Thank you very, very much.
First giving honor to God for the beauty of this day and blessings of my life. One of those blessings being the powerful, faithful people of the great City of Baltimore.
As a Roman Catholic I have learned – in serving people throughout our city of different faiths – that there are some things that my faith does not do as well as other faiths. One of those things is teaching scripture and the Bible, so I am glad to report to you that (thanks to your pastor who gave me my Bible), I have been going through the trial of these last seven years with a Catholic education and an AME Bible.
And we have done so many important things together, and of course there is still far more to do, but to all of you who have been involved in reaching out and mentoring in the lives of young people, who would otherwise fill early prison cells or body bags; to all of you who have been involved in the push for expanded drug treatment for our people; for all of you who have been involved in a faithful and faith-based way in the advancement of social justice, and our cities cause, and a better future: no mayor has had truer better or courageous friends than the people of faith in Baltimore and I will always consider myself blessed that you have taken me in and been so kind to Katie and me…thank you.
This has been my morning prayer for many years. The words were written by St. Patrick in the 5th century:
“I arise today with a mighty strength, through the invocation of theTrinity, with belief in the threeness and confession in the One, Creator of Creation.
Speed of lightning, roar of fire, depth of sea, God’s strength on this day to pilot me.
Radiant moon and swiftest wind by my side the strength of Him.
At my back and on the path that lies before me.
I call His power to be my shield this day.
Against the cruel and merciless foes that block my way:
Against the works of smiths and wizards and black laws of pagans and
the spells of evil souls who wish me ill.
Christ beside me, Christ with me, Christ in me.
Christ around me, Christ below me, Christ above me.
On my left and on my right, Christ with me into the night.
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me.”
That has been my prayer through trials and tragedies when it seemed there was no way forward that has been my prayer. Through attempted character assassinations that has been my prayer. When out spent and out gunned this continues to be my prayer…
Seven years ago together we declared that there is more that unites us than divides us and indeed that is true today. We are united. We are united in our belief that the dignity of every individual; we are united in our belief in our responsibility to advance the common good and we are united in our understanding that at the beginning and the ending of our days, there is a unity to spirit and to matter, and that what we do in our own life time does matter. That one person can make a difference. These are the things that unite us these are the beliefs that we share.
So what of politics and religion? What of religion and politics. Giving to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and giving to God that which is God’s. It is easy to say that there should be a separation but the truth of the matter is, as individuals, we are citizens and we are also children of God. We are both in one person. I want to share with you some thoughts from a layman: I was raised in a faith where a politician isn’t suppose to say anything political or come to our Church doorstep, and mindful of the admonition that politicians at the pulpit draw lightening. I want to share with you some thoughts: things taught to me; things learned and some of the most important of them learned from the people I have served with …worked with together these last seven years. About freedom, about mercy and about justice. About the spiritual value of progress.
I have chosen to go into public service because of Jesus. I would not have gone into public service were it not for the teachings of Jesus. I certainly would not have stayed through trial and tribulations were it not for Jesus. And while I have generally in these times shied away from invoking the Bible or calling the Lord’s name to support policies and choices … to temporarily make decisions for all of us as a city, this I think is an appropriate time to suspend that general rule. The reason I refrained from it was because of how offensive I have found it when some leaders site limited passages from the Bible to vilify our fellow man. When they take choice topics or words out of context from the Bible to divide us; to pit us against each other. And for that reason I have refrained from religious language in the political arena so as not to fall into the bucket of their hypocrisy in the public’s mind.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;
Blessed are the meek for they shall posses the land;
Blessed are they who mourn for they shall be comforted; Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for justice for they shall have their fill;
Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy;
Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God;
Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Separation between Church and state; the unity of spirit and matter; and the dignity of the individual.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt in articulating the revolutionary principles of our Republic (not an empire, but a Republic) spoke of a sort of freedom; a different freedom, I suppose, from the Church of the Beatitudes but a freedom none the less. A freedom based on the dignity of every individual when in 1940 he said we look forward to the future years and a more secure world founded on “four fundamental freedoms”. The first is the freedom of speech and expression, and then he said, “everywhere in the world”. The second is the freedom to worship God in his or her own way, “everywhere in the world”. The third is the freedom from want, and then he said, “everywhere in the world”. And the fourth, was the freedom from fear, “anywhere in the world”.
