Baltimore. The city I’ve called home for the last 15 years, the same amount of time I’ve been planning my escape from her city lines. Arriving here the summer before my emotionally uncomfortable high school journey, I’ve made two previous attempts at leaving this city behind for good. Both were with less than ideal people in even less ideal circumstances but still I left with hope in my immature mind that it was my ticket away from here only to find myself back to where I knew.

I can’t say for sure why I’ve always wanted to leave, but I think coming here against my will during such a transitional period of my life always played a big role in that and accepting it as home meant accepting leaving the superior suburbs of Chicago was what I really wanted all along. Or maybe it’s the incessant litter or the overall angry feeling in the air that tends to collect on your shoulders like a stack of weights that seems to vanish when I return to the Midwest. The constant police brutality or corrupt systems sure aren’t helping.

I’ve slowly embraced her charming traits, like the fact you can go anywhere in the city and inevitably run into someone you know, for better or worse and always when you left the house in a rush with pajama pants tucked into your calf-high rain boots on the driest of days. The relative lack of city traffic is another tick in the pro-column. Getting anywhere in the city is not too difficult as long as you aren’t dependent upon public transportation or your own two feet in this pedestrian hostile place. I gave it the old college try at fully calling Baltimore home. I’ve owned a brick and mortar in one of my favorite neighborhoods full of small businesses without a Starbucks in sight. But that only seemed to solidify my belief that those who run this town are truly set on making everything harder than it needs to be.

It’s not all bad though and in fact, I owe much of who I am and what I have now to Baltimore. I’ve met my husband here, we just drove by our favorite old brownstone apartment today trying to recall exactly which one it was under the fresh coats of paint in new palettes and we briefly reveled in the memories of walking the city streets to the baltimore2local cafes and yoga studio that one time before realizing we weren’t quite ready for our zen. My son was also born within these city limits and it’s the only city he has called home. He’s in a great charter school regardless of how much the city tries to sabotage it by illegally withdrawing funding or harassing parents in the car pool lane armed with ticket books. He’s receiving a free Montessori education where vegan isn’t a foreign word and he’s learning valuable knife skills in Kitchen class among a sea of truly diverse peers. But after 8th grade we will no longer be able to rely on city schools and that’s when we plan to make our great escape together, destination TBD. So far my son seems more immune to the tension that hangs thick in the air and as much as I’ve wanted to leave, I never wanted to shield him from the struggles so many residents face or imply he is above sharing the same space. I’ve found the kids here in the city to have more expansive minds and hearts than their suburban counterparts. I also love the DIY culture here, often born out of survival and making something of this city when the powers that be seem to have no interest in doing so. Everything great in Baltimore exists because of folks no different than you and I wanted something better for all of us. I’m really grateful for that and always felt like my lack of loyalty to Baltimore made me undeserving of such a thing – but I appreciate it nonetheless.

Despite being behind on innovative plant-exclusive cuisine while sitting squarely between two vegan-heavy bookends known as Philly and D.C., there’s a thriving vegan scene. In addition to the vegan social meet ups, many great animal rights activists can be found disrupting animal exploiting dining experiences and events. Others are tackling the food racism in our inner cities and creating demand for real food and working to meet those demands through community gardens and affordable vegan products to be sold in the corner markets that currently exist more to imprison residents in sick bodies than to empower. We also have our very own chapter of Chilli On Wheels now that will be distributing vegan food to the hungry.

There’s so much good to be done here, that needs to be done, but still I wake up everyday knowing my story doesn’t end in Baltimore. It was only meant to be several chapters and even without the fairytale ending taking place in Baltimore, my story is one worth writing because of the perspective and experience Baltimore has given me. That alone has made all the litter and staggering crime rates worth it.