There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
In the past few days the world was bombarded with images of enraged Baltimore youth. But let us not forget that unrest has its roots in one thing- wanting to be heard. The greatest crime that can happen in Baltimore right now is to forget about it once the shock value has resided and to allow the narrative of Baltimore rooted in violence, bolstered by media an entertainment, as a true picture of Baltimore communities, instead of looking at the deep hurt that exists and the relentless residents that keeps trying to help it heal.
The young people in these events are part of a large school system and city that face the great challenges exacerbated by high poverty, crime, drugs, unemployment, a long history of mistrust between communities, police violence, and a teen homicide rate that tripled in 2014. These are not excuses but every day realities. As of July 2014 there were 84,975 students in Baltimore City Schools. I can assure you there weren’t 84,000 students at the riots or even the peaceful demonstrations. Thousands of students and teachers wake up every day to learn, to excel, to not let the sadness around them engulf them. There are people here every day that choose hope before fear and even when they fall short their belief that all children of all colors deserve equal opportunity compels them forward.
Baltimore People Giving Back Daily
Meet Mr. Erik Bandzak, the Alternative to Suspension Coordinator for Baltimore City Schools, who was so inspired by Hampstead Hill Academy’s work with restorative circles that he reached out to The International Institute for Restorative Practices in Philadelphia to provide a more affective community driven methods of decreasing suspension and increasing safety and learning. He can’t do it alone.
Talk to Ms. Rolanda Ford, 50, a para-educator at West Side Elementary right around the corner from where the riots took place, about the peace rally her school organized and no city official or media came to. She can’t do it alone. Talk to Mr. Rob Glotfelty, Science teacher at Patterson Park Charter School that mentored 10 middle school students to the world championship in Robotics. He didn’t do it alone. Talk to Mr. Mathew Ebert, principal of Crossroads Academy, that resides in a largely vacant old school building, how his team of great teachers educate middle schoolers for today’s world without much needed computers.
Talk to Kasheif Stanley, 23, who lives three blocks from the East side fire, and woke up early to help cleanup and show his young brother, Khalil Stanley, fourteen year old Carver Vocational High School student (the same school Freddie Gray attended), that “something positive can come out of a negative.” They can’t do it alone.
Meet Ms. Monique Smith-Pierson who was on her way to work
when, Brian Burns, a native of Park Heights and a Mortuary Science student at CCBS, a young man she mentors asked her to help him do something positive in response to the riots, “when a young person asks you for help, you ACT.” She took off work and organized one of the cleanup efforts that were heeded by many across the city.
Her son, Robert Harrington, a marine happened to be on leave wanted to help his community. His dad donated the company truck, brooms, garbage bags and cans.
Meet Jonathan Lee, 30, a local barber; Brandon Howard, 26, known as Baruk and also a local barber; & Rob Kowalske, founder of CityFam, they organized a prayer vigil to encourage everyone to not judge or fear these children but to embrace them with kindness, to help them.
Young people have been part of every social movement from anti-war to civil rights to immigration and labour and have become masters of mobilizing through social media. According to the Kinder & Braver World Project, “youth are often framed in the mass media as, at best, apathetic, disengaged, and removed from civic action. At worst, youth (in the U.S., particularly youth of color) are subject to growing repression: increased surveillance, heightened policing, stop- and-frisk policies on the streets, overbroad gang injunctions, and spiraling rates of juvenile incarceration.”
Roots of Baltimore Struggles
It may be human nature or our society’s addiction to inflammatory reality TV that once again young black men and women of Baltimore become the great Other classified by such objectifying generalizations as Those, Them, They, instilling fear. The frustration voiced by these young people is rooted in a long history of segregation that began from the zoning laws of the early 1900s coined by the Maryland Law Review as “Apartheid Baltimore Style.
I understand from an outsider’s point of view and even from a Baltimore resident point of view that reacting appalled and wanting to judge is a gut reaction.
What Baltimore Needs
But Baltimore doesn’t need any more judgment or negative reactions. It needs kindness with action. It needs understanding and compassion with action. It needs to be heard and listened and its needs acted upon, with restoration and healing.
Please go beyond fear. Fear paralyzes. Kindness moves. Driving across the vacant city the morning after the unrest, the city was eerily quiet since most schools and government offices closed. But, what was more alarming was that the areas where all the chaos took place were clean, although the media made it seem like every part of Baltimore was burning all night. Baltimore residents of all ages, races, and neighborhoods stepped out as one and cleaned up the mess. Their amour of choice a house broom.