JaSina Wise’s strong voice propels the well-known hymn over the uneven sidewalks. “There is power, power, wonder-working power,” she sings as she leads about 15 people, young and old, black and white, through Sandtown-Winchester, one of Baltimore’s most vulnerable neighborhoods.
Every Friday evening, spring to fall, Wise drives from her Johns Hopkins office to a community in particular need of uplift. There, she joins other members of Baltimore Ablaze, a coalition of church and civic leaders, as the designated vocalist for the group’s community prayer walks.
The walks began about three years ago after a spike in violence—well before the April death of Sandtown-Winchester resident Freddie Gray. After the fires and looting, participation briefly swelled to hundreds of people.
Though attention has abated, Wise walks on, every step and syllable her way of salving the city’s wounds. “How can I rest when my daughter is safe walking to school but other children are not?” asks Wise, 51, who lives in the North Bend neighborhood near Catonsville. “Your ZIP code should not dictate whether or not your children are safe playing in the street.”
Wearing yellow-green Baltimore Ablaze t-shirts, the walkers, including Wise’s 14-year-old daughter, Eva, hand out flyers for Sunday worship hosted by Baltimore Ablaze at a local recreation center. As dusk purples the early autumn sky, they grip each other’s hands, forming a prayer circle on a busy corner.
At one point during the walk, Wise breaks away to talk with three young men passing a bottle of wine between them. “They were probably doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing, but we had a nice conversation,” she reports.
Wise works as a research project coordinator at Johns Hopkins, where she has supported programs in the schools of medicine and public health that help city residents have healthy pregnancies and access to nutritious food. “I am never going to give up on Baltimore,” she says.
“I tell my daughter, when you look at someone, imagine them as a child. Somebody had dreams for that person. See them as they were, as the innocent child full of potential.”