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A urine smell permeated the stairwell. In the darkness, due to smashed light bulbs, the sound of broken wine bottles underfoot echoed off the concrete walls. I was 9 years old. With the elevators out of service half of the time due to vandalism, many times I was forced to take the scary trek into the shadow of death up the stairwell to our sixth floor apartment in the projects of East Baltimore.
This was a far cry from the brand spanking new building we moved into just two years earlier. I remember our excitement when my parents, three younger siblings and I moved in our apartment. It was a dream come true moving from our leaky-roof ghetto into a place where everything, including the appliances, was new. We were one of the first in the 11-story building housing all-black residents. While a few people kept their apartments lovely, most seemed committed to destroying the building.
All I kept hearing was that everything was “the white man’s fault.” Even at age 9, I sarcastically thought to myself, “How can we stop these evil white people from sneaking in here at night peeing in the stairwell, leaving broken wine bottles, smashing the light bulbs and attacking people?”
My early experience living in the government project taught me that some folks simply have a ghetto mindset. I also witnessed the trap of government welfare. And why were so many around me angry and violent despite getting free housing, food and health care?
Marcus as a child
It was the late ’50s when my dad was one of the first blacks to break the color barrier into the Baltimore Fire Department. The sight of him in his crisp, dress blue firefighter uniform made everyone proud, though none more than me. With dad’s new job, the government raised our rent to $72 per month. I remember my dad saying, “Seventy-two dollars! They must be crazy. We’re movin’!” We moved to a suburban black community. I truly believe I would not be who I am today had we stayed in the projects.
Several of my cousins stayed enslaved to the system and the bigotry of low expectations. Because true self-esteem comes from personal achievement, they possessed very little. They lived angry and bitter lives consumed with serial impregnating, out of wedlock births and substance abuse. An outrageously high number died prematurely.
So when I hear politicians pandering to the so-called poor of America, it turns my stomach. I’ve witnessed the deterioration of the human spirit, wasted lives and suffering that happens when government becomes “daddy.”
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