The Rainbow in the Rubble

Everyday on my bike commute to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, I see small things that I would otherwise not see: crushed cans, tiny bottles, shattered glass, empty syringes, latex gloves, dead rats, and other pieces of the city. I also see big things: liquor outlets in every block; corner food stores with no real food “i.e. beer, ice cream, cigarettes” ; tall buildings with broken windows; and rows and rows of vacant and condemned homes.

condemned1People live in the condemned homes, marked with red signs and perpendicular white slashes. The signs mean hazard and warn firefighters or other public safety providers, in the case of an emergency, not to enter because the structure could collapse at any minute. One such house collapsed recently, leaving 11 residents without a home.

Currently, according to The Baltimore Sun, “one in eight Baltimore homes is vacant.” To solve this problem, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake started a program, Vacants to Value, to clean up and redevelop abandoned properties.

Today, I witnessed Vacants to Values in action on the 400 block of E. Biddle Street. One man operated a giant bulldozer while another sprayed a high powered hose at the building to keep the rubble from flying into traffic.


I pulled over to watch, and before I got the chance to see, the man with the hose told me to get out of the way so that I don’t get wet. I wanted to soak in the history as it happened; so I took one quick glance, and saw something extraordinary: a rainbow shining on the broken home.

I have never before seen a rainbow in a demolition zone, and somehow it looked so perfect. I pedaled away feeling hopeful that after the building comes down, perhaps something better will go up in its place.

As we remove the broken homes, I pray that we remember the people who were living there, and give them opportunities to advance. The liquor outlets, the food-less corner stores, the broken windows, the empty syringes, the glass bottles, and all of the small things and big things scattered around town are problems that all of us in Baltimore share. Moved by the hadith below, I believe it is our duty to fix the problems.

On the authority of Abu Saeed al-Khudri who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah say, “Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then he must change it with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then he must change it with his heart. And that is the slightest of faith.”

I don’t have the means to take down liquor stores or end drug addiction in Baltimore; so I bike. And I run.

By running, biking, and going outside, we help to make the streets safer. We see rainbows in the rubble and we spread the message that Baltimore is the Greatest City in America.