The Jesuit, John Courtney Murray, spoke about the freedom of the Church in the 1950′s. Murray declared modernity is dead and this generation was entering a new world order. He went on to say that a post modern America, finally was escaping an individualism, materialism and technologism that had been so much a part of social history, and now he said the nation was entering into a communitarian age in which religion would deeply inform our public life. Catholic, Protestants and Jews all can speak out and shape American public debates Murray declared. In writing about john Courtney Murray, father Leon Hooper wrote, “if it is true that we need much richer public conversation about what we hold dear, the trick will be to bring our religious language into the public forum in ways that protect human dignity and encourage public conversation. Most of our experiences in this country with public theologies have unfortunately have not demonstrated that strong belief and civic respect can co exist. Murray can teach I think about the attitudes and virtues we need if we are to speak theologically while we protect human dignity and encourage conversation.”
Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “any seeker of a higher truth or of God must eventually and inevitably come back to the idea of community.” The notion that we are all in this together. That we progress as a people, not on the weakness but on the strength of our neighbors. And that is the up bringing that I have had first from my parents Tom and Barbara O’Malley two of the most loving people in the world that you would ever want to meet. They were children of the depression. My father flew 33 missions over Japan in a B24 liberator. He would not have gone to college were it not for a generous and grateful people who allowed him to go to Georgetown and Georgetown law on a GI bill. They raised us in a house where the names King and Kennedy were revered; where public service was considered a noble thing.
I learned at Gonzaga High School in Washington, DC. Gonzaga is located on North Capital and Eye Street downtown in DC. Just in the shadows of the nation’s capital as we were fond of saying. Some of the most formative years that I spent connecting lessons learned as a little boy and heard from nuns with the real world, I learned at Gonzaga.
I learned in Father McKee’s freshman year social studies class about Arnold Toynbee’s theory of the progress of man. That man progresses in response to adversity and when the adversity is too great, man or society perishes or moves away; when the adversity is too little he atrophies or stagnates. I learned from the great and giving and loving father Horace McKenna to search for Christ in the faces of others including, and especially, the faces of the poor. That line of homeless men that would line up for a meal every morning along side the foundations of Father McKenna’s Church as we filed by from class — many of us from lily white suburban neighborhoods. I learned from Father Bradley to see and appreciate holiness and the quiet fortitude of hard working people of very limited means. Mothers and fathers and wives and husbands.
I learned from Father Ward to recognize and confront the enemy within. The original sin of our own culture and environment that would have us think less of people because of race or class or place or because they are not like us.
I learned that expectations become behavior and I learned that it’s not enough to have faith, one must also have the courage to risk action on that faith to risk failure upon that faith. The faith that one person can make a difference and that each of us must try.
But before the Jesuits got a hold of me I was taught by an order of holy women, the sisters of St. Francis – who in spirit anyway, were not at all unlike mother Mary Lange of our great city. I learned things there that still stick in my head today, and sometimes when I roll out of the car into a difficult moment I find myself saying, “All for Jesus through Mary.” Or when I am about to stand up and speak and don’t exactly know whether I’ll hit the right tone or message, for the truth that is needed, I find myself saying (as the nuns taught me probably back when I was in first or second grade) “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of thy love.” And the nuns also taught me something about mercy, the next thing that I would like to speak with you about: mercy.
The Beatitudes say blessed are the merciful. But what do we mean by mercy? Aquinas and the scholastics said that mercy is a virtue influencing ones will to have compassion for and if possible to elevate another’s misfortune. Mercy. Mercy like justice controls relationships between distinct persons. Touch your neighbor tell them it’s all about relationships. Mercy like justice controls relations between distinct nations. It is as they say ad alterum …about another. Its motive is the misery, which one discerns in another. Particularly in so far as the condition is deemed to be in some sense at least involuntary. The need can be either the need of body or of the soul. When John Paul II wrote about this he said “man attains to the merciful love of God, to the extent that he is transformed within by the spirit of love towards his neighbor.”
