When I first heard about the passing of Big Ray in my hometown of Baltimore, I was stunned and pained. It was a loss in a time of loss and a trying moment in especially trying times. But hearing that he was shot to death in the neighborhood where he grew up and never left, it was more than painful. It cut deep into my soul.
“Big Ray,” whose government name was Raymond Broadway, was part of my family, having been a partner to my cousin and a father to her children Latifah and Shahid. Though they might not have been “together” Big Ray was always there. If there was a death, a need, a situation, anything, he was there. And with his unique speaking voice and a touch of that Baltimore accent, he would share wisdom and words of life.
Not that his life had been perfect. As a younger man Big Ray made mistakes and did his time. He came home, worked, started businesses, took care of family and friends, loved and looked after his mother. He did good in the same havoc-filled streets where he grew up.
But he didn’t preach a gospel of street life, nor did he glorify criminality and people. Just the opposite: He wore and had earned the coveted title of “uncle,” one who could be counted on for counsel, connections, lessons and love. That was Big Ray. The gospel he preached was about ending violence and killing, a crisis gripping the city of Baltimore and Black neighborhoods across this country.
Big Ray was “a good one,” not just good for himself but good for so many others. He was a protector and a guide.
He departed this life Jan. 12 in his O’Donnell Heights neighborhood in Southeast Baltimore taking his mother to a medical appointment. He shielded her after someone drove up and started firing shots into his car. Big Ray wasn’t involved in anything nefarious, and in this day of senseless gunplay, these tragedies happen daily. According to the Baltimore Sun, there were 337 city homicides in 2021.
There were 728 nonfatal shootings in 2021, “the seventh straight year that Baltimore, despite a shrinking population, has exceeded 300 killings. Violence jumped in 2015 and has persisted ever since. Other cities are now following. Philadelphia, Chicago and Washington, D.C. report spikes in violence this year. Those cities saw the most homicides in decades.”
The city’s homicide clearance rate is less than 50 percent, according to the newspaper. If people literally get away with murder, there isn’t much of a deterrence to killing. It’s a problem in major cities across the country and the murder clearance rates for Blacks are even lower.
So there is work to be done to make the system responsive to deaths and to make those who should be responsible for protecting and serving actually do that. But everyone has a role, and we cannot abdicate our responsibility to make our own communities safe and decent places to live. It’s our duty to promote conflict resolution and create opportunity to help uproot the deep causes of crime. That doesn’t mean letting others off the hook, it does mean not letting violence reign in the streets and waiting for others to take action. We must act.
So we mourn Big Ray. We shed tears. We pray for his family. We desire peace for his loved ones, especially his mother, his children and all who knew and were touched by this powerful 51-year-old Black father and grandfather. We need to pause, comfort one another and find strength in the bond of love Big Ray forged.
But, after we dry our tears, say our goodbyes, and lift up our heads, let us continue the work that Big Ray was doing. Let’s spread the gospel of peace. Let’s offer guidance to those caught up in events and forces they really know nothing about. Let’s work to stop the death. That’s what Big Ray was doing, would do and he never let us down. Let’s gather our strength and do great works in his name. Long live the spirit, and the mission of Raymond Broadway.
Naba’a Muhammad is editor-in-chief for The Final Call newspaper and a national award-winning writer. Get more from him at www.finalcall.com and visit his website, www.straightwords.com. Follow @RMfinalcall on Twitter and Instagram and you can also find him on Facebook.
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