Baltimore has long been a city that welcomes new arrivals. According to some historical records Baltimore ranked 2nd only to Ellis Island as a destination for arriving Immigrants. What is less well known, is that while people were arriving in large numbers to Baltimore’s ports looking for rail, mill, and shipyard jobs, it was on these very same railroads that large numbers of arrivals decided to move out of Baltimore in search of greener pastures.
Now, let’s fast forward to the modern day, where Baltimore City’s population has been on the decline, resulting in an erosion of Baltimore’s tax base, property values, and federal funding allocations. Mayor Rawlings-Blake has proposed a solution, identifying New Americans, to help curb our population problem, and recognizes these newcomers as an asset to our city. To this end, she has set a goal of attracting 10,000 newcomer families over the next 10 years.
So who are these 10,000 people? The immigrant, refugee, and asylee kids and families we work with through Soccer Without Borders arrive to Baltimore with stories ranging from the incomprehensibly tragic to the predictable economic determinants. Upon arriving their reality is often far different than what they had envisioned. Some families struggle with daily tasks like turning on a gas stove, vaccinating their kids for school, navigating the MTA, and so on. They face these challenges while trying to learn a new language and understand the culture. And just like everyone they pay their taxes, they want to send their kids to good schools, and they want good jobs so they can afford to pay their bills.
Policies alone will not be enough to transform Baltimore into a welcoming home for New Americans. It will take interest and efforts across all sectors, for Baltimore to successfully retain these newcomers, so they don’t head for the trains like in days gone by. Soccer Without Borders has seen the success of bringing together kids from over a dozen different countries, and speaking just as many languages. These student-athletes have shown the grit, time, and effort it takes to excel on the soccer field and in the classroom. But perhaps more importantly they have learned to listen and learn from people of different races, religions, and cultures. In short, these kids practice the art of “welcoming.”