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My Baltimore's Next: Lester Spence

Lester Spence. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Lester Spence. Photo by Arianne Teeple

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I grew up on a steady diet of comic books, monster movies, action figures, and science fiction novels.

In other words, I am a futurist. Since I learned to read at the age of three, I've been fascinated by the fantastic. The marvelous.

Now at the ripe middle age of 42 I know that I won't be getting my rocket pack anytime soon. There will be no flying cars in my future. And it's highly unlikely that if I walk over to one of Johns Hopkins' biology buildings and splash myself with chemicals, I'll gain super speed.

In fact, I don't want any of those things, although the super speed would be dope.

What I want more than anything else for Baltimore, for what I consider my second home? The same thing I want for my first home (Detroit). I want it to be a place where a black kid can grow up with the full command of the most important super-power we have -- the power of political speech. And I want that black kid to use it to transform the most magical place we have -- the public.

For a wide variety of reasons we've lost the capacity to think about much less talk about the public. And what I'm referring to here is more than just parks and rec, but something much larger, much broader, and much deeper. It is the place, the idea, and the goods we share in common.

Now, real talk, we've never really been that good at teaching anybody the command of political speech, much less black kids. For the most part we treat them like the X-Men treat the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.

But if we can bring ourselves to make this attempt? A little over forty years ago a kid from New York took a turntable, made it into a musical instrument…and transformed the world. If we just took that concept, that act of taking the mundane and transforming it into the magical, and spread it? Hannah Arendt was no Optimus Prime…but I think she had it right when she wrote "the reason why we are never able to foretell with certainty the outcome and end of any action is simply that action has no end. The process of a single deed can quite literally endure throughout time until mankind itself has come to an end."


Lester Spence is an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University.



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Photos by Arianne Teeple
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