At last night’s annual City Council ritual (a.k.a., Taxpayers’ Night), dozens of Baltimore citizens came to the podium and spoke their piece about school tutoring, taxes, rec centers, police and the upcoming budget (nobody liked it).
One speaker chose to share her thoughts in tune.
Crystal Santiful launched into a soaring rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” in her allotted two minutes.
With its aching chorus (“It’s been a long, long time coming. But I know a change is gonna come. Oh, yes, it will”), the song became an anthem of the hopes and dreams of the 1960s civil rights movement.
Crystal then left the podium wordlessly as Helen Holton, chairman of the budget committee, looked on soberly – and a crowd of over 75 people broke into applause. (Full disclosure: Holton and the other pols quickly caught on and joined in the cheers).
It was a bit like “American Idol” without the stream of consciousness by Steven Tyler.
So what inspired her performance, I asked her when she got back to her seat?
The 18-year-old said she was thinking about the needs of her community, Park Heights. Crystal recently moved back to the city from Baltimore County (one of the mayor’s 10,000 new families!) and found the conditions in Park Heights appalling.
“This budget could be used [to provide] more opportunities, better rec centers, less kids on the streets, better schools. I just got mad that things aren’t better,” she said. (Will J. Hanna, also from Park Heights, followed her to the podium and thundered to the Council members: “$13 million has gone to Park Heights and it still looks like Beirut!”)
Crystal said she always gains strength from singing – she’s the praise and worship leader of the Kingdom Baptist Church and Ministries on Reisterstown Road – and hoped to convey her dreams of a better Baltimore in a way that reached the sachems of City Hall.