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Students Deserve Better Than Normal in Baltimore
Baltimore students have returned to school, and we’re so grateful for that. During this time, there have been calls for Baltimore itself to return to “normal.” These calls though are coming from one part of the city, a part where the sun sparkles on the Harbor, tall downtown buildings, and quiet neighborhood streets. But there is another Baltimore in the classic tale of two cities, a reality that Bishop Douglas Miles speaks about with new corps members every year as we grapple with the hard truths of systemic inequity that pervade our streets.
In this Baltimore, “normal” is one in three children living in poverty without access to the educational opportunities, health care, nutrition, and safety they deserve. In this Baltimore, one of our students is devastated that she no longer has a much needed job because the CVS where she worked was set on fire. In this Baltimore, Frederick Douglass High students, who were stranded when public transportation shut down outside of their school, are being labeled as rioters on national television. But they’re not burning their streets; they are setting the record straight. In this Baltimore, rival gang members have united in the name of peace and justice. Our city is incredible in many ways, but we have an opportunity right now to create a new normal that lives into the promise that gives all students the opportunity to succeed, no matter what neighborhood they live in.
We both moved to Baltimore with the idea that we’d be here for one or two years. Fifteen and eight years later, respectively, both the Todd and the Cass families proudly call Baltimore home. This city will do that to you—it draws people in with its rich culture and complex issues that give way to an incredible amount of hope. For 23 years, Baltimore has been drawing corps members who, over and over again, fall in love with the beauty, grit, and determination of this city and its people. Teach For America is truly part of the fabric of the city after all these years. We walk together with the community because we are part of it. This is our home. We’ve seen students that were taught by corps members years ago become today’s corps members, leading the classrooms they grew up in. We are proud of our work here, but equity does not exist in Baltimore and there is more work to be done.
The events of the last several days have showed us the urgency of the work that remains—a loud cry against injustices that have been felt for far too long. We’ve heard students talking about the anger and hurt that brews just below the surface. It should come as no surprise that it erupted in pockets throughout the city this week. But it was also not a surprise how the people of Baltimore reacted. We held each other close. Students and teachers came together with The Intersection in a student-led space to share what they are experiencing. Students on Wednesday organized peaceful demonstrations after school.
This is #TheRealBaltimore. Hurt, anger, divisiveness, and inequity are real and should be acknowledged so that we can address them as one city. But compassion, leadership, and hope are real and alive here too.
We can create a new normal here in Baltimore, in Ferguson, in New York, and in every single neighborhood where children fear for their life because of the color of their skin. Our students, the young leaders who are showing us the way today, need and deserve for us to make good on the promise of equity so they have the opportunity to lead into the future. Now that schools re-opened their doors, we must all remain vigilant that we do not return to normal. We owe it to our students to do better than normal.
Courtney Cass (New York '00) is currently the Executive Director of the Baltimore region. Omari Todd (Baltimore '00) is a Senior Vice President of the Regional Operations team for Teach For America.