Touch your neighbor and say, “It’s all about the spirit of love.” And so the nuns taught us when we would come back from recess hot and sweaty — after playing “kill the man,” “murder ball” or another outlawed sport – the nuns would pass around the little box for the missionaries so that we could put our dimes in it (if we listened to their teaching and did not buy ice cream that day at lunch). These are the holy women that that taught me that there are Corporal Works of Mercy as well as Spiritual Works of Mercy: to feed the hungry; to give drink to the thirsty; to clothe the naked; to give shelter to the homeless; to visit the sick; to ransom the captive; to bury the dead; to instruct the ignorant or the misinformed; to counsel the doubtful; to admonish sinners; to bear wrongs patiently; to forgive offenses willingly (I’m still working on that one); to comfort the sorrowful; to pray for the living and the dead,…
Seven years ago when together we began the work of turning around our city we came together, the people that Frederick Douglas and Johnny Unitas loved; to take on some of the toughest challenges of our times anywhere in any city in America.
We had allowed ourselves to become the most addicted city in America in 1994 and we stayed there every single year until 1999 when we also became the most violent city. And, needless to say, no one, black or white, rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, wants to stay in a city that is becoming more unhealthy more deadly or more dangerous. And so we lost more of our population and we lost more of our jobs.
And then we came together as the people of Frederick Douglas and Johnny Unitas loved and decided to make a different future. We have not made our city perfect but we have begun the healing process. When we gathered at war memorial plaza (for our inauguration) Sheila Dixon and I were honored to be able to take on this mantle of service for our people. I read to you words that were written by St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of my parish up on Harford road (by the way, we think Fr. Burke is going to send out a search party for me with all the Baptist and AME places I have been going to lately). But on that day I said this, or rather remembered that Francis of Assisi said this, “we have been called to heal wounds to unite what has fallen apart, to bring home those who have lost their way.” And my friends, that’s what we have done. We have not made ourselves a perfect city but we have made progress.
At a mayors night out I’ll never forget a twelve year old girl who came up to me and, amid the questions about property taxes, water bills, trash in the alleys and those things, she came up from the back of Dunbar and she said, “Mr. Mayor my name is Amber and my question for you is this: I’m twelve years old, and some people in the newspaper, because of all of the addicted people and the drug dealers in my neighborhood, refer to my neighborhood as zombie-land … and I want to know if you know that they call my neighborhood zombie-land and I want to know if you’re doing anything about it.”
My friends, together we have done something about it: we have reduced crime to its lowest level since the 1960′s, and we are not done yet, and there are more lives to save. Together we advocated and made as our number one legislative priority securing more drug treatment dollars for our citizens, who are addicted, and we have opened three new inpatient centers for our neighbors, who are courageous men and women taking on challenges that many of us in life do not have to face. They are facing them head on, and they are healing themselves because of the Beatitudes. Because we are a merciful people; because we take God at his word; because we know that he walks with us. To those people cynical and convinced that there is little that we can do together, that our best days are behind us, to those in our national and state government who look on the great challenges facing American cities and say that black and white people can not cooperate, black and white people can not communicate, the problems are too daunting, we cannot make progress in their face, let them come to Baltimore. Let them come to Baltimore!
Do not tell me that our best days are behind us – our best days are not behind us; our best days are ahead of us! We doubled drug treatment funding and lo and behold, some of these government programs actually work. We deployed our police officers to where the greatest numbers of our citizens were actually being shot or robbed or mugged; and, what do you know, we protected more lives and made our city a safer place. Some of these government programs actually work.
