Day of Hope: Western Baltimore
I recently traveled to Baltimore with Mercy Chefsto help with Day of Hope. Mercy Chefs has been traveling to Baltimore on a regular basis since the death of Freddie Gray. As an organization who believes strongly in sitting together with a hot meal during a tough time, they have stepped up to serve at Day of Hope in an effort to bring local police and community members together. Police Chief Russell talked about the importance of these events throughout Baltimore and said after a Day of Hope event "We go on an average of about 90 days with a 23% crime reduction in these areas." This most recent Day of Hope was held in Western Baltimore at the Easterwood Recreation Center and Park. Ray Lewis (the linebacker) attended and promoted his solar energy company as a way to provide jobs for those in the community. The local drum line and dancers attended the event as entertainment and everyone left with full bellies, groceries for home, and supplies for school.
As I entered the park at 7am with the mobile kitchen in tow (I wasn't driving, don't worry!), I was reminded of the conclusions drawn by Douglas and Peck (2013, p. 86),
"education of Blacks has occurred and will continue to occur outside of schools. We believe there is potential for greater utilization of community-based pedagogical spaces to enhance the academic and life experiences of all students, and students of African descent in particular. In a time when policy makers are trying to address the overrepresentation of Black men in the penal system and scholar-practitioners are trying to close the achievement gap in schools between White students and students of color, this study offers an important reminder of the significance of alternative avenues in the educative experience. In this respect, our study challenges the orthodoxy that reforming schools, alone, will lead to greater academic success."
As an educator, I know that many of my students do not necessarily feel comfortable coming to school. They have negative experiences with authority and many of their parents have similar stories to tell. As this event began to take place, I thought about the negative exposure many of the community members in this western Baltimore community had felt dealing with police, teachers, and to generalize...white people. And even though this was just one day, it was one day that unified police and civilian, volunteer and community member, teacher and those who learn outside of the white walls of a classroom.
I also saw things I did not expect. I saw a culture that celebrates living differently than I do. I saw people sitting on their front stoops talking before the event instead of texting their ETA. I saw kids playing basketball by the park entrance. When I entered their space they told me about how they do this everyday...it doesn't matter the heat...it gets them out of the house and together. I saw celebration through dance and rap and loud laughter. I saw people who lived a completely different life than me and I wanted to celebrate with them. But I also knew they were celebrating in this way because of oppression they had faced. This community had not been privy to the cultural privilege I've received my entire life. This community had seen a lot. Survived a lot. And I hope using events such as these can stimulate cultural conversations and unify communities. I hope the crime rate is still down after this event as Chief Russell predicted based on the past. And I hope that we can learn to celebrate and embrace our differences. To have tough conversations and wrestle with reality. To cry with each other and eat with other and dance with each other.
“Then the mother of the murdered boy rose, turned to you, and said, “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.”
― Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
Douglas, T. M., & Peck, C. (2013). Education by Any Means Necessary: Peoples of African Descent and Community-Based Pedagogical Spaces. Educational Studies,49(1), 67-91. doi:10.1080/00131946.2012.749477