I’m new to Baltimore. I took a job at The Banner after spending my entire life in Birmingham, Alabama — a majority-Black city with one of the highest crime rates in America.

Stop me if this sounds familiar.

Many of my friends and family had similar reactions when I told them about the move: Baltimore? Why? Isn’t it dangerous there? Haven’t you seen “The Wire”?

I found this amusing. After all, Birmingham has a higher homicide rate than Baltimore most years. In 2022, one of the deadliest years in Baltimore history, the city saw a homicide rate of 5.9 per 10,000 residents. Birmingham’s rate was 7.3 per 10,000 that year.

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Birmingham is cursed by its reputation. Regionally, and especially within Alabama, it’s seen as somewhere you shouldn’t go.

“I’ve had people tell me that they were taught to drive through Birmingham, not to Birmingham,” said Jasmine Shaw, a lifelong Birmingham resident and current Birmingham community manager for Yelp.

Birmingham’s negative perception comes from the headlines that make the first page of Google, she said. The city has much more than that to offer, of course. But getting outsiders to see the good things can be a challenge.

“It’s kind of like chipping away at that stigma of all the Google-able things about the city,” she said.

Baltimore has these problems, too. Look no further than the reactions people had to my move. Many of those people are from a city that deals with this kind of perception every day, and yet …

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I was surprised by their reactions, and how those reactions made me feel. I’ve been defending Birmingham, for better or worse, my whole life. I guess I’ve got to start defending Baltimore, too.

There’s a fierce loyalty that comes with living in a city like this. There are plenty of them across the country. Places like St. Louis, New Orleans, Detroit.

Baltimore. Birmingham.

Of course, the perception of crime and the reality has never really correlated, in Baltimore or elsewhere. Although national crime rates have trended down in recent years, Americans consistently say there is more crime than there was in years prior.

The more time I spend in Baltimore, the more similarities I see between the two cities. Both are historically important. Both are losing people. Both are majority Black, highly-segregated and currently experiencing ‘Black flight.” Both have shifted their economies away from manufacturing, and both have huge health care industries. And both cities are great food towns — pushing past their regional stereotypes. You can get more than good crab in Baltimore, and more than BBQ and soul food in Birmingham.

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Of course, if you’ve never been to Birmingham, you might not realize all this. Birmingham has an entirely different set of stigmas outside the South. If you’ve heard of it at all, it’s probably because of the Civil Rights Movement. Otherwise it just gets grouped in with Alabama, often a punching bag for the rest of the country for entirely different reasons.

“Particularly, as a Black woman, sometimes I tell people I’m from Alabama, and they look at me like I’m running from the Klan every day,” Shaw said.

Birmingham is not that. It’s also not a place where you have to live in fear every day. And I’m learning neither is Baltimore.

I already feel welcome here. This city has grit, sure. It also has a soul. And, now, it’s home.