A school system where six years ago not one grade in our major city that scored majority proficient in reading and math, together as a people, long before maybe some would say it was prudent, and five years in advance of the state mandate, we invested in full day kindergarten for all of our children many more of whom come from challenged neighborhoods, come from challenged families, come from addicted households, step over bodies on their way to school, go to bed hungry, wake up cold. We invested five years early in full day kindergarten for all of our children and the very next year for the first time in 30 years our first graders scored above the national average citywide in reading and math.
Don’t tell me, don’t tell us, our best days are behind us. Don’t tell me black and white people can’t make progress in our country; come to Baltimore. Today our first, second, third, fourth and fifth graders have all scored majority proficient in reading and math. We are making progress. And I know it drives people like George Bush and Bob Ehrlich crazy but we are going to continue to make progress!
You hear some people for the sake of their own personal political power, instead of the glory of God, belittling the progress of our children. Talking about us in coded language of “city vs. county” as if they are speaking French and we don’t understand: we understand. We understand well. We understand very well that three of the top ten high schools in the state of Maryland – City, Poly, School for the Arts – are Baltimore city kids, African American kids – our children, and yes they can “read their diplomas.” Come to Baltimore.
Public safety is a difficult thing especially given the way it was used as a tool during 400 years of our nation’s very painful history. It is not easy to keep consensus around public safety in the political family of a big American city. But because of people of good will, people like Council President Dixon, Councilman Young, Councilman Mitchell, black and white, men and women who believe in the dignity of every individual, who believe in our responsibility to advance the common good, who understand the unity of spirit and matter, we have taken public safety as the foundation of advancing the justice agenda here and we are not done yet. Police commissioner Hamm knows well, others will use crime as a wedge issue to separate us from one another, but we move forward.
I’m sure all of you remember the water taxi tragedy that happened in our city. Remember the number of days that we spent out there on that fire ground. Going down time and time again. Firefighters taking on risk to recover bodies that would be no more alive when they came to the top than they would be if left at the bottom.
Corporal work of mercy; spiritual work of mercy.
I remember during those days as I kept a fire radio clipped to my shoulder; every time I heard our firefighters were going down in that water, my stomach would come up to my throat. You remember that one of the bodies they were looking for was that of a six year old boy — the age of my boy. Senator Sarbanes, great man, came up to me as we were assembling for a St. Patrick’s Day parade during that same time and he said, “Why are you letting those guys go down there time and time again? It’s dangerous down there and we don’t want any of them to lose their lives. How much longer are you going to allow this to happen?” I said, “Thanks, Senator,” as if I wasn’t thinking of that every moment.
It was cold out there and we were on the fire ground and they were about to go down again and I knocked on the windows of one of the fire trucks that was looking out there – true story. There was an African American fire fighter behind the wheel and firefighters don’t much like their Mayors. It’s nothing personal; it’s just the way it is. So I tap on the window, its very cold, and I say, “Can I come in?” The fire fighter says, “eh,… So I go inside the cab, we’re listening to the radio, watching the fire fighters go into that water. And after a long silence, the fire fighter turns to me and says… “Mayor, all I want to do, is get that little boy up and wrap him in a warm blanket,…”
The dignity of the individual. Our responsibility to advance the common good. The unity of spirit and matter.
I have learned so much from the proud, resilient, and good people I have had the honor to serve over the last seven years. My heart has been heavy with the grief of a grandmother picking out caskets at March funeral homes, picking out caskets for her five grandbabies killed by a drug dealer’s wrath. My eyes have been wet with the tears of children, trying to help them make sense of the madness that would have them looking at empty desks in their classrooms because of the innocent causalities taken in the crossfire of drug wars and drug addiction and the coldness of the heart. The hands which have touched mine, the dear hands, in the words of the poet, “whose touch is familiar to me,” have been swollen by the repeated punctures of hypodermic needles.
We are all in this together. In our City there is no such thing as a spare American. In our City, every person matters. In our City, we choose to make progress. And “May the work I’ve done speak for me, … may the work I’ve done speak for me, … when I’ve done the best I can, and my friends don’t understand, may the work I’ve done speak for me,…”