considering a local college or university, was to escape these familiar scenes.
I think also about the Kaiser Permenente Social Innovation hackathon that proudly took place at Coppin State University, in an area poised to become a beacon for the best Baltimore can become. 
Richard May from Innovation Village said, “This has never happened in West Baltimore at this scale before.” In 2016, he’s right.
Baltimore can’t heal without opportunity. Places like Open Works and Impact Hub (and and so many others in the community) are a part of supporting that opportunity. But we need to open our doors and let more residents find that opportunity. Let them know it exists and that we want them to be part, not victims, of it.
Crime happened. It will happen again. But I believe far, far more good will continue happen too. So let’s not ignore, let’s discuss. We all want a better, smarter, more inclusive and equitable Baltimore. Our past is not our present. Our present is not our future. We can do this. Create, seize and maximize the opportunities — together.

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