When the Baltimore bridge fell, weavers were ready

Last week, in the middle of the night, a cargo ship lost power and struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge in the port of Baltimore, MD, causing a catastrophic collapse. Eight construction workers were on the bridge when the accident happened. Two survived. And a community sprang into action.

The workers were immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Like many Latino immigrants in the city, they had built a sense of belonging through churches and community groups, from CASA and the Comité Latino de Baltimore to information-sharing networks on WhatsApp.

“By 8 AM, we had received a message on a WhatsApp group from the niece of one of the victims asking for help. She didn’t know where to go or what to do,” says Lucia Islas, President of the Comité Latino de Baltimore, an organization that provides resources and brings folks together to welcome Latinos to the community. “We started making calls, figuring out who needed to be where, and to make sure the basics were covered, like having translators on site.”

The Comité and other community groups organized volunteers to help the victims’ families deal with the media, raised money to cover funeral costs, and organized prayer vigils. “People know we are here for them, that we care for them. Sometimes it might mean giving them a hug and making them feel like family, other times we call on everyone we know to rally around them,” says Islas.

The bridge collapse was far from the first time the community came together to respond to an emergency. Islas notes that, in the past weeks, people also helped a family who lost everything to a house fire, and helped another family deal with a disappearance. During the pandemic, neighbors provided food and other resources to laid-off workers.

That’s what happens in a crisis. We turn to the people we trust. The day-to-day work of weaving happens in regular community meetings, classes, and celebrations. That’s where the relationships weave into a web of belonging and support.

“We don’t believe in empowering people,” explains Islas, a 2023 Baltimore Weaver Awardee. “Instead, we recognize that everyone has something to give. When we share each other’s strength, we weave a stronger Maryland that includes everyone.”

Weaving makes communities more resilient, according to the US Surgeon General’s Report on Loneliness and Isolation: “Growing evidence suggests that in neighborhoods and communities where people know one another and are connected to community institutions (like service organizations, religious groups, or community-based organizations,) people prepare for, respond to, and recover more quickly from [crises].”

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