I moved to Maryland from the Midwest in the early 2000s when I was 19. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a culture shock, but I saw marked differences between St. Louis and Baltimore.
What struck me most about the city of Baltimore was its diversity. In the Inner Harbor, for example, I encountered interracial couples and homosexual couples openly holding hands and displaying affection. I saw kids in baggy pants and white T-shirts walk past businessmen and women in professional attire, and neither group seemed uncomfortable.
I was pleasantly surprised with the level of cultural acceptance in my new home. Despite the variety of communities, I felt just as comfortable traveling through East Baltimore as I did traveling through Remington. In short, the biggest difference I saw from my previous residence was the acceptance of those who were different.
Fast forward to December of 2006, when I entered the Maryland Army National Guard. I thought the Army thrived on uniformity, so I expected all soldiers to be carbon copies with like aspirations and thought processes. I was wrong.
In Basic Combat Training, I met people of all races and backgrounds from across the U.S. No matter our differences, we all came together to serve our nation. I came to realize that our unity of purpose was even more powerful than any uniformity required by our profession.
As a member of the Maryland National Guard for nine years, I think it’s been interesting to work with Marylanders who have different backgrounds and views. My teammates come from Dundalk; West Baltimore; Western Maryland; the Eastern Shore; Reisterstown; Havre de Grace; and many other places as well. The learning experiences and opportunities to expand my horizons are always there, even if the road isn’t always easy. However, when we drew on our diverse backgrounds and directed them toward accomplishing our missions, we were able to achieve great things.
When I was a young man finding my place in the world, Baltimore showed me that respect for diversity should be the norm. Later, the National Guard showed me that diverse populations thrive when they have a shared purpose. The greatness of our city and state relies on us— whether we’re civilians, soldiers or government officials— to focus on unity, not uniformity, and to enjoy the well roundedness that diversity brings. If we follow these principles, our common goal to provide a safe and healthy environment for all of Maryland’s citizens is a very real possibility.