By Donald C. Fry

It has been a sobering week in Baltimore City.

The violence that occurred in the wake of public reaction to the death of Freddie Gray shocked and disturbed virtually everyone who lives and works in the city as well as a nation watching coverage of it.

Where do we go from here as a community?

First, it must be understood that there are two separate agendas at work in Baltimore.

The protesters have a legitimate agenda to voice dissatisfaction and to seek change. The rioters and looters have an entirely self-serving agenda. And they must be held accountable.

Aside from the talk-show argument over whether the violence was caused by a handful or more than a handful of city residents and “outsiders,” the simple fact is that the rioters and looters do not represent the overwhelming law-abiding, hard-working and productive majority in Baltimore City.

Nevertheless, as the Associated Black Charities eloquently put it, “our city is in pain.”

The violence has damaged the economy and quality of life in the city and the region as well. Baltimore is a great city. It is the major economic driver and cultural center for not only its own citizens, but for 2.7 million residents of the region around it and for the state as well. Everyone in Greater Baltimore and Maryland is hurting right now.

For the city and region to heal, business, civic, community, and government leaders face a two-fold set of challenges.

In the short-term, compassion, teamwork and resources must be applied to the work of restoring damaged city neighborhoods. That has already begun, as citizens, organizations, private companies and government agencies are flocking to the aid of damaged businesses and neighborhoods.  Baltimore’s good character in time of trouble is showing.

In the long-term, there is clearly much work to be done to address long-simmering issues that require serious attention, not just to get beyond the current violence, but to resolve important economic and quality of life challenges. 

We must recognize that this week’s protests and unrest constitute a boiling point, not an isolated incidental occurrence. Public policy leaders and business advocates whose job is to strengthen Baltimore’s competitiveness for economic growth and to promote the city and region as a business location must be careful not to succumb to the temptation to minimize what happened here.

It will be challenging to convert the current chaos into sustainable economic development progress, but Baltimore, with its substantial economic and entrepreneurial assets and its vast potential to be a place of opportunity for everyone, deserves a total community commitment to this work.

Addressing and resolving issues related to public safety, education, employment opportunity and other factors that spawned the unrest will require a fresh new level of collaboration among leaders in the community, large and small business, labor, education, foundations, community faith leaders and government.

From our perspective at the Greater Baltimore Committee, I’m proud to report that business leaders are voicing a strong commitment to the city and to promoting and engaging in the constructive long-term comprehensive teamwork that is needed. 

A collaborative framework must be crafted that will generate the enduring economic progress that is absolutely essential for citizens in the city and region to fully realize and enjoy the opportunity for success that exists in our midst.

As a community, we must convert a broad cauldron of tactical agendas into shared values and a shared vision for Baltimore’s future.

Then we must act on that vision … together.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.